Navarathri means nine nights in English. To break the word down, nav means nine while rathri means night.
Navarathri falls on different days each year in the Western calendar as it is calculated based on the Hindu calendar. Typically, Navarathri happens anytime between mid September and mid October. It falls after about one month after Ganesh Chathurthi and about three weeks before Diwali.
While Navarathri is celebrated slightly different in different parts of India, the final three days of Navarathri (Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadashami) are celebrated across India. These days are set apart for the worship of Goddess Saraswati – the Goddess of wisdom and learning. Students at this time keep their books and other study materials in the pooja room and temples as part of the worship. While school and college students tend to have all nine days off as a holiday, some colleges and schools that don’t may assure the day of Vidyarmbam as a holiday as Hindu students would not be reading or touching books on this day. During this period ayudha pooja (worshipping of vocational tools) is an integral part of the Navarathri festival. In this ritual, devotees worship their work tools by keeping them in the pooja (worship) room and temples. Householders will pay homage to tools like mixie grinders, vacuums, televisions, computers and other appliances which will be decorated with kumkum and/or turmeric. Also, those who own vehicles will perform a blessing or puja on them. People will wash their vehicles, may update or refreshen their paint, and decorate the vehicles with flowers and other decors.
Each state or region in India celebrates it slightly different. Let’s look at a few different ways Navarathri is celebrated in different parts of India.
The last day of Navarathri is known as Vidhyarmbham in Kerala. On this day, parents and families inaugurate young children around the age of three into education in a unique ritual. In this ritual called Ezhuthiniruthu, children are initiated into learning how to write. This ritual can take place at home or in a temple. The child is guided by their parent to write holy phrases in rice grains. To learn more about this, click here.
Cities in Kerala: Kochi (Cochin), Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), Kozhikode, Kannur, Thrissur.
Some families will dress up their daughters (and sometimes young sons) like goddesses for one or more days of this festival. For the entire duration of the holiday, some homes will also display a golu or a set of odd numbered steps with dolls and statues depicting different religions, cultures, or village scenes. While now a days many of these dolls can be bought at the store, traditionally families used to handmake these dolls. Some families will prepare for this festival months in advance. For families that display golu, they may invite others over every day to view the golu. Typically, golu viewing is restricted for ladies. Visiting homes may include eating one of nine varieties of sundal, receiving a thamboolam with a mirror, comb and other items as shown to the above (click here for more information), and participating in classical singing. Sundal is a fried snack made of different kinds of grains or beans. Some varieties include green gram sundal, chenna dhal sundal, peanut sundal, moong dhal sundal, corn sundal, and my personal favorite, chickpea sundal (pictured, below).
If a thamboolam is presented to you, you can collect the contents off of the platter with your right hand. Do not take the platter. The platter is used for presenting gifts in general. Typically, after you take the things off the platter, the hostess will give you a small bag or something to carry the items home in.
More about Navarathri:
Memories of Navarathri in Tamil Nadu by Padmini Natarajan.
Cities in Tamil Nadu: Chennai (Madras), Kanchipuram, Madurai, Trichy, Coimbatore, Kanyakumari
In this part of India, it is known as Durga Puja, and also some may say ‘pujo’. Here, those who celebrate make create life-size idols of Durga. At the end of the festival, these idols are immersed into a local river. At the end of the festival, many find this time of year auspicious to start business activities.
Cities in West Bengal: Calcutta (Kolkata)
A similar celebration to the one in Calcutta happens in Mauritius. Read more here.
How can we wish our Indian counterparts on this holiday?
“Happy Navarathri” is a wide spead English greeting.
“Shubh Navarathri” Hindi (North India)/Malayalam (Kerala). This is written in Malayalam in the first image of this blog post.
Jennifer Kumar an American expat who lived in Kochi from 2011-2017, pictured at the top of this article with her golu in India, enjoys learning about Indian festivals and teaching Americans about India. Jennifer helps virtual teams to communicate more effectively across global borders. For more on her unique training programs that have already benefited more than 4,000 professionals, click here.
The State Birthday of Kerala, India
A foreigner’s view of Navarathri in Chennai
Photo credit from top to bottom:
Shubh Navarathri in Malayalam: Jennifer Kumar
Car blessing: Balu Velacherry
Golu in Palakkad: Krishna Kumar
Thamboolam: Raji Muthukrishnan
Sundal: Srivalli Jetti
Devi (photo at the top): Vidianand Baree
Golu by Jennifer: Krishna Kumar
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