As I woke up at 6.30 in the morning, to my neighbour aunty’s “Jai Ambe Gauri” bhajan (with a couple of male voices in there) which was the same background music I dozed off to, I was wondering how they were pulling off an all-nighter/Jagrata, while I was just pumping in Red Bull last night. After 5 minutes I was thinking, what is the occasion even? Because this was the same aunty who would be screaming the most diversified array of bad words to her children for running late to school at this time.
After I got ready and asked my mom what it was all about, she said “It’s Chaitra Navratri this week.” Upon asking her the reason for this celebration, she had no answer, probably because Chaitra Navratri isn’t that prominent in my community. But according to some popular legends, devotees believe that Lord Shiva granted permission to his wife Goddess Durga for seeing her mother for just nine days. During that time, Goddess Durga demolished demon Mahishasura. Hence Goddess Durga aka Kali is represented as a symbol of shakti – the ultimate strength. And that is why Devi or Shakti is worshipped during this time. Thus, leading to this 9-day long celebration. Apparently, Desis have age-old tradition of making everything large, whether it is a wedding, festival or a funeral.
Chaitra Navratri symbolizes the beginning of the Hindu New Year which marks the beginning of the spring season. It is celebrated in various forms depending on the region, such as Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra and Goa, Cheti-Chand by Sindhis, Navreh by Hindu Kashmiris. The festival is marked on the eighth day or ashtami by honoring a group of kanjaks or pre-pubescent girls. I remember going to one, when I was a kid. But even then, neither did I know why I was being woken up at 8am in the morning to go my neighbour’s place, nor did I understand why the uncle who once shouted at me for breaking their window while playing cricket was suddenly washing my feet with water and covering my head with a red Chunni. I knew one thing clearly though, I was getting free meal of halwa, puris, black chana and money after this, so I didn’t question.
After getting ready, my mom came up to me and ordered “No meat for a week, alright? Now I am not asking you to go to temples or do aartis or anything, but no non-veg, please.” and handed me 100 bucks. Yeah right, like after 40% reserved for travelling, I could afford chicken. It is a norm for all devotees to fast during this nine-day period signifying “cleansing” of the body, which seems quite hypocritical, as these are the same people who would empty out the Non-Veg section in a buffet, rest of the year. If it is will power we’re talking about, then some have theirs as high as 100% for times like these, while there are some who “accidently” succumb to temptation, and some who don’t even try. With the long list of sins, I don’t think any vrat could salvage us.
Apart from food, during this period the Durga Suktam is chanted with great vigor every evening. Every evening a different form of Devi is worshipped with bhajans and aartis. So, good luck to those who have their internals this week and are trying to study. You can either turn into Raju Rastogi and join the aarti or say “All Izz Well”, plug in your earphones and start studying. There’s still hope for you.
Have fun celebrating, everyone. May the Shakti be with you.