Eleven Little Goddesses

Nav Durga girls 11

We held the sweetest little celebration a couple of months back, the cutest Hindu festival I’ve ever been involved with. The whole day was beautiful. It’s so important to celebrate the girl child and this festival does just that! The Goddess walks among us in many forms, we can see her in a mother’s love, a woman’s strength and a daughter’s smile. It is said that the Goddess Durga has nine forms (NavDurga) so we invited nine little girls to our home to celebrate and worship them as little Goddesses.

First stop, my favourite bangle shop…

bangle shop in India

My mother-in-law and I went out and bought tiny bangles, earrings, necklaces, bindis and flowers for their hair. I just couldn’t help but feel mushy about the delicate little bangles!! We also bought some mehendi cones, I decided I would give it a go, I thought it couldn’t be that difficult! Right?

Bangles flowers bindi

Together, my mother-in-law and I, made them a lavish lunch, including some sweet fresh mango juice. We then waited for the nine little Goddesses to arrive. We waited and waited, but no Goddesses came through the door. Luckily, our driver was on the case and appeared with nine little girls, then another little girl came and another and nine became eleven!divyaThis is where my lack of Marathi hurts, I love talking to kids but all I could do was ask them their names and tell them they are beautiful (sundar). I applied mehendi to their small soft hands (which I was quite frankly rubbish at, I resorted to butterflies and hearts) as they giggled together. Wow, and these little girls were just so gorgeous, it’s been a long time since I was around so many children.

The ritual started with washing the Goddesses feet and applying turmeric (haldi) and vermillion (red powder) to their foreheads. We then adorned the little girls with flowers and jewellery. We were two sets down so had to share what we had as equally as possible, we should have followed the Indian law of jewellery, more is more!

haldi kumkum thali navdurga DurgaThe Goddesses were then served their lunch and everyone in the house touched their feet to receive their blessings. I really loved this ritual and I sincerely hope and pray that they are treated and respected like Goddesses for the rest of their lives. It’s a great paradox, the divine feminine is recognised and worshiped in temples but sometimes ignored and oppressed in homes and on the street. dinner plates waiting for dinner

Sadly, many people still see a daughter as a burden due to the dowry system and the fact that in some extremely traditional families, once a daughter goes to live with her husband’s family she will be unable to look after her own parents when they are elderly. I’ve heard too many stories of how disappointed families were at the birth of a girl child, but I sense and hope that this attitude will soon be history. There is a long road ahead. Whilst living in India I have looked at the statistics and heard the horror stories, but I have also witnessed the overwhelming love and happiness in a mother’s eyes as she looks down at her new daughter. 

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Indian little girls flowers

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Durga Puja

Yesterday we popped to the supermarket to buy some paneer (I made paneer tikka last night!). During Navratri, we have visited some of the hundreds of pandals in Nagpur. A pandal is a tent type structure, built with bamboo and fabric, which holds an idol inside. I guess you could call them temporary temples where Lord Ganesh is worshipped during Ganesh Chaturthi, and Goddess Durga is worshipped during Navratri.

Last night we came across a Bengali celebration called ‘Durga Puja’. I have heard so much about Durga Puja, I really needed to see this! Durga Puja is celebrated during the last four days of Navratri, this festival is all about good triumphing over evil! Last night, Durga puja began!

During Durga Puja, Mother Durga is a worshipped in her opulent, ten armed, warrior form! The Bengali way of making idols is beyond breathtaking and, unlike the Marathi style, she is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesh and Kartikeya (the second son of Parvati and Lord Shiva). The small details, the huge eyes, the ornaments, the long curly black hair… spectacular! Durga Puja for Bengalis is what Diwali is for the rest of India, prior to the festival there are months of excitement, anticipation and preparations! 

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Goddess Durga comes to Earth for her devotees! The legend of Durga Puja (because I am all about knowing the legends behind these festivals) goes a little like this…

Mahishasur, a Buffalo Demon, persistently prayed to Lord Brahma for many years. Lord Brahma saw his devotion and granted him his biggest wish, to become invincible Once he got what he wanted, he started a ravenous rampage across the world, destroying everything he came in contact with. Once the world was ruined, he wanted to kill the Gods themselves. The Gods created a force more powerful than Mahishasur, the divine feminine, Goddess Durga. In each of her ten hands she carried the most deadly weapons on heaven and Earth, and she destroyed that undestroyable demon. 

Goddess Durga later blessed Lord Ram, in the Hindu epic The Ramayana, just before he killed the demon Ravana who has holding Lord Rama’s wife hostage. On Friday, there is another festival (yes, Hinduism has a lot of festivals!) to celebrate Lord Ram’s victory! Here in Nagpur, a huge model of Ravana is going to be burnt to the ground!

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Inspired by the first Bengali pandal, we went to visit a second! Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful!! The Bengalis really know how to make idols! I could have spent hours looking up at her face, the beauty of Goddess Durga was completely overwhelming. I am lost for words to describe it further, just look for yourself…

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There is usually a flurry of excitement when people see a foreigner among them, but this time we got a little more than we expected. As we were worshiping the idols, one of the men in the pandal asked us to offer some coconuts to Goddess Durga. I love Goddess Durga, so I was enthusiastic to do so! We then found ourselves dressed up red material (I don’t know if it has as special name), which had been blessed by the Goddess, and our photograph being taken by several people!

We had just popped to the supermarket to get paneer, I hadn’t a speck of makeup, my hair was a messy (luckily they wanted to cover my head), I had even forgotten to put on a bindi before going out! I guess you should always be ready for anything, life in India is a lot of things, but boring? Never!

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Once we were back in the car, with our coconuts and blessed material, my husband said how awkward it was because he didn’t know what was going on, these traditions are Bengali and he is Marathi. The confusion and attention hadn’t bothered me, then I realised that the majority of my life in India involves: awkwardness, too much attention and utter bewilderment! I guess I have become accustomed to it. Progress!

‘Welcome to my world’, I said.

It’s now one of my dreams to spend Durga Puja in Kolkata, Bengal! The birth place of Durga Puja, Kolkata is where the festival really comes alive, with over two thousand pandals, street lights and parties. Hopefully next year! Happy Durga Puja everyone!!!

Happy Navratri: The Goddess Durga Artisans

We had to visit Chitaroli one last time to see the final touches being made to the gorgeous Goddess Durga idols, in preparation for Navratri, which starts today! Oh, they were beautiful; faces painted, bangles, jewels and sarees draped. The artisans are so talented and it’s obvious they love, and take pride in, their work. There is such an amazing atmosphere running through those streets! 

There are so many ways to celebrate Navratri (nine divine nights of the Goddess), the festivities vary from state to state, but Hindus around the world will all be worshiping the same Goddess, Durga. Dancing, fasting, feasting, praying, donating to charity and wearing new clothes. It’s an exciting time to be in India.

DSCN3988Here in Nagpur, makeshift temples (pandal) have been put up in every community to host their very own Goddess Durga for nine nights. As you travel around the city, you can see and hear groups of people practicing their garba dancing (a Gujarati folk dance, very popular during Navratri) and fairy lights are being strung across the streets.

The Goddesses in the photographs will have safely reached their temples across Nagpur by now, I cannot wait to drive around and visit as many as I can!DSCN3990

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Durga, navratri, festival, demon, good over evil, beauty, Goddess, Hinduism, Hindu, love, Spirituality, Woman

A scene from mythology where a fierce form of Goddess Durga stands on Lord Shiva

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Durga, navratri, festival, demon, good over evil, beauty, Goddess, Hinduism, Hindu, love, Spirituality, Woman

Scary demon defeated by powerful Goddess Durga

This is my first Navratri, it’s not a festival my family celebrate with great enthusiasm as we have recently pulled out all the stops for Goddess Lakshmi (Mahalakshmi festival, one of the most important events of the year for my family). Goddess Durga is my favourite deity, so I really want to embrace this festival, even if I have to do it in my own little way.

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Do you celebrate Navratri? Please tell me where you are from and your Navratri traditions…

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The abundance of Hindu temples is something I love about India. A temple is always only a stone throw away. Lately, I have been regularly visiting a couple of temples around the city. Gazing up at the various deities gives me … Continue reading