October 17 is Sharad Navaratri, a widely celebrated festival of Hindu religion which is solely devoted to the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga. This is a nine-day long (Navratri means nine nights) festival that happens during the autumn season (Sharad). 17th of October will be celebrated as the first day of the Navratri, also known as Ekkum, Kalashstaphna or Ghatsthapna. Sharad Navratri starts on the next day of Amavasya or new moon day (October 16).
How it is celebrated
The first day of Sharad Navratri is auspicious because on this day Goddess Durga is invoked in a holy pot following Vedic rituals. And that pot then becomes the holy presence of Goddess Durga in the house. The family members get together to conduct the puja and install the pot and this ritual is known as the Kalashsthapana.
Starting from this day, the first day of Sharad Navratri, the devotees begin the nine-day ritualistic fast. The fast of Navratri is also considered one of the toughest fasts because of its various rules. The devotee should refrain from consuming pulse, grain or non-vegetarian meals. Anything made of onion, garlic or table salt is strictly prohibited. However, they can consume fruits and sweets along with water. What is also special in this festival is the idea that the devotees' families also follow the rules albeit they don’t necessarily observe the fast. For nine days, any meal cooked in the house should be without onion, garlic and table salt (rock salt should be used). People even refrain from consuming alcohol.
Throughout the nine days, every morning and evening, the devotees along with their families read stories of Goddess Durga’s valour, chant holy mantras about the deity and perform aarti.
Finally, on the tenth day, which is celebrated as Dussehra, the holy pot is immersed in the river following the rituals.
What is the belief behind it?
Sharad Navratri is considered one of the most divine and powerful festival of Hindu religion. It is believed that Goddess Durga descends on the earth on the first day of Navratri and stays with her devotees for nine days. The deity’s stay with the devotees is also compared to a short visit to her paternal house. And so she is served with all the love, care and divinity.
As far as the history of the festival is concerned, it is believed that Goddess Durga fought in a battle with the most powerful and grotesque asuras and defeated them with her valour. The battle is believed to have continued for ten days and on each day Goddess Durga took on different faces to kill the asuras.
Watching it from a feminist lens
The festival is often regarded as a celebration of women empowerment because it upholds the power of a woman by worshipping Goddess Durga. The deity is considered as the manifestation of power, truth, education, peace, rebellion, a caring mother and a beloved wife. In a way, the nine faces of Goddess Durga signifies that a woman deserves to have emotions like anger, rebel against what is wrong, seek education, have a happy marriage and embrace motherhood if that makes her happy.
But, the 10-day festival is rooted in the idea that Goddess Durga is a married woman who comes back to her parents’ house for a few days when she is treated and worshipped like queen or goddess. But on the tenth day, she has to leave and go back to her matrimonial house. This again imposes the binary of how after marriage, a woman’s real house is her matrimonial home while at the parental house where she grew up she becomes a guest.
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