Ours is a country of festivals and we don’t go without celebrating them all. So with the beginning of August, there’s an electricity of excitement shooting through the country’s spine; because the season of festivals has begun. One important festival during this season is Navratri and we all celebrate it in the true sense of unity in diversity. Now, the diversity has always been interesting, even in ways of celebrating the festival; and based on it are some of the best places to be at in India during Navratri.
1.Gujarat – Starting with the most obvious choice. The flood of lights and the swish of colours in perfect rhythm to the flamboyant traditional music – it doesn’t get more festive than that! The worship of Ma Amba, an incarnation of the Goddess Shakti, happens for all the ten days of Navratri and women wearing mirror-work ghagra cholis and men wearing the authentic kedias perform the traditional Garba and Dandiya Raas dances with a contagious fervour. You simply cannot miss out being in places such as Ahemadabad, Surat, Baroda, Gandhinagar and other cities during this festival when the state becomes resplendent.
2.West Bengal – The same Goddess Shakti is worshipped as Durga in West Bengal. Navratri is celebrated as Durga Puja here and it is the biggest festival celebrated in this state; one that Bengalis all over the world eagerly wait for the whole year round. It is believed that Ma Durga descends from the house of her in-laws in heaven to that of her family’s on Earth. Huge pandals are constructed, decorated and lit to enshrine the grand idols of the goddess in all her glory. Ten days of prayers, ceremonies, festivities and feasting ensue. On Maha Dashami, the tenth day, processions are carried out to immerse her idols to represent her going back. The spectacle of the Goddess in the brightly lit pandal is mesmerising and this cultural extravaganza is not one to be missed.
3.Karnataka – Navratri is the time when women in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh engage in a ritual called ‘Bommaikolu’. ‘Bommai’ means dolls and ‘Kolu’ means display. Dolls decorated with flowers and ornaments are placed on a specially prepared staircase. These dolls represent deities and religious saints. Some of them are made by the women of the house to showcase their talent and others are made by children as toys. However, in Mysore, the royal deity Chamundi is worshipped during Navratri. She is considered to be the epitome of Mysore royalty so the festival is celebrated with great pomp and pageantry. On the tenth day, a magnificent procession of elephants, horses, chariots, musicians and people in costume follows the Maharaja to worship the hilltop temple of the Goddess.
4.Chattisgarh – This state surprisingly embraces and engulfs you in its Navratri celebrations that go on for not five, not ten but seventy-five days. The tribal people of Bastar worship Devi Maoli, a local goddess, and her sisters during these days. An enormous procession including hundreds of procession brings the deities to the Danteshwari temple in Jagdalpur. The highlight of the festival is the 2-ton heavy double-decker chariot or rath, which the natives make using traditional tools. The path of the procession between Bastar and Jagdalpur is lit with one thousand lamps. The celebrations here are lesser known in the country but once you do visit, you will want to see it repeatedly and wait the whole year round to catch it again.
5.Varanasi – Varanasi, considered to be one of the holiest cities in India, comes alive with a fiery zest during Navratri. Holy seers and devotees swarm the place during this festival. Ram Leela, a dance drama wherein the lives of Ram, Seeta and Laxman in exile are enacted, is performed throughout the city during these days. Ramnagar, which is at a distance of 15 kms from the city, is famous for this event. The recital of Ramacharitamanas takes place for nine days after which Dassehra is celebrated on one of the largest scales here. Ram’s reunion with Bharat after his return to Ayodhya is celebrated here as Bharat Milaap, one day after Dassehra. Just being here makes you feel pure from within while you silently marvel at the celebrations.
With such spectacular not-to-be-missed celebrations happening throughout the country, you have hardly any time left to think about it. Pick a place or two, book your tickets, pack your bags and be part of these grand festivities, each so unique and distinct from the others. Please do come back and share your experiences because when it comes to hearing about festivals, the people of this country are always listening with their ears open.