Feast or Fast: Navarathriby Bhooma Sundararajan August 25 2020, 7:33 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 17 secs
Bhooma Sundarajan reflects on her experience during the Navarathri Festival in North India, when everyone fasts for nine days.
On a Saturday in Delhi – Gurgaon to be precise, I went to the market to get milk and daily stuff like vegetables and fruit. It was springtime and the weather had brought a bounce in my step as well.
When I entered EasyDay - a departmental store that has all the daily needs, I was surprised to see that it was overflowing with eatables like dry fruit, potato chips, sabhudana fry, roasted peanuts, silky ladoos, roasted finger chips, rasagullas, milk cake, gulab jamun, shrikand - sweetened yogurt cream - and many other mouthwatering foods.
I noticed that all the shops in the market were overflowing with the same things laden decoratively on their counters. I wondered what the reason was? My curiosity could hold me no longer. I asked a shopkeeper the reason for the rush of these items. He told me, "Madam Navarathri Vrath ke liae aaya hai - it has come for Navarathri fasting.”
I was puzzled because in my knowledge of things, Navarathri is celebrated in the month of September or October every year, during the Dussehra festival time. Any way, never mind that; what puzzled me most was the sight of a wide variety of mouth-watering food for the nine days of fasting!
When South Indians fast, they eat nothing and mostly, they even abstain from drinking a glass of water throughout the day. And, young ladies and housewives of my community rarely keep a fast.
My curiosity drove me home hurriedly to read about this particular Vrath. I read that this Navarathri was called Chaitra Navrathri. It's also called Rama Navrathri, as the ninth day is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ram.
Fasting on all the nine days of Navarathri calls for abstaining from food like rice, wheat, cereals, onions and garlic. All the food that I saw in the shops was the food recommended for this vrath. I realized that Navarathri fasting is only a change in the menu!
According to me, all who are bored of eating dal chawal, roti and sabzi (vegetables) everyday should practice it. Good for the families too! A welcome change from dal chawal, roti to sabudana khichidi, potato chips rasgullas!
While reading more about the Navarathri festival and rituals surrounding it, an interesting practice caught my attention – Kanya Pooja (worship of young girls). It is conducted on the concluding day of the festival.
My heart was filled with delight when I read about this ritual. Nine young girls in the five to eleven age group are invited home and honored with a good feast, clothes and jewelry; according to one’s own financial status. They are considered to represent the nine forms of the divine mother.
The Kanyas of many Indian families, who are actually considered a burden and curse to the parents, are glorified and honored on this day? I wish this spirit of Navarathri were lit up everyday of the year in everybody's home and in the hearts of the men folk especially. This will probably teach them to respect the female gender and who knows, by igniting this spirit India can soon become a safe place for women to come out, especially after 6pm?
Navarathri is indeed a festival of prosperity and happiness. The traders are happy with the profits earned due to high turnovers of stock in such short periods of time, Kanyas are happy with the importance given to them, which is otherwise denied to them all year around, the pundits of temples are happy with the Dakshina earned by them for performing prayer services and of course, the family members are also happy with a change in the menu.
The Divine Mother has her own unique way of keeping everyone happy! That's any mother’s spirit... to keep her children happy!