Sunday, October 21, 2012


Navarathri is here! Its perhaps my favorite Indian festival or atleast the Golu (display of thematic dolls) part of it.

I remember roaming around the streets of Periyapettai in Vaniyambadi town of Tamilnadu, mostly topless and wearing some saree material around the waist, going along with girls to invite neighbors for Navarathri golu!! While we never managed to grow a decent 'park' and our dolls collection was always meagre, our panthal (tent) used to be competitive!!

Err, for the uninitiated, Navarathri (meaning nine nights) is a festival dedicated to goddesses and usually comes following a new-moon day in October. The tenth day is also celebrated as Vijaya Dasami to make it Dasara. In the Hindu almanac, the fourteen days following the new-moon and full-moon days are called according to order (prathamai - first, ashtami - eight, navami - ninth, dasami - tenth etc). Hence the name.

After Magar Sankaranthi (winter solstice), I only find Navarathri being celebrated in far-corners of India for the same reason (goddess worship). Yes, Diwali is the most popular festival, but the reason for celebrating it is fundamentally different in the north and the south. The variations in the calendars make the New Year days different in parts of the country.

The Kali idols and Pooja pandals of Bengal, the Garba dances in Gujarat, the Dusshera procession of Goddess Chamundi in Mysore, the Golu (in some communities) and Ayudha (books/tools) pooja of TN, Vidya Aarambam (initiating children to letters) of Kerala, all make this festival especially colorful and somewhat enigmatic. I find it especially interesting that the festival is dedicated to aggressive feminine goddesses.

Even in north india, the navarathri festival is understood to be meant for Goddesses. But as is their wont, the hindiwallahs continue to disgrace every festival with immoral stories from an ancient semi-pornographic work of fiction (known as Ramayana). Here I digress.

I wish more people keep Golu in their houses. Its a great way to make kids interested in relatives, Indian philosophy, culture (and myths if you wish). Not to mention some healthy sundal (boiled pulses), amateur singing and beautiful traditional dresses.

The family history of keeping Golu is also amusing. I recently heard how one of the Shiva dolls in our golu (more than 40 years old, from my grandma's collection), was a pair with Parvati and the story of how that one broke. I remember how each of the dolls came into our collection.

And beyond all this, Golu represents a tremendous multi-religious tradition among Indians (Hindus). Dolls from different religions like Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Saivism, the Dravidian religions and in some houses, Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism smugly stand next to each other, and we being so used to it, don't even observe this as interesting.

And finally, did you know that Rasamalai and Rasagolla were invented by KC Das and his father respectively?!

Happy Navarathri!

1 comment:

Ridhus said...

I read your blog regularly and I find your description of Ramayana offensive. I find reading the Ramayana truly inspirational during difficult times ,especially the chapters on Hanuman's search,his disappointments and triumph against odds. I think it is more important to be free of religious intolerance than to be free of religion.

Look forward to reading your future blog posts.