Navaratri, along with Mahashivaratri, is one of the leading Hindu festivals, celebrated with great fervour throughout India. In Sanskrit, Nava means ‘nine’ and ratri means ‘nights’; the Navaratri festival lasts for nine nights and ten days. Its purpose is to celebrate the Universal Mother, or Shakti: the primordial and creative force.
In Tamil Nadu, the ‘Shakti’ is personified by three different goddesses during Navaratri:
The first three nights of Navaratri are dedicated to Durga, the warrior goddess, whose mount is a lion or tiger. She symbolises the forces of destruction and the impurities of the mind.
On the next three nights, Lakshmi is worshipped. Seated or standing on a lotus, gold coins pouring from her right hand, she symbolises spiritual prosperity and plenty.
The last three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, who holds a veena (a stringed instrument) and symbolises art and wisdom.
Symbolically, it means you have conquered all the qualities of the previous 9 days. It is a day of good omen for starting a new job or a new business.
Durga Puja marks the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo-demon Mahishasura and so symbolises the triumph of good over evil.
During the months leading up to Durga Puja, clay idols of Durga are made and temporary temples called pandal are built to house them.
The whole process of making the sculptures, from digging the clay to decorating the figures, is a sacred process governed by ritual. The idols are worshipped for five days before being carried in magnificent procession to a local river where they are immersed.
Vijayadashami, the tenth day of Navaratri is called Dusserha or Dasara in some parts of India, where it associated with Rama.
When the demon king Ravana captured Sita, wife of the god Rama, and carried her off to his kingdom in Sri Lanka, a fierce battle ensued. But despite all his efforts Rama could not defeat Ravana.
He needed 108 blue lotus flowers for the ceremony but could only find 107. As the puja could not be performed without the exact number of flowers, he decided to lay one of his blue eyes instead at Durga’s feet. Satisfied by this mark of devotion, the goddess granted him blessings and he was able to defeat the ten-headed Ravana and rescued Sita.
Ever since, the victory of good over evil has been celebrated on Dussehra.