# Day 142 (Festival legends I)

The Navratri festival may be celebrated with some fun, some religious fervour and with great enthusiasm in almost all parts of our country but the festivities and rituals associated with it differ, depending upon which legend the people follow. The underlying story is always about the worship of the Divine Mother. They say the story of Durga and the worship of “Shakti” ~ the sublime creative energy that permeates the universe ~ dates back to pre-historic times even before the dawn of the Vedic age. The “Devi Sukta” and “Isha Sukta” of the Rigveda and “Ratri Sukta” in the Samveda sing paeans of praise of sadhanas of “Shakti.” There are references to this tradition in both our main epics. Before the ‘Great-War’ in Mahabharata, Krishna worshipped Durga for the victory of the Pandavas. Similarly in the Ramayana, Lord Rama is said to have invoked the Goddess in all her forms for nine days so that he could be blessed with the powers required to vanquish the mighty Ravana.The story goes that it was he who first established the tradition of “Mahishasura Mardini Strotam” during this time of the year by offering the Goddess 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps for nine days and nights. Those nine days became the ’Navratri’ and the tenth day when he killed Ravana is now celebrated as Dussehra. This story from the Ramayana is the prominent legend associated with this festive period in most parts of India. It has also fostered the tradition of “Ma Durga” being idolised as the Goddess of warriors and an exultant calling out of her name forming the rallying war whoop of Rajput soldiers going into battle. Historians have also recorded how in earlier times war-like activities were generally suspended during the monsoon season (a hangover of Alexander the Great’s army being emaciated by diseases during this period perhaps?!) Once the monsoons receded, a fresh ‘warring-season’ would start with first propitiating the Goddess for nine days. The famous and much-celebrated Kullu-Dussehra some say belongs to this tradition.
Like the “Durga-Puja-pandal” that comes up to represent the Mahishasura legend in some parts, in other parts of the country the “Ramleela-stage” comes up where the story of Ramayana is enacted ceremoniously for nine days as “Ramleela” On the tenth day or Dussehra, huge effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghanad are burnt to celebrate the victory of good over evil. In many areas of the North, specially the belt that formed erstwhile “Panjab”, devotees fast for the first seven or eight days. Meat, alcohol, grains, wheat, onion and garlic etc are avoided during this time, the belief being that during this period of seasonal change such food tends to absorb a lot of negative energies. So the food partaken is what is known as “sattvic” in nature…basically it is like a detoxification of the body, mind and soul. The period is considered very auspicious as they say the “Devi-shakti” is most powerful at this time. Many spend this fasting period in prayers and prayer-meetings; others initiate important activities and major purchases–like a house, during this time.
On the eighth day (some do this on the ninth day) the fasting ends with the devotees calling home young girls who are called ‘kanjaks’ or ‘girl-goddesses’. Traditional food of ‘puri-halwa-channas’ is offered to these little girls. It’s a ritual i have seen performed or have done so myself for almost every annual navratri of my life. What exactly is this ritual meant to signify…a satisfactory explanation has as yet eluded me. What i often find hard to believe is that this very belt of our country that so makes a show of worshipping the ‘kanya’ , is also the one where people most clamour for a son and where female infanticide is still rampant…a disturbing dichotomy that one hopes will one day get resolved.
Meanwhile some more legends and rituals remain to be shared…


About sunsur81

A gatherer of thoughts...exploring myths,metaphors and expressions of life...
This entry was posted in 365 Days Blog-roll, Indian Accents, Matters of Faith and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to # Day 142 (Festival legends I)

  1. NupurNS says:

    Wait, so we don’t know the reason for kanjak puja?! That’s disappointing… :-/


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