October 23, 2012


The festive season is here again. Navratris have already started, a few days from now it would be Durga Puja & Dussehra, & soon it would be time for one of my favourite festivals, Diwali. & sadly, like the past two years I would not be in Delhi to celebrate Diwali, but would be struck in Durgapur where Diwali (or any other festival except Durga Puja) is never celebrated with much pomp. But I am in Delhi right now, & shall be here for a week more, spending all my time travelling & writing, much to the anguish of my parents & friends who think I spend more time on the road than I do at home!! That’s not true, just so you know. I decided to halt the series about Durgapur (why write about Durgapur when you aren’t even in Durgapur) & write about the celebrations in Delhi. I shall try to incorporate more of festivals & celebrations in this blog. Just for the sake of some of those who don’t know anything about these Indian festivals & for those who would like to learn more, here is a small gist about these celebrations & their significance to let you know what is to follow on this blog’s posts in the coming few days–

Literally “Nine nights”, Navratris herald the beginning of winter festivities, each of these nine nights is dedicated to a form of the Hindu Goddess Durga, the consort of Lord Shiva (the God of Destruction). Although the festival of Navaratri is traditionally celebrated five times/year, the most important of the celebrations are reserved for the advent of winter (September-October) & summer (March-April). It is said that the festival of Navratris is being celebrated since way before the time of the ancient Hindu king Rama. Rama, an ideal son-husband-brother-friend-king-warrior-who-knows-what-else, invaded Lanka (many believe the Lanka in scriptures is the present day island of Sri Lanka) to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted treacherously by the demon king Ravana, the lord of Lanka. Unable to get an upper hand in the long war that followed, Rama prayed to Goddess Durga for several days & she finally blessed him on the eighth day. The eighth day is called “Ashtami” & is celebrated in every household by inviting young girls & a young boy & worshipping them with the belief that Goddess Durga & Lord Shiva reside in each of these girls & the boy respectively. This ritual is called "Kanjak". The women of the house wash the feet of these girls with water & tie red-coloured threads (“Moli”) on their hands & place a small vermillion mark on their forehead. They are then fed with puris (unleavened Indian bread, made after deep-frying wheat flour batter), chole (chickpea), boiled rice, halwa (confection made with flour, condensed butter & sugar), coconut & occasionally chocolates & soft drinks & given small gifts & money. The festival has gained so much popularity in north India, especially Delhi & Haryana, that hordes of impoverished girls & young boys from villages visit the cities early morning in anticipation of the food & money they would collect – many can be seen returning home in the evening carrying large polybags filled with puris. Women wake up very early in the morning to prepare all these delicacies, & toil hard for the blessings of these little living Goddesses. I for one love this festival as I too get to eat these delightful dishes that my mother cooks, & then I can bargain with her for the amount of money I shall be getting!! When I was younger, I used to be called to my neighbors' houses for the prayers & the procedures, & it used to be amusing for us kids to count & boast about the total money we collected that day. It usually continues till noon, since not all ladies can feed the kids early morning, many working women even tend to give fruits & eatables to the kids in the evening.

The Kanjak fare

On the same evening, the Bengali communities celebrate Durga Puja (“Pujo” as Bengalis call it, literally “worship”). Huge idols of the Goddess are bought & established several days (usually on the sixth day of Navratris - Shashti) in advance in the households, or community buildings, & temples. Prayers & prasad (ceremonial offerings of sweets, milk, occasionally fish & meats) are offered every day to this seated Goddess, the places where these idols are housed are covered with tents (“pandals”) & stalls selling all sorts of eatables & mini-idols, devotees gather in large numbers, especially in Delhi’s CR Park locality, for prayers, dances & idol-shopping, making it one of the best nights for gourmets, photographers & heritage-lovers. & of course, you get to see so many beautiful girls all night long in the pandals!!

The Gujarati community too celebrates Navaratris with great pomp & gaiety - the people take part in communal meets & perform the traditional "Garba" dance with each other, irrespective of any social or economic distinctions.

Durga idol - 2012, Janakpuri Kalibari (Kali Temple)

The tenth day “Dashami” is also called “Vijay Dashami” or “Dussehra”. It is said that Rama killed Ravana on this particular day. Hindus believe that Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the God of Life & Preservation. In full disclosure, I don’t actually believe that Rama was an incarnation or Ravana was a demon (I am an atheist) – Rama may be a model king, but not a God. Ravana may be a villain, but not a demon, just a man blinded by his lust & power. Ramayana, the book of the story of Rama, composed several millennia ago, talks of Ravana as one of the most learned men in the world, son of a mighty sage, himself a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva & blessed with several boons & weapons, a composer of spiritual texts & also a mighty warrior capable of bringing his foes to their knees. But there is no stopping the believers, since eons they have been burning effigies – big or small, depending on their budget – of Ravana (& his brother Kumbhakaran & son Meghnad) in almost each & every community ground & park (refer Pixelated Memories - Tatarpur, New Delhi). This burning of effigies is seen as the symbolic act of destroying the evil from the world, but I won’t get into a discussion about the merits & demerits of this effigy-burning ritual, or the qualities & character faults of Rama/Ravana – somewhere deep down I too like these festivities – a mode of passing along the stories & belief systems of the ancient culture down the next generation via prayers, singing, dramas & communal gatherings, that’s what Dussehra is about. The Bengalis celebrate Dashami by drowning the ceremonial idols of Durga down some source of flowing water – such as a river or some small stream.

Ravana Dehena - The ritualistic burning of effigies of Ravana & his relatives


  1. NIce post! descriptive and informative! I like to lok at the Navaratra as 9 days of hell because i can't eat non veg!

  2. You have left out a lot of details about these occasions. But then it is more than what you find on other sites. & good pics :)

  3. 2nd pic is very good , nice post.