The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit; Nava meaning Nine and Ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi i.e. female divinity are worshipped. They are Durga, Badrakali, Amba (Jagadamba), Annapurna, Sarvamangala, Bairavi, Chandi, Lalitha, Bhavani, Mookambika. Navarathri is also called “Dussehra”. The 9th day is celebrated as Saraswathi Poojai ( for Vani or Saraswathi, the Goddess of knowledge and arts) and 10th day Vijayadashami. The festival is celebrated for nine nights once every year during the beginning of October, although as the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar.
Kids look forward for this most colorful time of the year, where kalash and beautiful dolls are arranged and adorned in steps and everyday, you get treated with yummy sundals. As a kid, I would eagerly wait for Navrathri, so I could help my mom unpack the dolls from attic and arrange them in a nice way. The dolls would range from idols of God and Goddess, chettiar bommai(Grocer), wax fruits and fun stuff like marriage party, cricket field set etc. I would also add my doll house and we used to have these lovely (muthu bommai), dolls hand made by my mom with baeds.( The concept is very similar to how the birth of Jesus would be displayed in figurines, during christmas here in the US).
The best part is not just adding new dolls each year to the old collection, but also a great opprtunity for the kids to learn Hindu culture, traditions and values. My dad and I would decorate with serial lights and focus lamp and mom would delegate me to make interesting kolam(rangoli) with sabudana, chumki and color powders. My brother and I would make a park with ragi seeds or mustard seeds and make a jungle or park with that. When I was little, my mom would stich mattai(Hair decorations with flowers) and adorn me. All 9 nights, she would dress me up in different costumes. Typically, all the neighbours are invited to witness the kolu and receive tamboolam. People can sing songs- Kritis and Bhajans. Some recite devi slokas, Devimahatmiyam etc. The aaru padi veedu of Lord Muruga or Karthikeya is the latest addition to my mom’s collection( Palani, Thiruparankundram, Pazhamudhirsolai, Swamimalai, Thiruchendur, Thirutani).
The above mentioned way is how we used to celebrate Navarathri in South India(Tamil Nadu). However, living in the US, we got adapted and actually started loving how people in North India and in Gujarat celebrate navrathri. Punjabi’s do “Jaagran” and Gujarati’s do “Garba“( gummi-in tamil) and “Dandiya“( Kolattam-in tamil) and Durga pooja and arti. Every year, I make sure I take my daughter to dandiya-Garba and also show her the south indian kolu(display of dolls). It’s a lot of fun to play the garba and dandiya.
All the 10 days, I would make 10 varieties of sundals( Legumes or Lentils cooked and spiced) and offer it to Devi and consume as prasad. It is a protein rich healthy snack. I typically invite some friends home and offer them the prasad and tamboolam.