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Isheeta Sharma

Awakened by the morning sun,
the lotus buds have bloomed today
and, like the smile on a new bride’s face
when her loved one goes away,
the lily flowers have now closed
with the setting of the moon.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

Vines droop low with the weight of flowers in bloom, Saras cranes dance in delight and cool breezes make the days pleasant during Sharad rtu – the season of beauty and grace. Sharad rtu is the season that truly celebrates the feminine energy that characterises the second half of the year – Dakshinayana. The festivals of Sharad rtu celebrate the Goddess in her many forms and many graces.

On September 28 the fortnight of the ancestors, Pitru Paksha Shradha, ends with Amavasya, which is also known as the Sarva Pitru Amavasya.

Navratri which celebrates the nine facets of goddess Durga begins with Pratipada on September 29 this year. Navratri literally translates into ‘nine nights’. On each day and night of these nine nights a different manifestation of the Goddess is invoked.

प्रथमं शैलपुत्री च द्वितीयं ब्रह्मचारिणी।तृतीयं चन्द्रघंटेति कूष्माण्डेति चतुर्थकम् ।।

पंचमं स्क्न्दमातेति षष्ठं कात्यायनीति च ।सप्तमं कालरात्रीति महागौरीति चाष्टमम् ।।

नवमं सिद्धिदात्री च नवदुर्गाः प्रकीर्तिताः ।।

The nine manifestations of the Goddess described in the Devi Kavach

The nine manifestations of Durga venerated during this period, in the correct order, are – Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandrakanta, Kushamanda, Skandamata, Katyayini, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidhatri.

The first day of Navratri is celebrated as Mahalaya in West Bengal. Idols of Durga are installed in homes on this day and worshipped with ritual offerings. ‘Mahisasuramardini’ which literally means ‘Annihilator of Mahishasura’ is a popular radio programme in Sanskrit and Bengali that plays on All India Radio a day before Mahalaya and has become an important part of the celebrations. The original recording of Chandipath which was broadcasted on ‘Mahalaya’ in 1931 continues to be played at the break of dawn every year, nearly eighty years after the first original broadcast. You can catch ‘Mahisasuramardini’ on the morning of September 28 this year from 03:55 a.m. to 5:55 a.m. at 666 MW (AM) frequency in New Delhi.

Regionally there are subtle variations to the rituals that celebrate Shakti or the feminine energy during this period. In Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka Ghatasthapana or Kalashsthapana is an important ritual that begins the nine-day celebrations. Durga is invoked to come reside in a Kalash (metal pot) for the next nine days.

In West Bengal a similar ritual is carried out on the sixth day of Navratri which is known as Bilva Nimantran or Kalparambha. Here the goddess is invited to come reside in either a Kalash or a Bilva tree. For Bengalis, Durga puja is the most celebrated festival of the year. Giant pandals are set up across the state and magnificent hand-painted idols of Durga depicting her beheading the demon Mahishasura and restoring peace to the world are installed. The celebrations of Durga Puja are legendary – women dress up in traditional Laal Paad saris – white sari with a red border; Dhunuchi dance is performed at every pandal; the smell of Lucchi (a deep-fried poori made of maida or flour) floats in the air and the many delicious Bengali sweets are devoured.

Dussehra, which follows the day after the nine nights of the Goddess, falls on October 8 this year. Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura is celebrated on this day and her idols are carried out amidst much fanfare to be submerged in water bodies. Dussehra is also known as Vijaydashami, as per the Ramayana, and celebrated for Rama’s victory over Ravana.

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