Dussehra: Fighting my own Demons

On Friday, it was Dussehra. This festival marks the end of Navratri, it was time for Goddess Durga to be immersed and I was sad to see her go. Dussehra is also the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, with the help of Goddess Durga herself. Here Nagpur, the festival has a third significance…

Dussehra also marks the day when Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and it happened right here in Nagpur. Who was Dr. Ambedkar? Dr. Ambedkar was a Hindu born of “low caste”, even though he was a great freedom fighter (during the fight for independence from the British), still Brahmins didn’t let him in their temples because of his caste. This prejudice infuriated him, so he converted to Buddhism and it is estimated that three million low-caste Hindus followed him and converted too. These days temples in Nagpur are open to every caste, but sadly many people still hold prejudice against lower caste people.

So, during Dussehra thousands of Buddhists, who would otherwise be low-caste Hindus, come to Deekshaboomi in Nagpur for a pilgrimage, a sacred Buddhist monument designed by Dr. Ambedkar.. People come from miles around in the back of trucks, on foot, in buses and trains to visit the monument on this special day. When I first moved to Nagpur, the Dalai Lama came to visit Deekshaboomi, sadly I didn’t know anything about it until the next day, I would have loved to get a glimpse of him!

Nagpur Buddhism

Deekshabhoomi. Photo credit: My Hindi Heart (click here to read about Crystal’s Nagpur experience when she came to my wedding!)

Back at my house, we have several Dussehra traditions but I was not feeling good. On the day that Lord Rama killed his demon, I was fighting mine. Mine doesn’t have ten heads like Ravana. my demon is a black mist that falls like a blanket over everything, he’s called depression.

Depression can hit you when you least expect it, especially when he has visited so many times before (I guess he knows the way by now). I have had an absolutely fabulous couple of months. I have started to get involved with festivals, my volunteer work and my relationship with my mother-in-law has drastically improved. My anxiety disorder has practically gone as I have been facing my fears (India has a way of forcing you to do that!). My regular visits to my local Goddess Durga temple during the last couple of months has helped me connect with my spirituality and feel contentment.

During the day of Dussehra, there are flowers everywhere! Heaps and heaps of them, especially orange marigolds, my absolutely favourite. Nagpur; covered in flowers, parades taking Goddess Durga to be immersed, music and pilgrims. Things I love to see, but I felt a disconnect, as if I were seeing it all in black and white. The sudden onset of depression is scary, especially when you cannot account for it. The dull sadness which swallows up everything, which makes you just want to scream.

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The Demon, Ravana! Picture credit: wikipedia

After Lord Rama defeated his demon, he went straight to a Goddess Durga temple to thank her for her guidance and strength. In the evening my husband and his father went to the Goddess Durga temple, just as Lord Rama did. My mother-in-law and I waited at home to welcome them when they returned, just as Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, did. My husband wore a traditional Marathi hat, which looked completely ridiculous on top of his curly hair, to receive my welcome. The small ceremony involved me putting turmeric, kumkum and rice on his forehead and a rotating a silver tray, carrying auspicious items and a flame, around him. Seeing his face and that ridiculous hat brought the day’s first genuine smile to my face.

Depression is an ugly and very misunderstood demon. This time though, depression was accompanied by a guest, someone he doesn’t usually associate himself with. Very small but as bright as the flame I greeted my husband with, Hope. I know that this will pass and I will be okay again soon. It’s just as if my happiness took a little holiday, leaving behind only a note saying ‘I will be back, had to take a break, I’ve been around far too much recently!’. I feel that slowly but surely, I will vanquish this demon completely, he is getting weaker each time we meet.

Now Navratri is over, Goddess Durga has returned to her heavenly abode but just like my happiness, she’ll be back again soon! Here are some photos I took during the nine nights of Navratri, Goddess Durga defeating her demon:

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Navratri: Polystyrene Temple

For weeks, workers in Abhyankar Nagar have been busy creating a huge temple made of bamboo, fabric and polystyrene! Now Navratri is in full swing, it’s so hard to believe that this structure, called a pandal, isn’t made of bricks, plaster and paint!! Just amazing! People come from all over Nagpur to take the darshan (seeing the divine image of God) of the gorgeous Goddess Durga idol within. The streets around the pandal are beautifully lit, it’s like Christmas over there!

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Beautiful lights, hard to capture on camera.

navratri durga temple pandal festival nagpur

Lord Ganesh welcoming everyone at the entrance!

navratri durga temple pandal festival nagpur

Hard to believe it’s only made of polystyrene, bamboo and fabric!

navratri durga temple pandal festival nagpur

Inside this huge pandal, which was inspired by the Jain temples in Jaisalmer, there are grand chandeliers, imported from Kolkata, and gorgeous rangoli (colourful designs made with power and/or flowers). The rangoli designs are refreshed daily, they are masterpieces, it would have been nice to visit everyday if it wasn’t for the crowds! The white decorations all over the temple are carved out of polystyrene, that stuff which is used in packaging and easily breaks into little balls (I remember getting in trouble once when I was really small for breaking up the polystyrene because I wanted to make it look as if it were snowing!).

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Chandeliers imported from Kolkata

navratri nagpur mandir pandal rangoli goddess durga devi love beautiful

Carved polystyrene decorations

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navratri nagpur mandir pandal rangoli goddess durga devi love beautiful

Save the girl child!!

navratri nagpur mandir pandal rangoli goddess durga devi love beautiful

Lord Shiva

navratri nagpur mandir pandal rangoli goddess durga devi love beautiful

Beyond the crowds of people, the Goddess Durga idol stands! If you look at her face, sometimes she looks angry and sometimes she looks loving. That is the nature of Goddess Durga herself, a mother and a warrior. Absolutely stunning! I hope you enjoyed taking this trip to see Goddess Durga during Navratri with me! I still cannot get over the fact that this temple is made of bamboo sticks, fabric and polystyrene.

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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…