The large Indo-Caribbean Hindu community in America observed the auspicious festival of Navratri, the
annual holy period of fasting in Hinduism that pays obeisance to the universal mother. Nav means nine and ratri means night. So it is a festival that is celebrated during the night with prayers and spiritual dancing and singing.The festival began on evening of September 29 and concluded on October 7. The observance was extended into the Dussehra celebration on October 8; Dussehra means tenth day and it is a festival observed to commemorate the destruction of evil forces. All temples in America held discourses on the occasion – some nightly service.Navratri is one of the holiest periods in the Hindu calendar that was accompanied with people fasting, visiting mandirs, and performing pujas as well as inviting pandits to conduct services at their home. People fasted during this period focusing on purification of the minds and bodies. During this period, people tend to pray with great fervor and devotion. Most Hindus offered jaal (dhaar) in the mornings at sunrise to Surya. Observant Hindus were seen nightly dressed in traditional colorful garb heading for the mandirs; there are dozens of mandirs in the greater Richmond Hill area.
In New York, all of the temples held Navratri kathas (discourses) and poojas. Pandit Rajin Balgobind of Guyana held his service under a beautifully and elaborately decorated tent at the Cheddi Jagan ground attracting a thousand worshippers nightly. The altar and the murthis were decorated with colorful flowers and a variety of fruits. There is a grand welcome with murthis at the entrance for worshippers. An elevated platform was built for worshippers. And at the side on the ground were hundreds of chairs. It was packed; there was standing room only. Pandit Rajin sat at the front mounted on the asan with the large life size murthis on his left side on an elevated pedestal and platform. Pt. Rajin’s Navratri discourse has become an annual rite over the last several years. Over a thousand worshippers packed the tent nightly.
The pandits explained that Navratri is an extremely wonderful festival highly inspiring and instructive on how people should live. It is associated with the propitiation of the feminine aspects of the Almighty – clearly illustrating that Hindus do not discriminate among the sexes. Hindus pay obeisance to both male and female murthis representing their God or Goddess. But during Navratri, Hindus focus on worshipping the Goddesses Durga and her two feminine Lakshmi and Saraswati. The same is true for pujas during Diwali when Goddess Laxmi is worshipped. Although Hindus pray to many Gods and Goddesses, there is only one God taking on many re-incarnations and names. Hindus believe they all represent the same one almighty God or Goddess who take different appearances for different purposes and came on earth at different times with different names to model an appropriate lifestyle for humans. In Hinduism, Gods as well as Goddesses are worshipped and for every God there is a corresponding Goddess as his consort as for example Shiva and Parbatie or Ram and Sita.
There are several meanings attached to the celebration of Navratri which is directly linked to other Hindu festivals like Ram Leela, that will be celebrated right after Navratri which will be followed by Diwali and then karthik or Teerat that concludes the year for religious festivals.One meaning given for Navratri is nine nights that connotes worshipping of the Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Each Goddess is worshipped for three nights to offer protection (Durga), provide wealth (Lakshmi) and guide the devotee to knowledge (Saraswati) respectively. Durga means fort or a place that is protected. She is the General in charge of security of the nation. People pray to Durga for protection, strength and shakti (power) in defense against their many enemies. When people worship Durga, they are worshipping the other manifestations of God and are seeking divine protection and removal of disease. A devotee prostrates to Mother Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity, so that he or she can become wealthy, kind and generous towards others. And a devotee worships Mother Saraswati for wisdom.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 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, 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. It has been a busy shopping season for worshippers and for stores. Liberty Avenue was packed with shoppers over the last couple of weeks. And pandits were busy for the season. In the Caribbean, 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’. The same is done in NY among Guyanese and other Caribbean people. Worshippers offered 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 bhojan or the feeding of the worshippers, an unique tradition observed by Hindus.
The Pandits’ discourse along with the singing of Bhajans and kirtan and the playing of music gave fulfillment to the devotees religious aspirations. The religious period continues into Diwali and Karthik which will be observed ending of this month concluding the auspicious season.