Navratri – Festival of Nine Nights

~ Reetu Bajaj ’12

Usually celebrated in September or October, Navratri has quite the amount of legends behind its origin. In general, they relate to the Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother Goddess) and her various forms. This holiday holds special significance for Gujaratis and Bengalis, which can be seen in the highlights of Dandiya and Garba Raas (traditional dance involving sticks) that occurs throughout Gujarat, while farmers sow seeds and thank the Goddess for her blessings and pray for better harvest. In older times, Navratri was associated with the fertility of Mother Earth who feed us as her children.

The first three days of the festival are dedicated to Goddess Durga, who is the Warrior Goddess dressed in red and mounted on a lion or tiger. She has three types of incarnations – Kumari, Parvati, and Kali, who are worshipped during these three days. Interestingly, these incarnations represent the different stages of a woman: child, young girl, and the mature woman. The next set of three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, dressed in gold and usually shown as standing on a lotus. The last sets of three days are devoted to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, in milky white and mounted on a pure white swan.

The festival concludes on Mahanavami, in which the Kanya Puja is performed. This ceremony involves nine girls, representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga. Their feet are washed as a mark of respect for the Goddess and then they are presented new clothes as gifts by the worshiper. This ritual is performed in most parts of the country. Although some people undergo a rigorous fast during this nine day celebration, it is nonetheless marked by colorful performances, entertaining dancing, and delicious sweetmeats.

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr – The Month of Fasting

~ Reetu Bajaj ’12

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, in which every month begins with the sighting of the new moon. For over a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a “month of blessing” marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. It’s primary focus is on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah.

Muslims believe that throughout the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. At many mosques during Ramadan, around 1/13 of the Qur’an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih. Thus, by the end of the month, the complete scripture would have been read.

Fasting, known as sawm, occurs during the entire month of Ramadan. Thus, one must not eat nor drink while the sun is up. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, or the five duties of Islam. Families wake up early to eat a meal before the sun rises (suhoor) and after the sun sets, the fast is broken with another meal (iftar). There are many reasons behind why Muslims fast, one of them being a reminder of the suffering of the poor. Fasting also teaches the body of self-control.

Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which occurred on September 21st. This event, literally meaning “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other being the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca). Eid al-Fitr is marked with the best of clothes, decorations, tasty treats, and visits from friends and family. It is also to be noted that as the month comes to an end, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to the mosques.