Travel tales

If its Navratri, it has to be Gujarat

The feature appeared in print – Sakal Times, Pune. It is reproduced here for a wider audience.

As the monsoon begins its return journey, people in India start getting ready for the festivities. The festivities begin on the first day of the new moon fortnight after paying homage to our ancestors during Shradha Paksh.

Different parts of the country have different ways of celebration though the fervor remains the same everywhere. It is known as Navratri in Gujarat, in West Bengal it is Durga Puja and Dussehra in the North.

Navratri festival is the festivity of nine nights devoted to Goddess Shakti and is celebrated with grandeur in Gujarat. The main highlight of the festivity of nine nights is the folk dance of Gujarat called Rasa Garba.  

All of Gujarat is beautifully decorated with lights and each day of the fiesta begins with the performance of aarti. On the first day, wheat seeds are sowed in an earthen pot for puja and the sprouts are taken as Prasad on the eighth; Vijayashtami, and ninth day; Mahanavami, after offering prayers to Goddess Durga.

The way people celebrate victory of Ma Jagdamba (Shakti) over demon Mahishahur after a fight for nine days in Gujarat has always been luring me for long, and this year finally I was lucky enough to go over to Ahmadabad and Vadodara and participate in the festivities.

The way people celebrate the victory of good over evil with best Garba beats and Dandiya dance attracts all and hence, Navratri is said to be the best time to visit Gujarat. This is the festival for which people of Gujarat wait for whole year to put on their dancing shoes, pick up colourful dandiya sticks and make garba moves over foot-tapping music. During all these nine days, everyone has a common destination in the evening ~ Garba Ground.

A brief about the myths

As per Hindu mythology, it is believed that beginning of autumn is an auspicious time to worship Durga. As per one of the various myths about the festival, demon Mahishasur was granted a boon by Agni, the fire god because of which Mahishasur couldn’t be destroyed by any kind of weapon having a masculine name. He started terrorizing the gods and destroying everything. Then the gods sought help from Shiva, who suggested chanting for Shakti (goddess of power).

A light emitted from the heart of Shiva and with the bodies of each god, Shakti was formed, also known as Adhya Shakti. She fought with all her might for nine days to kill Mahishasur and on the tenth day, finally, Shakti beheaded the demon. Then there is another myth; Sati Uma, who along with her four children Kartik, Ganesh, Daraswati and Laxmi  visits her parents’ house during Navratri. But she committed suicide by jumping into the yagna (fire) because she couldn’t tolerate the insults thrown at Shiva by her father King Daksha Prajapti.

However, Sati was reborn as Uma and she got back Shiva as her husband yet again. It is from this moment that she started visiting her home every year since peace had been restored. One more legend says before Pandavas and Kauravas waged war against each other, Krishna had prayed and worshiped Durga for power so that the Pandavas could win the war.

The nine incarnations of the goddess, including Siddhidatri, Mahagauri, Kalaratri, Katyayani, Kushmanda, Chandraghanta and Brahmacharini are worshipped as Nava Durga during Navratri.

My experience in Gujarat

So here I was in Ahmadabad on the first day of Navrati 2019, and without wasting time went to the Heritage market to do some shopping of colour ful Chaniya-Choli with matching jewellery for my lady colleagues and Kafni-Pyjama fro myself. Oh yes, after thisit was time for a traditional Gujarati Thali meal before the evening dawn in.

I came to learn later on in the evening about the religious significance and proceedings of the festival too. It started with people doing “Devi-sthaapna”, or setting up a shrine of the goddess in their homes. This shrine has a garbo (an earthenware pot), in which betel nut, coconut and a silver coin are placed. Every night, before playing Dandiya, devotees gather to perform a puja to one of the nine forms of the goddess.

In Ahmadabad, the festival kicked off at the huge GMDC ground where state’s chief minister gave a green signal, followed by Aarti and various cultural performances.  And now it was our turn, all men and women present their to begin Garba dance, one of the most colourful dance forms.  In this dance, we formed a circle and dance in synchronised steps along with a lot of clapping and twirling around a clay lantern with earthen lamps. We also performed Dandiya, another form of Gujarati dance which is performed with short sticks, moving in a circular manner to music. Mythologically, it also represents the mock-fight between the goddess Durga and the demon Mahishasura. During this nine-day festival, the whole city turns quite lively ~ it seems everybody is on the road at night. Usually Ahmadabad has many places to play Garba like GMDC ground and local clubs like Rajpath, Karnavti and YMCA.

We moved to Vadodara, the cultural capital of Gujarat on the second day. The colourful festival is celebrated with much fanfare here too. The city has many places to play Garba, and we went to the most famous United Way Ground. I was lost in the sea of people playing garba together in an excellent live ambiance. The music was played by renowned singers and dancers and it is estimated that every day more than 30,000 people visit the place.

After the two days of unstopped Garba and Dandiya in the evenings, I went around areas near Vadodra and enjoyed other tourist attractions nearby, namely the Statue of Unity – the symbol of pride for every Indian.

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