Being a Maharashtrian and born and brought up in Jabalpur (a small town in Madhya Pradesh) is was lucky enough to get to know the Navratri celebrations of two cultures. Navratri has always been a special festival for me, because it got many good things. Since, childhood, I became very attached to this festival. All the memories that I associate with Navratri are sheer joy with the pure bliss of childhood.
The first thing that comes to my mind with Navratri is meeting our grandparents. Because the Kul Devi’s idol is at out place Navratra is celebrated at my home. My brother and I were very young when we lost our grandparents. The closest we had to grandparents were my father’s Kaka (uncle). So Aaji and Ajoba (grandparents) used to come to our place every Navratra. Then our childhood used to become more fun with all the pampering from grandparents, bedtime stories, laughter and love.
The day of Ghatasthapna used to feel very special. Imagine the excitement of meeting your loved one after one long year. Same was the feeling on the first day. I remember my mom waking us up early to take bath and get ready fo the pooja. We were even allowed to skip school that day as it was a very important yearly event in our family.
Every day I used to pluck out flowers from the garden and my mom used to make beautiful garlands for the Devi everyday. There used to be one garland for each day. I really loved the way the idol of Devi looked in those garlands. Everyday my dad would decorate Dev Ghar with beautiful flowers. My brother and I used to very fondly see dad decorating the whole mandir everyday.
(Our Mandir during Navratra)
(The garland that my mom makes everyday for Devi)
In the morning and evening prayers along with all the regular aartis we would sing “Ashvin Shudha Pakhi Amba”- an arti which is sung during Navratri in Maharashtra. Every evening family and friends would gather at our place for the arti and it used to be a lively affair. The nine days were a family re- union time.
Everyday my mom would make prasad of halwa puri. I loved the majestic smell of the pooris being fried in ghee. We used to get bored with the halwa puri the second day onwards, but it was fun to take prasad to school everyday for our friends.
(Halwa Poori prasad that my mom makes everyday)
The school holidays usually began from Shashthi. That was the time we really enjoyed ourselves. After commencement of school holidays Jagratas would be organised in colonies and we would visit those along with family and friends. As kids we don’t realise the importance of all these things but it just gives happiness and a sense of satisfaction.
Every day we used to visit the nearby Durga temple and light Kanik Divas in front of the devi idol. My friends and me used to gather every evening at somebody’s house and make diyas from wheat dough and take them to the temple. Everyday used to be a small diyas making competition. This was something that was from the Madhya Pradesh culture and hence I loved it more. The number of diyas corresponded to the day of the Navratra.
Ashtami and Navmi used to be sheer treat for us. These were the days to roam around the city, eat tasty halwa puri, chane and aloo bhaji , get Alta applied on your hands and feet and most importantly earn pocket-money. Kanya bhojan is a widely followed custom in Madhya Pradesh. It is considered bad to refuse the Prasad. So I remember my mother and my friends’ mothers used to give us big tiffin boxes to keep the prasad in them if we could not eat it. we used to go to around 7-10 houses each day,, phew!!
Navratri used to be kind of father-children time for us. On Ashtami and Navmi our father used to take my brother and me to see the various Durga Pandals. Us kids used to be very excited,. we used to tell our friends,”aaj hum log Durga Ji dekhne jayenge.”
There is a marathi tradition that on Ashtami, the women light some coal and put it in a earthen pot (matka). the keep blowing it to keep it hot and dance while doing it. Sometime during this process it is said that some women are posessed with the Devi (unke andar devi aa jati hai). Then they keep dancing for such hours and in such a way which is not humanly possible. Though i was afraid to go to the temple to see this process, but still I used to go and hold my mother’s hand tightly all the time. I was in awe of the whole process.
Navratri was also a time for vigilance. Having the custom of Akhand Diya at our home, we were all very vigilant. I was in a habit of looking at the diya every time while passing through the mandir. Whenever I used to get up in the night I made it a point to go to the mandir to check the diya. I felt very responsible when I did such acts.
On Dussehra, we had a feast of puran poli.. a traditonal maharashtrian delicacie. then in the evening my dad and brother used to go hanuman temple. When they came back from the temple my mother and I used to do their “Ovalna” ( taking diya in a thali and rotating it thrice in front of a person- a symbol forwelcoming somebody). Then the elders would give Son Paan, Shammi Paan to the youngsters and bless them. Then we used to go to all our acquaintances to give them the Son Paan.
These days used be very relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable. I miss these days a lot. These were some of the benefits we got because of living in a small town. But now living in a metropolitan city I feel the charm is lost.