Nine Nights of the Goddess – a compilation of the essays on Navaratri celebrations across South Asia promised to take me through the different traditions that celebrate Goddess for 9 days, twice a year. Being a practicing Hindu, I have been a part of this festivity. Having lived in different parts of India, I have experienced the various hues of this festivity although the core essence remains the same – bringing the Goddess home, worshipping her as Kanya or as Laxmi. It is a festival of joy and celebration that involves both private rituals at home and public celebrations like that Durga Puja in Bengal and Dandiya in Gujarat.
The book was a big disappointment in many ways. First of all, it does not cover rituals across South Asia. The prime focus is on Tamil Nadu and multiple chapters dedicated to just one aspect – Kolu or Golu displays. Worst is that each chapter repeats the same things. There was one chapter that sensibly brought out how the memories are preserved and revisited with Kolu every year, taking the example of one display in the US and another in Chennai. All the other chapters, like the rest of the book, were searching for caste angle – which I wonder if it exists. There is an urge to insert that angle throughout the book.
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In the Bengali Pujas, there is a mention of commercialization of Durga Pujas and talk about the festival moving from homes to community pandals. The only piece I found interesting was about Mamta Banerjee and the fact that she created the Pandal artwork. The same is now a part of a public art installation of Kolkata. I did not know this and hence enjoyed reading about it. Rest of the Bengal chapters keep parroting the same things.
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In Himachal, where the Kanya Puja is the subject. It is pity that the author goes and asks the caste of girls being worshipped as Kanya’s. She herself admits that she saw no one asking the girls their caste. All that mattered was that they were young girls and they were willing to participate in the ritual. Similarly, when she talks about girls invited home for Puja, she tries to tell us all Brahmin girls or upper caste girls are invited. It is simple bull shit.
In all the homes I have seen, as Kanya in my childhood and later too, the daughters of domestic help were always a part of the pantheon of girls worshipped as Kanya. There is no distinction made on the basis of who the parents of the girls. At that moment they are Goddesses, who are worshipped and whose blessings we seek. Can these foreign authors not see India without the Caste lens? Or is there some agenda to insert caste divide where it does not exist?
Buy Nine Nights of the Goddess – Navaratri at Amazon
The only chapter I enjoyed reading was by Jishnu Sarkar called The Internal Navaratri. It is based on an ashram of Sarkar Baba of Varanasi. He beautifully brings out the meaning of Navaratri and what one should attempt to achieve through various rituals and practices of the festival. I wish there were more chapters like in this compilation.
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There is an attempt to categorize Navratri as it is practiced at Home, in Community places and as it was in royal courts. What it forgets is that they are not mutually exclusive. The same people celebrate it both at home and in community places and in good old days in the royal courts. Most authors seem to have spent one Navaratri in one place make made their conclusions. One of the stories has been written totally by reading the blogs on Kolu. I did not know blogs have achieved that level of authenticity that authors can simply quote them to become authors.
Lastly, though the title of the book claims South Asia, there is a very skewed coverage as far as geography is concerned. Gujarat, where Navratri is such a big festival is not touched upon. The same goes for Nepal, Assam and many other parts of India. I assume it is still celebrated in Bangladesh in some way – totally missing.
Do not waste your time reading this book.