We are entering the time of year when Hindus all over the world will be joining together to celebrate Navaratri.
Navaratri is celebrated during the month of Ashwin, which is September or October according to the Western calendar (although it can also be celebrated a few months earlier). Navaratri means ‘nine nights’ and this refers to the period of time over which the festival is held, this being nine nights and ten days. Navaratri is a time when Hindus celebrate the female character of the divine.
Hinduism makes space for many different ideas, and it is difficult to generalise. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to say that to Hindus the notion of ‘God’ can be understood in many ways; as a pure spiritual energy, in nature, as part of everyone, in animal forms and as male and female. Some texts claim that the Goddess Devi or Shakti causes the cycle of life, this includes the parts Westerners see as ‘good’ such as creation and preservation, and the parts Westerners often fear, such as destruction, but Hindus will tell you that without destruction nothing could progress.
Devi or Shakti can also be divided into other Goddesses who are also celebrated at this time. Exactly how Navaratri is celebrated varies. In West Bengal the festival known as the Durga Puja is particularly popular. At this time shrines are built and statues of Goddess Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura are made from clay taken from the banks of the holy River Ganges. On the final day of the festival the statues are cast back into the river. The returning of the statues symbolises the cycle of death and rebirth.