Navratri (= nine nights) is the biggest Hindu festival. Yes, Diwali is important too, but there are at least a few Indian states where Diwali is not celebrated. By contrast, Navratri is celebrated all over India with great fervor.
Navratri usually falls in the month of October. It is celebrated for nine nights and ten days. During those nine nights and days, the Goddess is worshipped in her nine manifestations. The 10th day of the festival is called Vijayadashami or Dussehra. Dussehra celebrates the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma). In 2016, Navratri will be celebrated from October 1 to October 10.
Navratri is celebrated all over India and Nepal. The festival is celebrated in different ways in different states, but its essence is the same.
Indian festivals are based on the lunar calendar. Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated on the twentieth day after Dussehra.
During the first three days of Navratri, the Goddess is worshipped as Durga or Parvati (the consort of Lord Shiva). Durga is the Mother Goddess. Hindus have been worshipping Durga since prehistoric times. Durga is the epitome of courage and vigor. She is the destroyer of sin. Devotees worship her during Navratri to achieve liberation from lethargy and negativity.
During the next three days, the Goddess is worshipped as Lakshmi (the consort of Lord Vishnu). Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth – both material and spiritual.
During the last three days of the festival, the Goddess is worshipped as Saraswathi (consort of Lord Bhrahma). Saraswathi is the Goddess of knowledge. Navratri celebrates the spirit of women. The different manifestations of the Goddess are actually the different qualities of a woman. India may be a patriarchal society, but the biggest festival of this country celebrates the different facets of womanhood.
Read about other important festivals
How is the festival celebrated?
Navratri is celebrated with great fervor all over India. In North India, people fast on all nine days and worship the Goddess in her different forms. The Dussehra celebration in Kullu in Hamachal Pradesh is world famous.
In the north western state of Gujarat, Navratri is the biggest festival of the year. In Gujarat and other parts of India where the Gujarati community is present, men and women perform the traditional garba dance on all nine nights after the Pooja. Dance performances will be accompanied by devotional songs.
A large number of Gujaratis live in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra and hence garba is performed here as well. In Mumbai if you walk through the streets after 10 pm on these nights, you will find men and women performing garba dance in the middle of the road. These dance performances attract a large number of people. Not only Hindus, Muslims and Christians also participate in the festivities.
In West Bengal, the last five days of this festival are particularly important. Navratri is the biggest festival in Bengal and there it is celebrated as Durga Puja. Life-size clay idols of Goddess Gurga are installed and worshipped in homes and temples. These idols are worshipped for four days and immersed in water on the fifth day.
In Mumbai and Gujarat the biggest highlight of the Navratri celebration is the beautiful Garba and Dandiya-Rass dance performances. The Navratri Festival Celebrations organized by the Gujarat government attract people from all over the world.
Best places to enjoy Navratri festivities
Navratri celebrations in Mysore in Karnataka are famous all over the world. Navratri is the biggest festival in Karnataka. Try to visit Mysore during these days and you will never forget the experience. Mumbai is another great place to celebrate Navratri. Tourists from all over the world flock to Mumbai during Navratri to see the festivities. An advantage of being in Mumbai during Navratri is that you get an opportunity to see how the festival is celebrated in different states without having to actually visit each state. For example, the Gujarati community in Mumbai celebrates Navratri with the beautiful garba dance. Bengalis bring home idols of the Goddess and worship her for five days. Singing and dancing are accompanied. The South Indian community in Mumbai celebrates the festival in their own way. Interestingly, Navratri is celebrated in four different ways in the four South Indian states.
Keep in mind that Hindu festivals are rather noisy. If you can’t stand the noise, you will probably have to invest in a pair of earplugs.