Siva is worshipped as the elements in five temples in the South:

Space in Chidambaram
Water in Tiruvanaikkaval
Fire in Tiruvannamalai
Earth in Kanchipuram
Air in Sri Kalahasti (Andhra Pradesh)

Diwali is the festival that is associated with the lighting of lamps all over India. In the South however, Kaarthigai Deepam is the festival that is by name and concept connected to the lighting of the little earthen lamps.Karthikai_Deepam.jpg

Kaarthigai Deepam takes its name from the month (November-December) and star Kaarthigai on which this festival of lights occurs. It is celebrated over three days around the full moon day (Poornima), when the moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades). This constellation appears as a group of six stars in the skies in the shape of a pendant dangling from the ear.

One of the earliest references to the festival is found in the Ahananuru, a book of poems that dates back to the Sangam Age (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.). The Ahananuru states that Karthigai is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Karthigai. It was one of the most important festivals (peruvizha) of the ancient Tamils who were also part of modern Kerala. Avaiyyar, the famous poetess, refers to the festival in her songs.

The important days are called Annamalai Deepam and Sarvalaya Deepam.

Annamalai Deepam or Mahabharanidheepam, refers to the bright fire that is lit on top of a hill in the temple city of Thiruvannamalai. thiruvannamalaiThe story related to this festival is that once to prove the supremacy amongst the trinity, Brahma and Vishnu took up the challenge of locating the top of the head and the feet of Lord Shiva. They failed in the task and Shiva appeared as a column of fire with no beginning or end. This jyothi (divine light) appeared on the hill of Thiruvannamalai. In commemoration, a huge lamp is lit at sunset on a hill top in this town, famous abode of Ramana Maharishi. This is the highlight of the festival and is known as AnnamalaiDeepam.

Sarvalaya Deepam refers to the day when the karthigai deepam is lit in all the temples. Bonfires are symbolically lit in front of temples in the evening to signify Lord Shiva’s burning of the chariots of wicked demons who were troubling mankind.

Homes are cleaned and in the evening kolams are drawn in front of the houses and little clay lamps are placed as decoration on it. Lamps also decorate homes after a ritual lighting of all the lamps in the house and adeeparathanai inside the pooja-room. The lamps glow all over the streets. Clay oil lamps are usually lit outside around the house and brass and silver lamps are arranged inside homes. Holy places too are decorated with rows of lamps lit to brighten up the environment.

On the third day, a lamp is compulsorily lit at the back of the house where the garbage bin is kept and is called ‘kuppai karthigai’. The holistic approach of Hinduism to recognize and acclaim every aspect of daily life in prayer and worship is demonstrated by this little gesture.

The star Karthigai is also associated with Lord Muruga or Karthikeya.

The story of Lord Kartikeya’s birth is given in Kumar Sambhavam (the episode of Karthik Kumar). Sati, the consort of Shiva immolated herself in the Daksha Yagna, as she could not bear the insult to her husband. Siva was terribly grieved and began to dance his thandava of destruction. Then Shiva withdrew from the world and went into deep meditation in the Himalayas. Reborn as Uma Parvati, the daughter of the mountain king Himavaan (the Himalayas), she began to serve the Lord.

Meanwhile, the demon Surapadman ravaged the earth and tormented mankind. The Gods realized that only a son born of Shiva and Parvati could lead the gods to victory over Tarakaasuran, Surapadman and their demon vassals. They sent Kaama, the lord of love, to shoot a flower arrow at Shiva to make him fall in love with Parvati. Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kaama to ashes instantly. Rathi, Kaama’s wife pleaded with Shiva and brought him back to life in reality for her but in a formless state for others.

Shiva fell in love with Parvathi but burning sparks of the fiery seed of Shiva were unbearable and even Agni could not bear them. These six embers were transported by the river Ganga into the Sara Vana, a forest and Sara Vana Bhava (Kartikeya) was born. He was raised by the six Kartikas. Parvati combined these six babies into one with six faces, ie. Shanmukha. Siva’s son then led the army of the Devas to victory against the demons.

Kartikeya known as Subramania, Skanda, Guha, Shadannana or Shanmukha (six faced one) represents a perfect person. As Muruga, he is also known as the God of Tamizh language. As God of war, he is the fiercest of all the Gods. While Ganesh removes all obstacles, Skanda bestows valour and courage. He is worshiped to solve problems related to Mars, especially Mangala dosha or Kuja dosha.

One of the oldest festivals celebrated in the south, Karthigai is a festival of lamps in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The lighted lamp is considered an auspicious symbol and believed to ward off evil forces and usher in prosperity and joy. While the lighted lamp is important for all Hindu rituals and festivals, it is an integral part of Karthigai.


When the light on the top of the Tiruvannamalai Hill is lit on the Kartigai Deepam day, people worship it. They recite “Harohara”, meaning that one who sees the light of lights burning eternally in the heart through constant meditation attains immortality. The light on the hill of Arunachala brings the message that the Self or Lord Shiva is radiance personified. He is the light of lights.

This festival commemorates the bonding between brothers and sisters in South India like Bhaiya-Dhuj and Raakhi. Sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light lamps to illuminate the relationship and bonds.

Special food is cooked for the festival. pori-urundai-1Puffed rice or pori is made into laddus with vellam or gur. Soaked rice, banana, coconut pieces and gur is made into a fine paste and cooked in ghee into round balls of delicious eats appamcalled Appam. As it is winter time, the vellam creates heat in the body. An adai or thick pancake/dosa is made with rice and all the dhals. This is a high protein food that also warms up the body to cope with damp and chilly atmosphere of November—December.

Leftover crackers from Deepavali are exhausted in this festival as a tribute to the war God Kartikeya.

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Saying it With Sweets at Deepavali/Diwali Time

LaddusIn India no meal starts without a token piece of a sweet served on the plate or banana leaf. On any given occasion—engagements and weddings, birth and birthdays, festivals and religious occasions, house warming and new office opening—the Indian tradition is to exchange platters of sweets and snacks with neighbours, family and friends.

Diwali is a time when sweets reign supreme in the minds of people.  Each region has its own speciality like the rasgulla’s of Bengal, the pedas of Maharashtra, the malpoa and phirni of the North but there are certain sweets that are Pan –Indian. They do take on regional flavours but the shape and basic technology for making them remain the same.

Take the Laddoo, a round ball-shaped Indian sweet. The base ingredients is usually grammotichoor flour or channa (cottage cheese) based . Laddoos are usually bite-sized delights that can be held in the hand and gobbled up. In the North it is called moti-choor laddu as the drops of fried gram are like little pearls and suspended in a moist, sugar syrup. In the south it is called Kunja laddoo and the drops of fried gram flour are bigger and the sweet is drier with a longer shelf life.  The laddoo is also made from just fried gram flour –Besan ka laddoo and garnished with nuts while in the South it is made from powdered Rava-semolina and sugar with nuts added to it. The besan and rava laddus are great conversation stoppers as once you pop it into the mouth—you cannot bite it or nibble bits of it as it will disintegrate in your hand—it will take a while to dissolve and be consumed.

HalwaThe word Halwa comes from the Arabic root word Hilwa which means sweet. It is used in connection with most sweets, desserts or candy. In India the word Halwa is used to describe sweets that are glutenous or like a thick pudding. Halwas are usually sweet, rich and full of dry fruits and nuts. The South Indian Rava Kesari (because of its colour) becomes Suji Halwa in the North. Tirunelveli is famous for its glutenous halwa just as Bombay Halwa is a great delicacy. This sweet too can shut up mouths as first you fight with its pull and stretch consistency and then in the mouth you really have to chew at it! You can prove your social status by serving Almond Halwa which costs a bomb a bite. The professional sweetmeat maker is also called halwai! A new bride’s cooking talents are judged by the excellence of her halwa! If a mother-in-law wanted to take out her ire on the daughter-in-law she would be asked to make wheat halwa, a truly laborious process that involved soaking, grinding of whole wheat, squeezing out the milk and then stirring it without resting in a wok until it reached the halwa consistency. The smart DIl nowadays buys it from famous sweetmeat establishments.

Another time tested sweet that can literally make or break a cook’s reputation and her family’s/guest’s teeth is the Mysore Pak. Mys PakIt requires great expertise to make this humble looking sweet. If not taken out of the wok and fire at the appropriate juncture, Mysore pak can become the rock of Gibraltar!  The smart sweetmeat maker has reinvented this sweet as ‘Mysorepa’ and has popularised it—actually it is nothing but the North Indian besan ka barfi with a softer, melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

BarfiBarfi is the eponymous name for any sweet that is cut into squares, diamonds or shaped into rounds. In Tamil Nadu it has become Barbi (not the doll for sure). Barfis can be made from many ingredients but mostly they are milk or khoya based. The barfis are usually arranged in shops into diamond shaped towers attracting customers. The edible silver varq was added on top of barfis as a garnish. It was meant to be a aphrodisiac and to give it a rich look. In recent years, there has been bitter resistance to the silver foil as Vegetarian lobbyists claim that varq is hammered between animal fat or hide and is thus a non-vegetarian product. However, pure vegeterian options of varq are available in markets.

Another popular pan-Indian sweet is the half-moon shaped Gujjia/somasi/karjikka that isGujjia filled with various stuffings and then deep fried. In the south the filling is usually a mixture of powdered fried gram, sugar and coconut while in the North it has khoa fillings. The Chandrakala and Suryakala are variations of this sweet fried puff pastry. A savoury version is also made stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and masalas.

Saying it with sweets has never been so easy…pop into a sweet shop and choose traditional, new, modern or unusual sweets. They also get packed in special boxes…designer ones at that! And you can make a sweet splash amongst your social circle. Have a sweet Diwali!



The sweet laddu made out of boondi is also known as kunjaa laadu in Tambram parlance. This would have originated from the word gunjaa laadu as the Sanskrit word gunjaa means a berry. This berry was used as a measure of weight, especially for gold. Since a laddu, a tightly packed sphere of many boondis or droplets of fried gram flour, looked like tiny berries, it became kunja laddu.

The Diabetic Sweet

In India the statistics are saying that 1 in every four people is diabetic…exaggeration or just positive, reported diagnosis—one really doesn’t know. This has created a special niche market and many people are catering to these clients.

Dry fruits mixed, mashed and made crunchy with nuts made without addition of sugar or gur/vellam is commonly available in Sweet shops.

Special sweet makers, chocolate and cake makers are announcing a wide range of diabetic sweets. So if you have a relative, friend or neighbour look out for this range of products! The diabetics need not be deprived of their share of seasonal sweets.

Celebrating Deepavali with Cakes and Confectionary

Diwali need not necessarily be celebrated with Indian sweets and savouries. Bakers and Chocolatiers are now flooding the market with cakes made like diyas, iced with Diwali symbols and eggless too for the orthodox reveller.

So think about a box of goodies that are different to the palate.

Jalebi or JangiriJalebi

The Jalebi is an Arabian sweet that became popular in the Indian Subcontinent has existed in the Indian subcontinent for at least 500 years.It is made by deep-frying fermented, floury batter in a circular shape with decorative whorls and then soaked in sugar syrup. One of the earliest known references to the sweet appears in a Jain work — Priyamkarnapakatha — by Jinasura circa 1450 BCE. This was cited in cookery books including the 17th-century classic Bhojan-kutuhala by Raghunatha. It is served warm or cold.



2 cups          Flour/maida
1 ½ tbsp.      Fine grained semolina or rice flour
¼ tsp.          Baking powder
2 tbsp.         Curds (plain yogurt)
1 ¼              Cups warm water
½ tsp.          Saffron threads, dry-roasted, powdered
3 cups          Sugar
2 2/3            Cups water
½ tsp.          Cardamom powder
1 ½ tbsp.      Kewra or rose water
2 cups          Ghee or vegetable oil for frying


  1. Mix the flour, semolina or rice flour, baking powder, curd and ¾ cup of the water in a bowl and thoroughly beat it into a batter with a whisk.
  2. Add remaining water and 1/8 tsp. of saffron powder and whisk until smooth.
  3. Set aside for about 2 hours to ferment. Whisk thoroughly before use.
  4. Prepare string syrup by dissolving sugar in the water. Add saffron and cardamom powder just before switching off the flame.
  5. Make a eyehole in a thin muslin cloth bag.
  6. Heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan.
  7. Pour the batter into the clothbag and let it flow in a steady stream into the hot oil forming whorls. Make four or five in batches and deep fry until golden and crisp all over but not brown.
  8. Remove from the wok and drain on kitchen paper.
  9. Immerse in the sugar syrup and leave the jalebis in for at least 4-5 minutes so that they soak the syrup.
  10. Drain and serve hot by heating them up in the micro or in a griddle.

Jaangiri or Emarti is a a variant of the jalebi. It is eaten with curds and served at meals in weddings and festivals. It is made a special variety of urad dhal/ullundu paruppu, called jalebi paruppu, soaked in sugar syrup and saffron is added for colour.



Take 2 cups of sugar and a cup of water and prepare a one-string sugar syrup. Flavour it with cardamom powder and saffron.

A ¼ kilo of urad dhal is soaked in water for four hours, and ground into a fine batter. The batter is poured through an eyehole in a thin muslin cloth into ghee or cooking oil and deep fried. The jalebis is made into two circles and then a lacy whorl is geometrically added all round.

Dip the fried jalebis in the sugar syrup until it expands in size and soaks up a significant amount of the syrup. Serve hot or cold.

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Diwali—Deepavali—The Five Days of Celebration

diwaliDiwali is the grandest of all Hindu festivals that is celebrated by Indians all over the world. It occurs on the day of the new moon or Amaavasya in the month of Kataka, Kaartik or Aypasi (October/November).

The Festival of Lights is called ‘Diwali’, Dipavali and Deepavali. The word is derived from th

mahalakshmi-2rLakshmi is represented with special, meaningful  symbols that represent the final aim of perfection:

Her four arms represent Dharma (Purity),  Artha (Prosperity), Kama (Perfection) and Mukti (Freedom from rebirth). Health, wealth and happiness, virtue and eternal bliss are inclusive.

Goddess Lakshmi is shown sitting or standing on a hundred pedalled lotus that symbolises total purity and at the same time detachment. The hundred petal blooming lotus in her hand shows a stage of complete development and the floating flowers on the ocean of milk represent purity, peace and prosperity.

A picture of the Goddess shows gold coins eternally flowing from her left hand that is symbolic of unending material prosperity.

Elephants showering Lakshmi with milk and water from golden vessels are part of her iconography. The four elephants represent the four directions and the animals signify wisdom and faithfulness. Her open palm in the abhaya mudra blesses and assures devotees of safety and fearlessness.

The lamps lit on the moonless day of Diwali in homes welcomes Goddess Lakshmi into homes and hopes that she blesses people with her bounty. Businesses open their new accounts on Diwali, a day that is considered New Year. So Lakshmi Puja is performed and people pray for her benign blessings so as to have a profitable year and the new books are inscribed with her auspicious signs of the Aum and Swastika.

India was a prosperous country because with the blessings of the divine it produced enormous real wealth. There was no accumulation and hoarding of paper money that was not representative of real wealth. Food, services and trade in goods sustained the country’s predominant position in the world. Gradually the concept of Lakshmikataksham degenerated to worship of mere cash. The time has come to return to the creating of real wealth and prosperity across the board for all. May Goddess Lakshmi dispel the darkness created by false idols of corruption, avarice and counterfeit notes.

Five Days Of Diwali

Fresh flowers, exchange of gifts, new clothes, meeting new and old friends and offerings of traditional sweets sum up a typical celebration of Diwali. Diwali is one festival which is celebrated with utmost excitement not only in India but also in other parts of the world. There are five days of Diwali that are celebrated with great fervour. Uniting all members of the community, young and old, rich or poor, the lighting of the lamps on Diwali represents a way of paying obeisance to God for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and valued fame.

People give expressions to their happiness by lighting earthen Diwali diyas and Diwali lamps and decorating the houses to welcome Lakshmi- the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, bursting fire crackers and inviting the near and dear ones to their households for partaking in the luxurious feast of Diwali sweets. It is also marked as the beginning of the Hindu New Year and as a brand new beginning for all.

Diwali is celebrated for five days, each day having its own significance, rituals and myths which are moored to the Puranas, the sacred story chronicles of Hindus. There have been so many important legends associated with the occasion of Diwali that five days have been accredited for the celebration of Diwali in India with each day holding importance of its own..

  • The First day is called Dhanteras or Dhantryaodashi and it falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The word ‘Dhan’ signifies wealth and hence this day holds utmost importance for the business houses and for the rich people’s community. Legends say that according to his horoscope, the sixteen-year-old son of King Hima was doomed to die on the fourth day after his marriage by snakebite. Thus on the fourth day of his marriage his much worried young bride lighted innumerable lamps all over the place and laid all kinds of ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s boudoir and went on telling stories and singing songs through the night. When Yam-the god of death arrived there in the guise of a serpent the dazzle of those brilliant lights blinded his eyes and he could not enter the prince’s chamber. So he climbed the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat their whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning He went away quietly. Thus the wife saved her husband and since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of “Yamadeepdaan”.

  • The Second day is called Naraka-Chaturdashi or Chhoti Diwali and is celebrated with the same fervour and enthusiasm as the main day of Diwali. The legend related to this day is about King Bali of the nether world whose mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a small boy visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. So with his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head and putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. Though for his generosity Lord Vishnu allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.

    In the south Naraka-Chathurdashi is actually Deepavali. Narakasura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. Puranas have it that Naraka, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. The demon tortured the people and kidnapped the women to be imprisoned in his palace with his invincible might. Narakasura also threw out all the devataas from Indralok and snatched the precious earring from the ear of Aditi (the mother of all devtaas). Indra felt humiliated and sought the help of Lord Krishna.

Naraka had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asked his wife Sathyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka. During the battle, Krishna purposely feigned unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow shot by Naraka. Sathyabhama took the bow and aimed an arrow at Naraka and killed him instantly. Bhudevi, mother of the slain demon Naraka, declared that his death should not be mourned and that day be celebrated as a festival. It is said Lord Krishna had an oil bath to rid himself off the blood spattered on his body when Naraka was killed.

  • The Third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day when Lakshmi-Puja is performed. This day is also known by the name of ‘Chopada-Puja’. The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya, the New Moon. It is believed that on this auspicious day Lord Krishna discarded his body. One more interesting story related to this day is of a small boy called Nichiketa who believed that Yama, the god of Death was as black as the dark night of Amavasya. However, when Nachiketa met Yama in person, he was puzzled to see Yama’s calm countenance and dignified stature. Yama explained to Nichiketa that on Amavasya, people will pass through the darkness of death and then only see the light of highest wisdom. Then alone can the soul escape from the bondage of the mortal frame to mingle with the Supreme Power. It was then that Nichiketa realized the importance of worldly life and significance of death.

The Fourth day is called Padwa or Varsha Pratipada that marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and the starting of the Vikaram-Samvat. Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. According to the Vishnu-Puranam, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indra and worshipped him after the end of the monsoon season. One year, the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra saying that he was not responsible for the bounty. Indra was enraged and sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan Mountain with one finger and he held it over his people like an umbrella. This day is also observed as Annakoot and prayers are offered in the temples.

The Fifth and final day of Diwali Festival is known by the name of ‘Bhaiya-Dooj’. This day is observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It is believed that on this day Yamaraj -the god of death visited his sister Yami and she put the auspicious tilak (red mark) on his forehead. The siblings ate, talked and enjoyed their time together. They exchanged special gifts as a token of their love for each other and Yamaraj announced that anyone who gets a tilak from his sister on this day will be blessed. Since then it has became the practice for a brother to go to his sister’s house to celebrate Bhaiya Dooj.

The festival of Diwali also symbolizes the victory of good over evil as on this very day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after killing demon Ravana. The return of Lord Ram came to be celebrated as the festival of Diwali and an important part of these celebrations is the tradition of bursting fireworks.

Let us celebrate Diwali with the understanding that wealth and prosperity is not necessarily money. It is well-being, paying respects to elders, exchanging and sharing the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi with our family, friends and all those people with lesser resources and who are in need of help, hope and happiness.

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Karva Chauth—when the women fast for the well being of their husbands

karva-chauthKarva Chauth is a one-day festival celebrated by Nort Indian married ladies for the health, well-being and long life of their husbands. The fast is observed from sunrise to moonrise on the fourth day after the full moon, in the Hindu lunar calendar month of Kartik. Nowadays, unmarried women observe the fast for their fiances or for a good alliance!
The festival’s origins may have been the military campaigns and long-distance travel undertaken by men after the end of tthe rainy season. Women began to observe the fast to pray for the safety of their husbands. The festival coincides with the wheat-sowing time and big earthen pots that are used to store wheat are also called karvas. The fast may also have begun as a prayer for a good harvest in this predominantly wheat-eating region of the north.

Karva also means diya, the small earthen oil-lamp and chauth means ‘fourth’. Seema Bhargav says, “The ‘karva’ for us Gaur Brahmins refers to the spouted lota or pot from which water is poured. “It is a festival for women. We have to get up early before sunrise and an important part of our vrath is that we have eat and drink something which is called ‘sargi’ and our mother-in-law gives it to us along with gifts. The fast is broken at night”.

b-karva-chauth-horoscope-for-20121Women begin to prepare for Karva Chauth a few days ahead and buy cosmetics (shringar), traditional adornments or jewellery and puja items like the karwa lamps, matthi (the savoury puri), henna and decorated puja thalis that are now available readymade. Bazaars in the north take on a festive look as shopkeepers display the Karva Chauth objects.

Lily Madhok is getting ready to look after her clients who will be streaming into her ‘Salon 2000-Beauty Launch’ for beauty treatments and for applying Mehendi. “The ‘karva’ is an earthen pot in which water is placed. We dress up for this occasion and wear red, orange and brightly embellished saris and jewels. In Punjabis it is a community effort and six women sit in a circle and relate the story of Karva Chauth and pass a plate full of sweets, dry fruits, , money. A coconut and pomegranate are compulsory on this plate. We sing a song with seven verses and the plate is passed around for each verse”.circle

The first six verses of the Karva Chauth song describes some of the activities that are taboo during the fast and the seventh describes the lifting of the restrictions after the fast is over. Forbidden activities include weaving cloth, pleading with or attempting to please anyone and awakening anyone who is asleep. Lily continues, “For the first Karva Chauth after marriage, the mother-in-law gives a basket full of matri, the salty puri to the bride and this is then distributed to the mohalla. New clothes are exchanged between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law . The fast is broken with aglass of water given by our husband“.

The day is spent meeting friends and relatives. Painted clay pots filled with bangles, ribbons, home-made candy, cosmetics and cloth like embroidered handkerchiefs are exchanged. Parents send gifts to their married daughters and their children.

“In Rajasthan, among Marwaris”, Urmila Agarwal says, “we dress up and wear red clothes and jewellery. After a day without water and food, we wait to see the moon through a sieve. All the shubh symbols of being a suhagan, married woman, are compulsorily worn for this fast”.

Once the moon is visible, a fasting woman, with her husband nearby, sees the reflection of the moon in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered (arka) to the moon to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner.

Nowadays, many husbands are also keeping the fast for their wives in keeping with the concept of gender equality.

The Story of Queen Veervati and Karva Chauth

Veervati was the only sister of seven loving brothers. She spent her first Karva Chauth as a married woman in her parents’ house. She began a strict fast after sunrise but, by evening, was desperately waiting for the moonrise as she suffered severe thirst and hunger. Her seven brothers could not bear to see their sister’s distress. They palced a mirror on a pipal tree that made it look as though the moon had risen and the sister broke her fast. The moment she ate, word came that her husband, was dead. Heartbroken, she wept through the night until her ‘pativrata’ power made Goddess Parvathi to appear and when the queen explained her distress, the Goddess revealed how the queen had been tricked by her brothers and instructed her to repeat the Karva Chauth fast with complete devotion. When Veervati repeated the fast, Yama was forced to restore her husband to life.

In a variant of this story, the brothers build a massive fire behind a mountain instead and trick their sister by convincing her that the glow is the moon. She breaks her fast and word arrives that her beloved husband has died. She runs to her husband’s house that is far away and meets Shiva-Parvathi. Parvati reveals the trickery to her, cuts her own little finger and gives the wife a few drops of her holy blood which the wife sprinkles on her dead husband and makes him come back to life.

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Navaratri: Then and Now

Navaratri has come in October this year. When I look back on the celebrations of my childhood and the events that unfold today for the festival is an interesting counterpoint.

Amavasai in the Attic

As a convent going girl, the Michaelmas holidays was eagerly looked forward to. Many times it kind of coincided with the grand festival of Kolu or Navaratri. The New moon day was awaited as that was the day when all the dolls stored away in the attics were carefully brought down.

This was the one day that the brawn and muscles of the men of the household was put to good use. Very few homes had a proper ladder and climbing contraptions were assembled—stools, chests, barrels were piled one on another and the pyramid was navigated. The smallest boy was sent deep into the dark bowels of the attic feebly lit by a torch. Slowly, the dolls that had been stored the previous year were brought out. The task was interspersed with yells, scoldings, ‘acchachos’ and expletives like ‘madaya’, ‘rascal’ and ‘blackguard’ as the dolls were carefully or carelessly handled by butter-fingered lads. Many dolls were handed down intact, some with arms and limbs separated from the torso and others with dismembered crowns and heads. Repairs and touch-up paint jobs were hurriedly undertaken and the dolls were arranged according to various classifications.

Today the dolls are neatly wrapped in bubble paper, labelled and put away in shallow storage spaces on top of built in cupboard. This has made the movement of the dolls from high to low and vice versa easy and without all the drama and excitement of yore. The male members of the family are also too busy chasing management deadlines that in very few houses they are available to help. The senior citizens are carefully guarded from climbing heights and reaching into higher spaces for fear of injury and broken bones!

The Step Brigade 

The next business was to build the steps to display the dolls. The ingenuity of the whole family was brought into play. The trunks, chests, benches, stools, huge biscuit tins, pieces of wood and planks were all put together with geometric precision and the steps built. Lacunas were filled happily with books volunteered by the younger generation. It gave them a valid excuse to skip studying as they could claim that their books were playing a vital role in the religious celebrations. The books that the Gods sat upon were more often old law books, dictionaries, Deepavali malars and science tomes.

Steel shelves are now found in every home needing a spanner and a little muscle power to convert them into steps. The creativity and engineering skills have been downgraded.

Veiling it all

All these make-do arrangements had to be hidden. In those days we had Dhobhis who would take away sheets and dhothis and wash, blue, starch and iron them into a marvellously white blaze of cloth. These were taken out and used to cover the steps, pinned in corners with safety pins or gundoosi. Streamers and decorative crepe paper was twisted and made into chains—a gang was deputed to do this by cutting and gluing strips of paper laboriously—and used to hide the rough seams and jagged ends of the cloth.

Today readymade serial bulbs, plastic decorations, flowers, thorans and buntings are bought and hung up in the twinkle of an eye adding colour and psychedelic effects.

The Display Nitu kolu 2015

The dolls were then arranged in the prescribed order beginning with the temporal world of the Chettiars and their grocery shop. The kitchen was raided and all the grains and eatables that would not go bad were brought out and placed in little containers. Then the Saints and mortal beings were placed followed by other dolls depicting characters, incidents and stories from the Puranas. Reaching the top step again called for stools. The books placed as gap fillers would often go awry or shake like aspic in jelly and emergency measures were taken to prop and steady the balance of the steps.

The children of the house meanwhile thoroughly relished the prospect of messing around with mud, earth, stones and plants and set up temples on hills, parks and airports, roads and villages and sowed grains that would quickly sprout into grasslands and jungles. Their creativity was given full expression and water, earth, sky and paint and even fire—bulbs placed secretly to illuminate special effects—were used rampantly.

Today everything is available readymade, even artificial turf and model villages. Buy, bring and display is the mantra of the day.

The Invitations

Beautiful maa kolams were drawn decorating the front yards of homes. The thambulam was filled in paper bags with vettrillai, paaku, turmeric, a little mirror and comb and in some homes even bangles. Little girls in paavadais would be sent off in the evening with a little kumkuma chimizh to invite the ladies in the neighbourhood to come for vettalai paakku. Sundals were made and all the coconuts collected in various homes were converted into barfis to be given off to visitors. Exploring the thambulam bags was an interesting event in the evenings and comments about the sundals served in people’s homes was the topic at dinner every night.

Nowadays, rangolis and flower kolams, urulis filled with lotus and colourful flowers form the decoration in the front yards, entrances of homes. Special dates are fixed and invitations are printed and posted or emailed. Fancy bags made to order and special gifts are bought according to a theme and given to guests. Food is ordered and served as high tea and packets of goodies are distributed.

Pooja Time

The Saraswathi poojai on the ninth day and the Ayudha poojai on Dasami were celebrated with all the books and musical instruments placed in the altar and worshipped. All the vehicles—tricycles, wheelbarrows, bikes, scooters and cars were washed and spruced up and decorated with sandal and kumkum and little aarathi’s were performed. Kids were sent off to music teachers with fruits and thamboolam to pay their respects or begin lessons and a new piece was inaugurated that day.

Today the Ayudha puja seems to be on from the seventh or eighth day itself with people doing big poojas in the work place. The rice puff, chana and vellam has become common and distributed generously to all. The Guru pooja has become stylised and ritualistic with expensive presents the order of the day.

Packup Time 

The ten days come to an end and it is time to put away the dolls. The feeling then and now however remains the same as women wrap up the characters who occupied centre space in their lives for the past fortnight or so. It is a farewell, ‘see you again next year, God Willing’—and Navaratri/Dussera comes to a close.

Then and now it continues to be a celebration of family, of community; it is a reiteration of beliefs and rituals that reinforce a faith and way of life. It is the triumph of good and a time of generosity and giving, sharing and festivity.

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Navaratri and Nine



Numbers are an important part of the beliefs of Hinduism. Both numbers eight and nine are extremely significant. Both play an integral part of the festival called Navaratri, meaning “nine nights” also called Dussera or the ten days. Although there are four Navaratri’s in a calendar year only two are celebrations; the Vasantha Navaratri in March at the beginning of summer that ends with Ram Navami and the famous celebration in October, marking the onset of winter that is dedicated to Durga and her two other forms, Lakshmi and Saraswathi.

The two seasons, summer and winter, are two important occurrences that herald a major change in climatic and solar influences. Navaratri festival celebrates and gives thanks to the divine power that provides energy for the earth to move around the sun and causes changes and maintains the correct balance of the universe. Secondly, due to the changes in external nature, the bodies and minds of people too undergo a considerable change. So it is imperative to call upon the divine to give us the Shakthi to maintain our physical and mental balance.

Significance of Navaratri

Navaratri is a celebration of the power of the feminine principle. The energy of creation is recognized in the universal mother, Durga, literally meaning the remover of miseries of life. She is also called Devi or goddess or Shakti energy or power. The worship of Shakti re-confirms the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or destroyed. It is always there.

The Nine Nights and Days

Navaratri is divided into sets of three days to worship different aspects of the supreme goddess. On the first three days Durga is worshipped to destroy all our impurities, vices and defects. The next three days Lakshmi, the giver of spiritual wealth is invoked to provide prosperity and well-being without which a higher order of thinking cannot come into place. The last three days is spent worshipping the Goddess of wisdom, Saraswati who opens our eyes to the deeper meanings of life and salvation.

In the north of India, the first nine days of this festival, called Navaratri, is a time for fasting, followed by celebrations on the tenth day. In western India the Garba and Raas are danced in joyous celebrations. In the south, Dussera is a festival when dolls are arranged on nine steps based on religious themes and women are invited and honoured as a manifestation of the Goddesses themselves. The tenth day is celebrated as a day to begin new learning. In the east, Durga Puja is a huge event and the whole region comes to a halt from the seventh till the tenth day of this annual festival.

The significant part of the Navratris is the night. The Rig Veda says that before creation began, everything was shrouded in the darkness of night. From this black hole with only the reverbation of the sound of AUM the process of creation began. The same idea is reflected in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. These nine nights occur on equinoxes or equal nights when the sun is vertically overhead at the equator or centre. Hence the human body also attains equilibrium with nature and meditation and worship of Sakti with Beej mantras revitalises the body.

Therefore forms of Durga are worshipped with their respective yantras. Grain or legumes are sown in homes as a symbol of the creative power of the mother Goddess. In recognition of the importance of sakthi or feminine force. Traditionally, little girls are symbolically worshipped on the eighth day, Ashtami.

The Navratras also celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana and many chant the famous Ramrakshastotra in the mornings.

Navaratri ultimately symbolises the triumph of virtue over vice. It is a time to reflect, to bond and to regroup one’s energies, resources and family and social strands into a whole, a puranama represented by the number nine.

The highlights of this festival in the regional scene are the Garba Dance of Gujarat, Ramlila of Varanasi, Dusshera of Mysore, and Durga Puja of Bengal.

Goddess Durga

Shakthi is known as Durga, Bhavani, Amba, Chandika, Gauri, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini and her other manifestations. She is the protector of the righteous, and destroyer of the evil. Durga is usually portrayed as riding a lion, and carrying weapons in her many arms.

Nine in Hinduism

Nava, also meaning ‘new’ is ‘nine’ the number to which sages attach special significance.

1. Nava-ratri and the nine auspicious nights signify the basic principle of yoga that energies should involute back to the primal source to rejuvenate the individual form, which is the human body.

2. Nava-patrika the 9 leaves, herbs plants that correspond to one of the nine Durgas (Navadurga): rambha the banana stem, the jute plant, turmeric, jayanti, vilva or wood apple fruits, dalim or pomegranate, asoka, manaka or arum and dhanyam or rice paddy is used in Bengal during Durga Puja..

3. Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century AD clearly indicated the significance of number nine in the Soundaryalahiri, 11th sloka: “The four Siva chakras and five Sakti chakras create the nine Mula-Prakratis or basic manifestations, because they represent the source substance of the whole cosmos”.

4. Nava-dwaram– The nine apertures of the body — two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, genitals and anus.

5. Nava-kundalini or the nine psychic centres.
• ABSOLUTE CHAKRA. in the brain area
• BROW CHAKRA, sometimes called the third eye, in the region of the pineal gland.
• THROAT CHAKRA that becomes soundless speech.
• HEART CHAKRA that promotes enduring devotion.
• NAVEL CHAKRA in the abdomen that gives contentment.
• GENITAL CHAKRA behind the pubic region that represents creation.
• BASE CHAKRA of inertia in the anus region.
• The two chakras in the centre and near the back of the left and right hands that are associated with touch sensitivity and guide the hand in sleep and in darkness.

6. Nava-graha or nine planets. Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu (Snake’s head) and Ketu (Snake’s tail) give us pleasure and serenity and remove obstacles from our way. The names of the seven bodies Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn are still connected, in some languages, with the seven days of the week.

7. Nava-ratna or nine gems that symbolically and astrologically represent the nine astrological bodies:

• Ruby (Manikyam or Padmarag): Sun
• Natural pearl (Mukta or Moti): Moon
• Red coral (Moonga or Pravalam): Mars
• Emerald (Marakatam or Panna): Mercury
• Yellow sapphire (Pushparagam): Jupiter
• Diamond (Hira or Vajram): Venus
• Blue sapphire (Indra-neelam): Saturn
• Hessonite (Gomedakam): Rahu
• Cat’s eye (Vaiduryam): Ketu

8. Nava-rasa or nine basic moods described in Nātyasāstra by Bharata Muni are:
• Śringaram ( Love )
• Haasyam ( Comic )
• Karuna ( Pathos or Kindness )
• Raudram ( Anger )
• Veeram ( Heroic )
• Bhaya ( Fear )
• Bhibhatsam ( Obnoxious )
• Adbhutam ( Wonderful or Marvelous)
• Śāntam ( Tranquility )

9. The nine forms of Goddess Durga or Tripurasundari worshipped during Navratras are:
• SKANDAMATA the Goddess of Fire with four arms and three eyes who rides a lion.
• KUSUMANDA, eight-armed form seated on a lion with a magnanimous presence.
• SHAILAPUTRI is the embodiment of the power of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. She rides a bull and carries a trident and a lotus in her two hands.
• KAALRATRI, the four-armed Goddess who rides an ass. She dissipates darkness from amidst her devotees, and bestows freedom from fear and adversity.
• BRAHMACHARINI practices devout austerity. Filled with bliss and happiness, she is the way to emancipation or Moksha.
• MAHA GAURI is like an eight-year-old girl, intelligent and peaceful with the three eyes and four arms who rides the bull.
• KATYAYANI, goddess of Vrindavan with her golden form and four arms and three eyes who is seated on a lion.
• CHANDRAGHANTA ten-armed epitome of bravery who rides a lion and drives away all evildoers.
• SIDDHIDATRI four armed Goddess who bestows accomplishments and is seated on a lotus.

10. Garba-vaasam, the nine months of a nascent life in the womb.

11. There are 360 rays of universal Sakthi represented by Maha Tripurasundari. It is shown in the form of a circle which has a 360 degree angle indicating fullness. This 360 digit again totals to nine, the number of creation.

12. The universe is also composed of 36 tatvas that emanates from Parama Shiva that has the numerical value of nine.

13. Kaal or the nine divisions of time — ghatika, yama, ahoratra, vara, tithi, paksha, masa, ritu, ayan.

14. The days representing the 16 phases or kalas of the moon constitute a fortnight. The two pakshas—waxing and waning of the moon—make a month. These tithis are also 360 in a lunar year again depicting a total of nine.

15. Nine is considered to be complete, pooranam, because any number multiplied by nine gives a figure that totals to nine. The number nine added or deducted from any number gives a figure with the numerical total unchanged. This concept is explained in the famous santi path mantra of the Upanishads.

Padmini Natarajan

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