By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Navaratra, NavarAtra, Navaraatra
Navarātra literally means ‘festival of nine nights’.
‘Navarātra’ means a period of nine nights or even a period of nine days. Two Navarātras are mentioned in the purāṇas and the dharmaśāstras, as being highly auspicious for the worship of Sakti or the Divine Mother Durgā. They are: Vasantanavarātra, the first nine days in the Vasanta ṛtu or spring, from Caitra śukla pratipad up to navamī; Saran-navarātra, the first nine days in the Saradrtu or autumn, from Āśvayuja śukla pratipad to navami. However, in practice, the celebration of the former has yielded its place almost completely to the latter.
Though this Navarātra is celebrated all over the country in some form or the other, it is the Durgotsava or the festival of Mother Durgā that steals the show.
Celebration of the Navarātra festival varies from place to place in other parts of the country. In South India, goddess Sarasvatī is worshipped on the saptami day and Durgā on the aṣṭami. The worship is done in the picture and not in clay images as in Bengal. The navamī day, called ‘MahānavamF, is celebrated as Āyudhapujā, the instruments and implements that help us to earn our livelihood being worshipped then. This is akin to the Viśvakarmapujā performed in the North, during the month of Bhādrapada when Ravi (the Sun) enters the zodiacal sign of Kanyā (Virgo). In almost all the homes, there will be display of dolls with decorations. This is a special attraction for children.
In several parts of North India, especially in the Hindi belt, Navarātra is celebrated as Rāmalīlā. Recitations from the Rāmāyana, enacting plays based on the several episodes of the epic and processions culminating in the burning of the effigies of Rāvaṇa, Kumbhakarṇa and Meghanāda on the daśamī day (also called Vijayadaśamī) are the salient features of these celebrations.
In the Mysore City of Karnataka, the Dasara festival celebrated during the Navarātra, has been very famous. It was a royal festival celebrated by the Mahārājā (King) of Mysore, ending with a grand procession on the Vijayadaśamī day.
Now-a-days, an image of Cāmuṇ-deśvarī (an aspect of Durgā) is taken out in procession.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore