Navratri Celebrated in United States
As pandits explained, Navratri is associated with the propitiation of the feminine aspects of the Almighty – Hindus do not discriminate among the sexes. They worship Gods and Goddesses. In Hinduism, the lord is neither male nor female. Hindus pay obeisance to both male and female murthis representing their God or Goddess. During Navratri, Hindus focus on worshipping the Goddesses Durga (power and defense) and her two sisters Lakshmi (Wealth and prosperity) and Saraswati (knowledge and wisdom). And although Hindus pray to many Gods and Goddesses, there is only one God who takes on many names. Hindus believe they all represent the same one almighty who takes different appearances for different purposes and came on earth at different times with different names to model an appropriate lifestyle for humans.
There are several meanings attached to the celebration of Navratri which is directly linked to other Hindu festivals like Ram Leela, Dussehra, and Diwali around this time of the year. One meaning given for Navratri is nine nights that connotes worshipping of the Goddess
Durga and her two feminine (Lakshmi and Saraswati) transformations. "Nav" is also means new and Navratri is observed twice a year to mark the coming of the two new seasons -- spring and fall. People begin the two seasons with new inspiration, hope and enthusiasm and
they want a renewal of their lives. Thus, they pay obeisance to the universal mother for long and healthy life and prosperity and protection during the new seasons.
The famed Lord Rama is also associated with Navratri -- his appearance, disappearance and reappearance in the holy city of Ayodha. In the spring Navratri, Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Rama and in the fall, Hindus celebrate the destruction of the evil Ravana by Lord Rama, signifying the triumph of good over evil which is also called Dussehra that will be observed on Friday, a holiday in India. The Ramleela celebrations are associated with this period and Hindus are holding such celebrations in their communities. Ram Leela plays are very popular in Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam and are staged during the entire period. At the conclusion of Navratri, called
Vijay Dashmi, Dussehra or the burning of Ravana effigy is burnt symbolizing the destruction of evil. Dussehra symbolizes the conquest of good over evil.
According to pandits, during Navratri, a devotee becomes conscious of his/her faults, limitations and internal enemies such as lust, hatred, greed and anger and want to reform his life. People make sacrifices in their fast so they can become conscious of their faults and correct them. By worshipping Durga and her sisters, these internal enemies are destroyed and are replaced by love, cheerfulness, compassion, and devotion. The person becomes a new individual.
In the Caribbean and in New York, it is traditional during Navratri for Hindus to invite priests to conduct poojas in their homes and or to visit the temples where the pandits narrate the thrilling episodes of the 'Ramayana'. Devotees chant the holy name of Rama and celebrate the return of Goddess Sita from the shackles of the evil Rawan who was destroyed by Rama. Worshippers offer jaal or dhar which is a mixture of curd, milk, honey, sugar, cloves, tills, and other sweet spices at a sacred place in their home or yard to a lingum – in their mandir. At poojas, worshippers make offerings of prasadam (with sugar cane, lapsey with puri, fruits,
flowers, bail, tulsi and paan leaves, other paraphernalia such as sandal paste, and chandan, and burn in censes (agarbati, gugul, cloves, camphor, Kasturi) at the feet of the universal mother and Lord Rama. After pooja, there is aartie, Prasad, bhojan or the feeding of the worshippers, an
unique tradition of worshipping in the Hindu faith. (Pix show worshipping at several temples)