|| Literally 'nine nights', this nine-day period from
the new moon day to the ninth day of Ashvin is considered the most auspicious
time of the Hindu calendar and is hence the most celebrated time of the year.
Although it has different names in different parts of India, Hindus from all regions
celebrate it. From Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south, and from Gujarat
in the west to Sikkim in the east, it is celebrated with great enthusiasm as the
conquest of good over evil. Every region has its own myths and reasons to explain
The nine different aspects of Devi are worshipped over the nine days. These are
the most popular forms under which she is worshipped: Durga: goddess beyond reach;
Bhadrakali the auspicious power of time; Amba or Jagdamba: mother of the world;
Annapurna: giver of food and plenty; Sarvamangala: auspicious goddess; Bhairavi:
terrible, fearful, power of death; Chandika or Chandi: violent, wrathful, furious;
Lalita: playful; and Bhavani: giver of existence.
The festivities culminate on the tenth day, called variously Vijayadashmi, Dussehra
or Dassain when people in most parts of the country burn effigies of Ravana, Meghanatha
and Kumbhakarna. The nine-day period from the first to the ninth day in the bright
fortnight of the month of Chaitra is also known as Navaratri and is dedicated
to the worship of nine different aspects of Devi. These nine days are however,
popular in north India only. The ninth day in this month is also celebrated as
During Navaratri some people fast on all days taking only fruit and milk dishes
and some fast only on the eighth or ninth day. As the festival is dear to the
mother goddess, on the eighth or ninth day many people invite over nine young
girls from the neighborhood. These girls are treated as the goddess herself. People
ceremonially wash their feet, worship them and then offer food to the "girl goddesses".
On the first day of the Navaratri, grains of barley are planted in the puja room
of the house. A small bed of mud is prepared in which barley seeds are sown after
a small puja has been performed. Every day some water is sprinkled on it. On the
tenth day, the shoots are about 3 - 5 inches in length. After the puja, these
seedlings are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from god. The seedlings
are placed on their caps, behind their ears, and inside books to bring good luck.
This custom suggests a link to harvesting. The sowing and reaping of barley is
symbolic of the "first fruit”. Soon after this festival, the sugarcane crop is
harvested and the winter crops are sown.
According to one hypothesis, in ancient times, this was a festival intended for
the Kshatriyas. After the four-month long monsoon when military activity was not
possible, this was considered a good time to start afresh on one's conquests.
|For nine days before
starting on the war journey, kings prayed to the nine different aspects of Devi
or Adishakti. They also prayed for their arms and ammunition. The tenth day was
when the journey for the conquest began. The origin of this custom can also be
traced to the Ramayana. According to it, Rama had to pray to the nine different
aspects of Devi to be able to kill Ravana. He then accumulated enough power to
kill Ravana on the tenth day, which was called Vijayadashmi or Victory Day. Since
then, the tradition of praying to Devi for nine days has continued and was especially
pronounced amongst the Kshatriyas who believed that by doing so, they too would
be able to defeat the most powerful enemy.