Growing up in the South of India, I knew about the practice of Kolu or Golu during the Navratri festival. In many houses in the locality where we lived, dolls were unpacked with care, arranged tastefully and exhibited for all to view and admire. This was called Bommai Kolu in Tamilnadu and Gombe Habba in Karnataka. The lady of the house often stood there proudly looking on with approval at the elaborate display. Later it became common to have some kind of theme built into the display of dolls.
When I visited Gujarat many years later, I saw an entirely different way of celebrating Navratri. This was through the Garba and “Dandiya Ras” with the ladies swaying to the beat in colorful costumes. I had never seen anything so vibrant and colorful in my life! Later, In West Bengal, I experienced the grandeur of the Durga Puja pandals and all the associated celebrations. Years have passed by, but the beat of the drums while the ladies performed the “Dhunuchi Naach” stays fresh in my mind.
These and more memories flooded my mind when I read the recently published book, ” Navaratri” edited by Bibek Debroy and Anuradha Goyal, published by Rupa Publications. “When Devi Comes Home” is the appropriate byline as we Hindus believe that it is during these nine days/nights that Devi visits us here on earth. The editors have assembled a collection of 16 articles which depict how Navaratri, one of the most important of festivals in Hinduism is celebrated in different parts of India. The descriptions cover not just the background of the festival in each region but the rituals most commonly practiced, along with the other associated elements including food, customs, and cultural events.
Amrita Chakravorty’s book cover design is captivating. It attracts you to read the contents. The book itself is written in fairly simple language and makes one marvel at the rich cultural heritage of our country. From Kashmir in the north to Kerala in the extreme south, from Gujarat in the west to West Bengal in the East, we are exposed to how the Navaratri festival is celebrated in each of the regions. Needless to say, though the festival of Navaratri has some common elements , it is interesting to note both the similarities and differences, explained in the articles. This diversity adds considerably to the charm of our customs.
As the editors explain, ” The common thread among all the Navaratri celebrations is the devotion to Devi, who is also the Prakriti or Nature manifested all around us, of which we are a small part.” The editors have arranged the book in 16 chapters which pretty much cover the entire country. I was happy to see that celebrations in places like Konkan and Assam -which tend to get ignored as compared to the bigger and more famous celebrations elsewhere- were also covered. There is a chapter too on Nepal, the only Hindu country in the old today.
In the nine days of Navaratri, Devi is worshipped in Her different forms. This book makes you feel as if you are physically there- in the midst of the frenzy that typifies community worship. So well are the rituals and cultural events described! You can sense the smells and sounds of the celebrations as if you are there in person to join the thousands of worshippers.
Congratulations to the editors for bringing this book to us. It is extremely informative about the origins of the Navaratri festival and explains why and how Devi came to be worshipped in a particular manner in one or the other region.