When my 12-year-old daughter asked me to explain the significance of Navaratri, I embarked on a lengthy narrative of the various stories that revolve round the festival, before summing up succinctly, “Navaratri is a celebration of woman power, a festival of women, for women and by women.”
Whether it is the exchange of vettalai paaku (auspicious exchange of betel leaves and nut) and sundal eating sessions down south or the myriad hues of Durga puja in the east, the graceful twirling of women's skirts as they dance to the rhythmic beat of the Garba in the west or the toasting of the symbolic victory of good over evil in the north, it is a show of women's strength all the way. What can be better proof than the fact that in all homes, during these nine days, girls are invited and treated as guests of honour and offered a variety of accessories ranging from nail polish to bangles to earrings and fancy necklaces, while their peer boys have to be content with a pencil or a chocolate bar!
My hubby disagrees: “What about the burning of Raavan's effigies in the north?” Isn't that a ‘man-thing'?
“Maybe, but the cause of Raavan's death were two women, his nemesis Sita and his home-wrecking sister Soorpanakha. And, however powerful the mighty Ram was, he eventually needed the blessings of Mother Goddess to pull the final trigger (or arrow) on Raavan. So, isn't it a classic case of a woman coming to the rescue of a man in distress, I conclude.
As we propitiate Mother Goddess all the nine days, we are reminding ourselves that there can be no universe without a woman. When we distribute goodies to fellow sisters, we are asserting that ‘a woman is a woman's best friend.'
The Garba brings out women from the confines of their home and hearth and lets them have a well-deserved break, sanctioned by religion, in an otherwise male-dominated society. When goddess Durga stands out majestically alone, separated from her consort Siva, she is demonstrating that a woman is a man's better half, she is capable of having her own identity, separate from a man. It is another matter that she chooses not to.
Idols and images of the Durga taken round in processions reaffirm what we have known all along, that the woman is the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer and that she deserves to be worshipped.
“So, has a man no place in this scheme of things,” asks my husband.
“Yes he does. Who will chauffeur us to the various houses as we go on our sundal collection spree, who will help us pack and unpack the kolu stands, who will answer phone calls and doorbells while we are engrossed in chanting the Goddess's name? For nine days, it is a role reversal of sorts. You take the back seat, while we assume charge as mistresses of the universe.” I reply, trying to placate him.
(The writer's email id is: sivaramsharada@