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Monday, October 15, 2001

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Celebrating a divine victory

NAVARATHRI OR festival of nine nights is celebrated differently in various parts of the country. In the western State of Gujarat, it is time for gaiety and revelry. Goddess Shakti is worshipped and every town and hamlet comes alive with the colourfully attired youth performing the traditional garba and dandiya raas.

In Bengal, the festival is celebrated as Durga Puja — to mark the triumph of good over evil. Images of the goddess are worshipped and, at the end of the festivities, immersed amid ritual and ceremony in rivers, lakes or ponds.

In North India, 10 days of jubilation reach a climax on Dussehra with the burning of effigies of Ravana, Kumbakarna and Meghnath. Vijaya Dasami is considered to be the day when Ravana was slain by Sri Rama.

The legendary battle is enacted over several evenings in the Ramalila — a spectacular combination of music, dance and theatre.

In the southern State of Karnataka, Dussehra is celebrated with pomp and splendour and people from far and near flock to see the pageantry in which the members of the royal family participate.

Mysore gets transformed into a magical world of light and colour and on the last day of the festival, decorated elephants, horses, regal coaches and folk dancers in bright costumes, troops in uniform and tableaux depicting the cultural diversity of our country pass through the streets in a majestic procession.

Devi Bhagawatham forms the basis of the celebration in Tamil Nadu, Women and family elders usually wake up early in the morning, after bath, prepare prasadam and perform aarthi. It is an occasion when prasadam is fed to the poor.

The practice of Kolu was perhaps started to involve children in the ceremonies.

They would bring out their best toys and dolls and dress them up to represent characters from the Ramayana.

The dolls would be arranged on a wooden stand comprising several tiers.

In South India, Navarathri is a festival dedicated to three devis and is observed in three phases.

The first three days are dedicated to Durga, the ultimate embodiment of divine power.

The next three days are dedicated to Lakshmi — the Goddess of Health, Wealth and Prosperity and the last three days to Saraswathi, Goddess of Learning. Vijaya Dasami is considered auspicious for initiating children into learning — academics or arts. Puja is also done to ayudham or equipment used daily and on special occasions.

Days before Navarathri, the shops are flooded with kolu dolls. Kolu is not restricted only to the display of the idols of the gods and goddesses.

Today, innovation is the watchword. Friends and relatives, usually women and children, are invited to see the display of dolls. They are given coconut, turmeric, kumkum, flowers and prasadam in keeping with the tradition.

Though kolu is still observed in many homes in Chennai, with the break-up of the joint family there are not many kith and kin to participate in the celebration.

The burden of the school bag and the inroads made by cable TV into the leisure time children have at their disposal, are beginning to make kolu less of an attraction.

But by and large, Navarathri continues to be a festival for women and children, particularly in South India.


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