Navratri is being observed among Indo-Caribbean and other Hindus in America. Indo-Caribbean temples (mandirs) in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and other states have been hosting nightly discourses about Navratri and the birth of Lord Rama (Ram Naumi) which will be observed this Sunday. A pandit reads from a Hindu scripture about aspects of the festival or the life of Lord Rama.
Navratri, nine nights of orshipping the three main Devis or Goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati), began last Friday with Hindus fasting (some avoid food and some avoid meats, eggs, fish) during the period. The festival is being observed worldwide among Hindus. In New York and the metro area, temples are holding nightly discourses from the holy pages of Hindu scriptures (Ramayana and or others). The pious period began on April 1 and will conclude on 10 March 18 with the celebration of the birth of Lord Rama. In NY, temples are packed nightly for services on the occasion.
Navratri is one of the most auspicious periods in the Hindu calendar with Hindus engaged in fasting. During this period, the feminine aspects of God are worshipped. But it is important to note that in Hinduism, God is neither male nor female. Hindus have Gods as well as Goddesses and although Hindus have many Gods and Goddesses, it is one God called by different names. Gods as well as Goddesses are worshipped and for every God there is a corresponding Goddess as his consort. So, Hindus do not discriminate between the genders. In fact, Lord Krishna is quoted in the Bhagavad Gita as saying that God is neither male nor female. “I am the father and mother”, suggesting that God transcends gender. Also, when Hindus pray, they always pay obeisance to their mother and father and at every pooja they aarti both parents and elderly males and females. During Navratri, Goddess Durga and two other Goddesses Saraswati and Lakshmi are worshipped.
As pandits explained, Hindus worship Durga because she is the collective manifestation of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer). Thus, when people worship Durga, they are worshipping the other manifestations of God. People worship for protection, education and prosperity and Goddesses Durga, Saraswati and Laxmi offer divine protection, knowledge and wealth as well as the removal of disease. Three nights are spent propitiating each of the Goddesses.
“Navratri” also has other meanings. Nav (first syllable of Navratri) means new and nine. Navratri signals the beginning of a new season, the beginning of Spring season – harvesting time. People begin the seasons with new inspiration and new enthusiasm and are often confronted with challenges and illnesses when there is a change in season. Thus, they pay obeisance to the universal mother for healthy life, prosperity and protection and they do so over nine days.
Navratri is also associated with Lord Rama. During the spring Navratri, Hindus celebrate Ram Naumi (the birth or appearance) of Lord Rama and in the Fall navratri, Hindus celebrate the destruction of the evil Ravana by Lord Rama, signifying the triumph of good over evil.
Navratri is an auspicious time to conduct poojas or to get married. So during navratri, it is traditional for Hindus to invite priests to conduct pujas in their homes or visit the temples where there is usually a nightly discourse from the Ramayana. Worshippers tend to fast for the entire period, avoiding meat, sex, fish, eggs and maintain cleanliness in the homes for almost two weeks.
Although Navratri refers to nightly service (ratri means night), worshipping also occurs in the day. During Navratri, devotees normally hold special prayers in the mornings or during the course of the day and in the evenings to pay obeisance to the universal mother. It is the tradition among Indo-Caribbean Hindus during the mornings of these auspicious days to offer jaal or dhar which is a mixture of curd, milk, honey, sugar, neem, cloves, hardi, black and white tills, and other sweet spices. The jaal is performed early morning during sun rise. At prayer services, worshippers make offerings of prasadam, flowers, fruits, neem and bail leaves, clothing, other paraphernalia such as sandal paste, and chandan on the murthis. Havan is also conducted – fire (gugul, cloves, camphor, Kasturi, etc.) in a kund at the feet of the universal mother and Lord Rama. Incense is also burnt. The fire symbolizes the burning of evil within the home. Devotees also burn incenses (agarbati, The poojas are usually accompanied by bhajan and kirtan singing. At the conclusion of service there is sharing of aartee, followed by distribution of Prasad and bhojan (meal).
By Vishnu Bisram