Dushhehra, Navratri and Durga Puja

Contributed by Drs. Amit Dholakia and Smita Tripathi

Navratri (literally nine nights in Sanskrit) is a religious festival from the South Asian sub-continent celebrated variously by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the month of Ashvin, which typically falls in September and October. It is vividly rich in thematic and content variations imbued with many diverse flavours unique customs, rich traditions and accompanied by medley of dances, songs and bhajans. Different parts of the sub-continent celebrate it variously; as manifested through the range of languages, foods, cultures, performances, rituals, celebrations and even attire associated with it. It is celebrated in Mauritius and Bali, along with other countries where Hindus reside. The diverse traditions and customs is traced back to regions and varied heritage, syncretism and unique path dependency of how the festivals evolved in the numerous regions and cultures. A very rich cultural – religious mosaic of events and rituals marks the unique celebrations and events. It is truly a special joyous exuberant opportunity to rejoice as expressed through the Sanskrit word Utsav (meaning to grow upwards) which is often used in connection with it. 

The worship of the divine Devi, Shakti or Goddess is another central theme of the celebration and acknowledges the significance and role of the feminine and the maternal in our cultures. The worship of Goddesses represented by mothers, sisters and daughters are an amazing feature of this festival.

The spiritual overtone of this festival includes a focus on relaxing, reflecting, turning inwards and recharging ourselves with new energy. It suggests how negativity within or outside can be conquered by the inherent goodness and positive qualities of an individual. Our minds are constantly inundated with all kinds of noises, emotions and externalities, bickering, arguing, and judging, and so on. The isolation and the economic – social ramifications during this pandemic has been huge; Navratri is a time to overcome these tendencies, emerge stronger and come together as human beings.

In Northern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

To celebrate a good harvest and to please the nine planets, women plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers at the start of the nine days and then offer the young saplings on the tenth day as a sacred offering. adoration

In the Northern tradition, another popular ritual is Kanya Puja, which takes place on the eighth or ninth day. On this occasion, nine young girls are dressed as the nine goddess aspects celebrated during Navratri and are adored with rituals and worshipped with offerings of food and clothing.

Dussherra is celebrated on the tenth day and is associated with the victory of the Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana. Ram Lila is a theatrical representation of the epic Ramayana (the Story of Ram) in play, song, dance and music over the nine days. The final day witnesses the victory of Lord Rama over the evil king Ravana (‘Vijay Dashami‘ day). The effigies of Ravana, and his two generals Kumbhakarna, and Meghnath are burnt to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

Dussherra is considered an auspicious time to begin educational or artistic pursuits, especially for children. The day often begins with a worship of our writing instruments, educational and work tools and a documenting of familial achievements in a family register. Ravana is worshipped on the morning of Dussherra, primarily because of his intellect, skills and prowess.  

In Western parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

The festivities in the West focus on communally performed dances, most famously the Garba and Dandiya, especially in Gujarat. These dancers wear elaborate, colourful, embroidered dresses. The dances are very energetic, exuberant and involve a lot of rotations, twirling and circling. They truly express the soulful and intense vibrance of Gujarat. Since it is believed that the Goddess is fond of red flowers and yellow colour, women and young girls prefer wearing clothes in these colours.

In Garba, women dance gracefully in circles around a pot containing a lamp whereas in the Dandiya dance, men and women participate in pairs with small, decorated bamboo sticks, called dandiyas in their hands.

In Eastern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

In Eastern parts of the sub-continent including Nepal and Manipur, Dussherra has its own variant and flavour as Dashian and is celebrated over fifteen days. On the 10th day a ceremonial Tika of yogurt, vermilion, and rice is applied on the forehead.   Another important aspect is the worship of God as Mother (Maa). Followers of the Goddess Durga/Shakti, celebrate the occasion as Durga Puja.

The central storyline of the victory of good over evil is staged in the clay statues produced for the annual festival of Durga puja. It begins with the shape-shifting buffalo-demon Mahisa, who tricks the Gods into granting him immortality with the proviso that he could only be slain by a woman, hence making him practically invincible. The Demon Mahisa then becomes a scourge, challenging and harassing the Earth and the Gods incessantly till they decide to fight back; they combine their energy, the light streaming out of their heads joined together to materialise as Durga, a woman of sublime beauty. Armed with divine weapons and riding a lion or tiger, Durga approaches Mahisa and using her wit, charm and brute force, eventually slays him in a dramatic showdown.

In the traditional puja representation, Durga is shown in the crucial moment of the fight, piercing the beheaded demon with a spear, while her two sons Karthikeya and Ganesa and her two daughters Lakshmi and Sarasvati stand supportively by her side. Lion/tiger signifies dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds and environment.

It is said that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days at this time of the year and this festival also commemorates this visit. Therefore, this tradition enables married women to visit their childhood homes.

Dhunuchi Naach is an impromptu dance performed in front of Maa Durga by worshippers dancing with burning incense pots. They dance and execute tricks holding burning pots to the beat of the dhaaks which are perfect musical accompaniments to the frenzied movements.

Sindoor Khela is held on Mahadashami when it is time to bid adieu to Maa and is occasioned by ritual play with red or orange colour. In parts of the sub-continent, in sharp contrast to feasts, extravagant meals, and social get-togethers, the festival is a time for fasting and prayers.

In Southern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

The festival takes on regional colours and hues with a very wide range of celebrations and forms. In Kerala, Poojavaippu is celebrated as a festival of education and learning with a focus on children worshipping their pens and books – this marks the beginning if their educational journey.

In Andhra Pradesh the festivities take on a floral aspect with the nine days being dedicated to the Goddess Maha Gauri. In Bathukamma Padunga (literally meaning ‘Come Alive Mother Goddess’), women make floral stacks accompanied by fascinating floral dances and songs.

In parts of Tami Nadu and Karnataka, Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period. Its regional names /variations include Bommai Kolu in Tamil which means Divine Presence, Bommala Koluvu in Telugu or the Court of Toys and Bombe Habba in Kannada which means Doll Festival.

Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period in parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Interestingly the dolls and figurines show every day scenes along with more religiously inspired divine scenes from the epics like Ramayana.

Spiritual Significance

The spiritual significance of the festival is rooted in meditating on the antar dhayan – the inner source of all energy. Through fasting, prayer, silence and meditation, the individual seeks an improvement in themselves – purifying oneself from within. This symbolic dhayan and manan, it is claimed causes one to emerge stronger and purer, it brings relief at the three levels of our existence – physical, subtle and causal. While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies the speech and brings rest to the chattering mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s own being. The essence of this knowledge is acknowledged by celebrating the tenth day as Vijay Dashmi.

The Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist or Islamic ways of life has since time immemorial advocated living in harmony with one another and with nature. The symbiotic relationship between an individual, their community and nature has come into sharp focus during this period of lockdown. The Hindu philosophy of interacting with humanity in a way that promotes universal prosperity to satisfy everyone’s needs rather than greed shines through in this religious celebration. Navratri is the time for you to realize that you are loved, and dwell and rest in this feeling of love. When you do this, you come out feeling stronger, wiser, rejuvenated, refreshed and harmonious.

The celebration of Navratri is in essence the worship of the one Divine existence who manifests in various forms and avatars. The supreme being is worshipped in various ways – all aspects of life and nature are worshipped during these days. Worship of this divine enables the victory of good, removes miseries, sorrows and pains; bestows peace, prosperity and joy on one and all. In the end, Navratri is really about praying for universal wisdom and a simple wish to reconnect with something much bigger than each one of us and the occasion is a tool that helps us do that.

With the blessings of the Divine, may each one of us be imbued with the blessings of the Adi Seer; May you have–

Ichcha Shakti – Willpower

Kriya Shakti – Power to perform right action

Jnana Shakti – Knowledge of right action

Eid- e- Milad un Nabi

The Prophet’s Birthday, or Milad un Nabi as it is commonly known in Muslim culture, is celebrated in many countries to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. It is celebrated in the third month of the Islamic calendar Rabbi-ul-Awwal. While the Shias celebrate it on the 17th of the month, the Sunnis celebrate on the 12th of the month, according to the Islamic calendar. The date of this festival varies in the Gregorian calendar.

The celebration of Prophet’s birthday is believed to have its origins in the 8th century when the Prophet Muhammad’s birth house was converted into a house of prayer by Al-Khayzuran. Al-Khayzuran was the mother of Caliph, Harun-al-Rashid. Originally, the festival was celebrated by the Shias. For centuries, the day was celebrated with animal sacrifices and huge processions during the day which culminated by a speech by the rulers. People celebrate it with offering prayers in the mosques and distributing food and alms to the poor. In some parts of the world, the festival is observed with large processions and a carnival-like atmosphere. There is an atmosphere of festivity and people exchange gifts. The mosques are decorated with lights and sermons are given to large congregations. This is a public holiday in most of the Muslim countries. The custom of celebrating the birth of the Holy Prophet on an enormous scale began in Egypt with the descendants of the Prophet, through his daughter Fatima. Gifts of honey in particular is a unique part of the festival. One memorable part of the festivities include the Sheer KhurmaSheer means milk in Persian and Khurma means dates. The sweet dish is made by cooking fine vermicelli, milk, dates, and other dry fruits until they all come together to make a delicious delight. Shahi Mutton Biryani, Hyderabadi Mutton Haleem and Peshawari Naan are some other delicacies that are enjoyed during this celebration.

Annual Event 2020

Following our earlier communication, we have discussed our options during the AGM as well as in our trustee meeting following the AGM. In line with prevailing guidance, we have decided not to organise any face to face event this year. However, in these difficult times when we are increasingly isolated, it is ever more important to ensure we are socially engaged within and outside the community. 

In a true community spirit, we are in discussions to organise our Annual Event virtually. It will of course not be the same experience but we are hoping to make it bigger and better. Quoting Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity“. Through our annual event, we are usually able to engage between 200 to 400 community members. Organising such an event virtually will potentially allow us to engage with a much wider population in Devon and Cornwall. 

Please save the date 28th November in your diaries. Further information and details will follow in our October Newsletter in the last week of October.   

Trustee Board Update

This year we are delighted to welcome Dr Amit Dhulkotia as an associate Trustee. Dr Dhulkotia is a GP and an active member of the community who is keen to help progress the organisation as a value-based unit promoting further cohesion among communities through cultural exchanges.

Dr Smita Tripathi, Dr Satish BK and Mr Abihjit Ghatghe have now completed one year and are now full trustees of the Society. 

Following the AGM, in our first trustee meeting, the following changes to office bearers were agreed 

Chairperson – Dr Arunangsu Chatterjee
Secretary – Dr Smita Tripathi
Treasurer – Mr Raja Srinivasan 

Prof Awadesh Jha completed his 3-year tenure as chairperson and will continue as a trustee. The entire team wholeheartedly thanked Prof Jha for his tireless efforts in the last 3 years to ensure that we continue and scale our contribution and impact as a society. He has successfully raised the profile of the society and we have been recognised through a number of channels including the community award we received from the Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioners office. The trustees and wider members of the community thank Prof Jha once more. 

Supporting SAaS – Amazon Smile

As a charity, we have now signed up with Amazon Smile. For those who are not aware and if you shop on Amazon, it is a way for you to support our work and our ability to organise more events and activities in future. By following the steps below, you will be able to add us as your preferred charity. If you shop on Amazon, they will then donate 0.5% of all eligible purchases to us when you shop. There is no additional cost to you. 

Step 1 – Visit https://smile.amazon.co.uk/ch/1110925-0 and add us as your preferred Charity 

Step 2 – When shopping online, rather than visiting www.amazon.co.uk, please bookmark smile.amazon.co.uk and do your shopping as usual.   

Step 3 – On your Amazon mobile app find ‘Settings’ in the main menu (☰). Tap on ‘AmazonSmile’ and follow the on-screen instructions to turn on AmazonSmile on your phone.

That’s it. If you need any further information of clarifications then please feel free to email us. 

Many thanks for your support.