By Babita Krishnan
The nine-day Devi festival – Navaratri – is probably one of the few festivals that is celebrated simultaneously across India. Each region has its own beliefs, traditions and rituals associated with it. The Brahmins of South India celebrate it as kolu.
|Astalaxmi or 8 forms of Laxmi in the foreground|
Here, idols of various gods and goddesses are placed on steps in odd numbers of 3, 5, 7, etc., and prayed to for nine days. Women visit each others’ homes, sing songs and give vathalai-paak1, haldi-kumkum2, and other marital symbols, to the visiting married women. All in all, it is to get those kancheevarams3 out and be resplendent in the traditional look.
|Dashavataram or the 10 reincarnations of Lord Vishnu|
Being a south Indian bahu4 from a Punjabi background, I find all these traditions not only quaint but also great fun and quite involving. This year, we have made a three-step padi5 to house various sets, as they are called, of gods. The most important part of the kolu padi is the marapachi – a family made from wood – that is symbolic of the couple. Traditionally, this is a gift to the bride from her parents to start her own kolu collection in the new household.
|marapachi – a family made from wood|
I have discovered many reasons for the beginning of this symbolism and my favourite one goes like this -- all those centuries ago when there were no photographs and albums to look through and reminisce your wedding day, the marapachi dolls (dressed as they were in all their finery) worked as a reminder of how you looked. It is enough to bring a smile on your face and this one works the best for me.
|Ganapathy - the Elephant God|
On a serious note, since Ganapathy6 is one of the most important deity of our house, He finds place of prominence on the first padi in the company of goddesses Laxmi & Saraswati, Lord Krishna7 and of course my marapachi family along with the auspicious coconut. This year, my padi includes the Dashavataram7, Ashtalaxmi7, Laxmi-Kubera7, Shiva-Parvathi7 and Ramar7 sets. Fruits, vegetables, animals, etc. also find pride of place across the three steps. Every evening the gods are offered naivaidyam8of chundal9, which is a slightly different version of the prasad8of black channa9 made in the North during Navaratri. And the day ends with the aarti, which constitutes a plate of water with a dash of turmeric and sindoor10.
|naivaidyam or prasad|
On the ninth night, after the aarti, all the idols are put to sleep – to rest after their visit – before leaving (into the packing material) to come back visiting next year. Personally, I think that is the most depressing time – to put the kolu dolls away! I can empathize with people crying during the visarjan11 for both Ganapathy6 and Durga7.
|kolu arranged next to the regular home temple|
But I have realized that even while we are saddened by the end of a festival in visarjan11, we are already planning and looking forward to the next one! The festive season is truly so, because the celebration never ends!
Jai Maa Durga. Wishing a very Happy Dussera and Shubha Bijoyo to all!
1betel leaf and betel nut, 2 turmeric and vermilion, 3silk sarees, 4daughter-in-law, 5ladder, 6the Elephant God, 7deities, 8offering to the Gods, 9gram pulses, 10vermillion, 11immersion