Community Holidays: Reflections on Navaratri

Photo of Golu, the festive display of dolls and figurines in South India for Navaratri.
Ranjith Jayaram, KLS Parent

The following is a blog post written by Ranjith Jayaram, one of our KLS parents. KLS community members are encouraged to share about holidays they observe for future blog posts by completing this Google Form.

My earliest and fondest childhood memory of Navaratri, the ten days long autumn Hindu festival, is that of the ninth day. 

Photo of a pandal in India.

Photo of a pandal (from Wikipedia)

I would hand my father my textbooks and workbooks, pens and pencils, sharpeners and erasers—all things I needed for school. He would cover them, along with books and tools that belonged to everyone in the family, with a silk cloth with red and green borders. On top, my mother would sprinkle flowers picked from our garden: geraniums, hibiscus, and pinwheels.

As a family, we would offer prayers to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Then, for one whole day, my parents would forbid me and my brother from studying and order us to play with friends all day long. It's no wonder that, looking back, the ninth day of Navaratri was perhaps the day of the year I loved my parents the most (the next morning, on the day of vidyarambham, they would unwrap my books and tools, and my education for the year would properly begin; I still loved them then, just a tiny bit less).

Navaratri (which means nine nights in Sanskrit) is celebrated by Hindus everywhere. For some, it honors the victory of the god Rama—the hero of the ancient epic poem Ramayana—over Ravana, a king who had abducted Rama's wife, Sita. It's the beginning of a month-long season of festivities that culminates with the hallowed Diwali, which celebrates Rama and Sita's homecoming. For others, it celebrates the victory of the mighty goddess Durga over a tyrant named Mahisha who arrogantly believed that no woman could ever defeat him. For all, it commemorates, like many festivals across the world, the triumph of good against evil.

Photo of a food dish, chickpea sundal.

Photo of a chickpea sundal dish (from Bon Appetit)

In my experience, during Navaratri, people generally seem to care a lot more about fun and festivities than good and evil. Who can blame them? It is nine nights and ten days straight of wearing sparkling clothes, eating scrumptious treats, singing and dancing, visiting friends and family to see elaborate displays of dolls (and toy trains!), and walking around town to see grand pandals and processions. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Other than that most special ninth day of no work and all play, I remember Navaratri as a time of eating an ungodly amount of food, at my own home and at countless other homes that I would visit. For those who would like to get a (literal) taste of the festival, I would recommend two of my Southern Indian favorites: chickpea sundal (an excellent school snack for a KLS student) and sweet pongal (not an excellent snack for anyone on a regular basis).

If I were to be completely honest, I knew little about the various ways in which Navaratri is celebrated by different communities across India until I moved to America. It was in Texas that I first attended a dandiya dance, a tradition full of spirit from the Indian region of Gujarat. In North Carolina, I learned that my Bengali friends got two full weeks off from school during Navaratri (and all I got was two paltry days, growing up in the state of Kerala in India).

This weekend, in California, I shall celebrate Navaratri with my wife Deepali and our daughter Anika (who is in Independence Level 2.1 at KLS). We will then visit our neighbors from Canada. We will go bearing Navaratri treats, join them for dinner, and together, we will celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving.

I suppose you could call that a very American Navaratri.

—Ranjith

KLS Families: Share About Holidays You Celebrate


Featured image by Bootervijay at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5086726

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