The Navaratri or the nine-day festival of the Goddess is here, but apart from families where the Navaratri fasts are observed by the elders, or colonies and apartment complexes that organize Dandiya-Garba festivals, the occasion means very little to most kids nowadays. While they are not averse to enjoying the special delicacies of the festivals like kuttu pakodas, magaz-makhana kheer, potato-sago cutlets,etc., and certainly enjoy Dandiya-Raas with its vibrant colours, dance and music, the rest of it—the prayers, the fasts and the rituals—are just so much mumbo-jumbo to them.
Well, maybe it’s a generation thing, and they cannot relate to the rituals of ghatasthapana, aarti, etc., but let us, as parents, not forget that all rituals have hidden life-lessons cloaked in fancy trappings. And even if the kids don’t relate to the ceremonies, we can connect them to their heritage by explaining the festival to them in ways that they can understand.
This is how my grandmother, a closet devotee of the Goddess in grandfather’s strictly Arya Samaji household (with its taboo against all forms of ritual worship) explained it to us:
1. Cleansing The Body And Mind During Changing Seasons
The festival of Navaratri falls twice a year, at the turn of the seasonal cycle, from summer to winter (September-October) and from winter to summer (March-April) as per the lunar calendar. The nine-day fasts are a way of cleansing the body by consuming fruits and non-cereal meals, as well as purifying the mind through prayer.
2. Rendering Thanks For The Harvest
Since India is an agricultural country, the Navaratri festival is also a celebration of harvest and a prayer for future prosperity. The weather is mild and pleasant at this time, making it ideal for shopping and festivities. Many communities consider it the best time for marriages and other auspicious ceremonies.
3. Triumph of Good Over Evil: The Goddess Version
The ‘winter’ Navaratri has two branches of folklore attached to it, both signifying the victory of good over evil. In one version, the Goddess, badly injured while fighting the demon Mahishasura, took the form of a little girl (kanya) and hid in a cave in the Himalayan mountains (now called Vaishno Devi) for nine days to regain her strength, and then came out with full power and slew the demon. She is thus worshipped in her nine forms during this period and young girls (kanya devis or kanjaks) are fed delicacies and given gifts after the nine days of fasting and prayer.
4. Triumph of Good Over Evil: The Ramayana Version
The other story associated with Navaratri refers to the Hindu epic Ramayana. The Navaratri is the period when the exiled prince Rama and his army of monkeys battled the demon Ravana to rescue Rama’s wife Sita. Thus, the nine days of Navaratri are marked by an enactment of the Ramayana (known as the Ramleela) in various parts of the country. The tenth day is Dussehra or Vijay Dashmi, the day when Ravana was finally defeated. Huge effigies of Ravana filled with fireworks are burned on this day to mark the victory of good over evil.
And now for the fun!
5. Holiday Time and Freedom From Studies
Coming back to the present, it is a happy turn of events that schools generally time their examination schedules to finish before the onset of Navaratri. And so, the kids are free to enjoy the festival before the pace of studies picks up for the next term. Quite a few schools also schedule their autumn break in this period. And what with the weather finally turning pleasant after the sweltering summer, the Navaratri is the ideal time to gear up for some serious fun with your kids.
6. Gorge To Your Heart’s Content On Navaratri Delicacies
Show your kids that the Navaratri fasts are the most fun ever—no depriving yourself or staying hungry. There is a host of cereal-free, fast-friendly versions of your favourite delicacies to be had—from pakodas, to kadhi chawal, from idlis to kheers, pooris and mouth-watering snacks (look out in this space in the next few days). So, cook up some Navaratri delicacies for the little ones, or else, order the Navaratri Thali at the nearest Indian fast food chain—all of which serve special Navaratri Food or ‘Faraal’ as it is called.
7. Get Creative With Cleaning and Home Decor
Navaratri is also traditionally the time to take advantage of the mild weather and give the home a thorough cleaning—turn it inside-out, so to speak and redecorate it. It could be a good opportunity to pass on these customs to your kids by having them turn out their cupboards and drawers and clean their rooms and study-tables.
You could also encourage your kids to take up do-it-yourself craft projects to create decorations for the home. With Diwali just round the corner, home-made lanterns, gel candles, kundan flowers and other decorations are a great way to encourage participation and creativity in your kids.
8. Shop Till You Drop
Navaratri is also a discount time in the markets—an excellent opportunity to do all your festival shopping and also stock up for the winter. Also, take your kids out shopping for some bright, ethnic outfits to wear at the Dandiya-Raas event nearest your place.
9. Put On Those Dancing Shoes
Dance—the primeval language of the universe. Add to it the colours, music and excitement of one of the most vibrant and carefree dance forms of the world—the Dandiya Raas—and you have a sure-fire recipe for wild spirits and a cartload of fun. So get yourself and your kids into colourful ethnic wear and dance away the nights at any of the numerous Daandiya venues around the city. You could also check out the Ramleela events and Dussehra fairs in your locality.
Go ahead! Give your kids a pleasurable immersion in their culture this Navaratri!