NAVARATHRI

The Navarthri dedicated to Devi, the Divine Mother is celebrated all over India. In some places it is called Dussehra, in some other places `Kalipuja' or `Saraswathi Puja' and in still others, `Ayudha Puja'. During Navarathri days the Divine Mother is worshipped in one or the other of her different manifestations namely Durga, Saraswathi , Kali, etc. The Puja in connection with Navarathri is known as Bhuvaneswari puja which means, the worship of `Universal Mother'.

The festival is celebrated during the first nine days in the bright half of Aswina namely September-October. The last three days of the Navarathri are called Durgashtami, Mahanavami and Vijayadasami, and they are considered more sacred than the other days for Devi worship. It is believed that by offering prayers to Devi during these three days one can attain the full benefits of observing the Navaratiri rites for the whole period.

People of Kerala celebrate Navarathri in a befitting manner. The Saraswathi puja and Ayudha Puja are performed. The Goddess Saraswathi is worshipped as the Goddess of Learning, the deity of Gayathri, the fountain of fine arts and science, and the symbol of supreme vedantic knowledge. The importance of Ayudha Puja (the worship of implements) on this occasion may be due to the fact that on the Vijayadasami day, Arjuna took back his weapons which he had hidden in a Vani tree in order to lead a life in disguise for the promised period of exile. It is believed that one who begins or renovates his learning to work on the Vijayadasami day will secure a grand success as Arjuna did in Kurukshetra war.

On the Durgashtami day a ceremony called Poojavaipu is performed in the evening . In a village, generally, it is done only in certain households, in temples and also sometimes in the village schools. The Brahmin houses and the houses which enjoy reputation for learning, mainly take the lead in celebrating the festival. The members of other houses in the village attend the ceremony performed in these houses or institutions.

In a well-decorated room, books and grandhas (holy books) are tastefully arranged with a picture or an image of Goddess Saraswathi in front. In certain poaches weapons and implements are kept by the side of books and garandhas. Then a Puja is performed to Saraswathi during which fruits, beaten rice, roasted paddy (malar), jaggery etc, are offered to Her. These offerings are distributed among those present when the Puja is over. Just before the Pujavaipu, all studies and work which mainly require skill, are suspended.

The following day is known as Mahanavami and it is totally devoted to the worship of Saraswathi. Pooja is performed both in the morning and in the evening. Many more items such as rice, payasam, thirali, etc are also offered to Devi along with the items mentioned above.

On the Vijayadasami day after a Puja in the morning, the Books and implements are removed from the room and this ceremony is called `Puja Eduppu'. The time for the break up of the puja marks the beginning of learning and work. Learning and work commence at this auspicious moment.

Literates, in general write the alphabets on sand and read a few sentences from sacred books. Similarly the craftsmen and other skilled workers do some work using their implements. At this auspicious moment the children for the first time are given instructions to write the first few alphabets on rice or sand. They are thus initiated into the world of knowledge.

This is called `Ezhuthinu Iruthu' or 'Vidyarambham' and according to custom only after this ceremony child becomes entitled to write or read.

There are certain communities which celebrate the festival on all days of Navarathri. Images of Gods, animals and toys of different variety are arranged for exhibition and this performance is called `Koluvaipu'.

Unique is the Navarathri celebration at Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Apart form the usual pujas and rituals, classical music recitals are held on the Navarathri mandapam every night during the festival in which luminaries of Carnatic music participate. Started by Maharaja Swathithirunal this is a cultural event that the Musicians and instrumentalist look forward to with enthusiasm and expectation.