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India worships the nine-forms of Goddess Shakti twice a year with much devotion and fervour for nine continuous days. These days are called ‘Navratris’. Although there are four Navratris that fall in a year, it is the Chaitra/Vasant Navratri (which falls in March/April of the Gregorian calendar) and the Sharad Navratri (which falls in September/October of the Gregorian calendar) that have more importance.
These two ‘Navratris' are more significant because the ninth day of Chaitra Navratri is celebrated as Ram Navami ( Birthday of Lord Ram), while the tenth day of Sharad Navratri is celebrated as Dussehra or Vijayadashami (When Lord Ram kills the Demon Ravana).
This year, Chaitra Navratri begins on April 13th, 2021 (Tuesday) and ends on April 22, 2020, (Thursday). The first month of the Hindu-Lunar calendar is Chaitra and Navratris start on its first day. This day is also celebrated as Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra and Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh.
The festival of Navratri signifies the victory of good over evil and positivity over negativity as according to mythology, the Goddess Shakti, kills the demon, Mahishasur. In our life, the Goddess represents our divine inner self. This is often taken over by the Demon, Mahishasur, which represents us being engrossed only in enjoying life and indulging in pleasurable things. Devotees worship the Goddess in these nine days in the hope of being free from the trap of Mahishasur.
The growth of the plants from the seeds that are sown for the worshipping of the deity, signifies the prosperity and abundance the family will have in the coming months.
On the first day of Navratri, the room in which the ‘Kalash’ and the deity are to be placed for worship, is cleaned thoroughly. The deity is adorned with new clothes and beautiful jewellery. A new red ‘chunni’ (decorative scarf)is placed on the Goddess. The ‘Kalash’ is filled with ‘gangajal’ and placed on a wide clay pot, in which some seeds are sown. This is worshipped along with the deity. A clarified butter lamp is lit for the entire nine days(Akhand Jyot). The goddess is offered flowers, fruits and sweetmeats every day, which is later distributed to other devotees. Everyday, a different form of the Goddess is worshipped. The seeds sprout into plants and start growing in the nine days. Ardent devotees change the attire of the Goddess daily.
Even the most fanatical non-vegetarians and hard-core drinkers, stop eating non-vegetarian food on these nine days and abstain from drinking. Such is the belief in the power of the Goddess that no devotee would ever indulge in such foods till Navratri is over.
On the day of Durga Ashtami, (Day 8), house holds prepare an elaborate meal of ‘halwa-poori-channa’ . Girls who haven't attained puberty, are worshipped as a form of Goddess. The meal is first offered to the Goddess, in the form of ‘Prasad’ and then it is offered to the girls. The rest of the family partakes this ‘prasad’ after the girls have eaten.
Many families follow this ritual on the ninth day instead of the eighth. The seeds that become young plants in the nine days, are carefully taken and placed in the ground someplace where no one steps on it.