“Festivals have always had a very unique place in India’s heritage and culture. Special food preparations for each Indian festival are almost as important as the festival itself”. From “Celebrate & Cook” by Amita Shah.
Hindus across the subcontinent celebrate the festival Navaratri, which translates into nine nights of devotion and festivities in honour of the goddesses. Soon after the culmination of Navaratri is the holy occasion of Vijay Dashmi, also celebrated as Dussehra.While the Bengali community celebrate Durga Puja.
There are mainly two Navratras, one during March ‒ April and the other during September ‒ Oct. These, you might notice, are times of seasonal change – winter to summer and vice versa. The traditional explanation is that, by fasting for nine days, people purified their bodies to gear up for the next season. The March ‒ April ones end on Ram Naumi, the birth of Ram and the September one ends on Vijay Dashmi or Dussehra.
Dussehra marks the epic defeat of Ravana by Lord Ram according to the Epic, The Ramayana. In the eastern part of the country, for the Bengali community, Vijay Dashmi is the celebration of the Goddess Durga’s triumph over the invincible Buffalo King Mahishasura. Both the legends signify the victory of good over evil. Remember our heritage walks– A Pre-Lude to Durga Puja, and Pandal-Hopping for the Goddess Durga, effigy-making and burning, experience spiritual Dussehra, go pandal pandal-hopping to meet the actors and actresses in the green room, see the enactment of the play and of course experience street foods with the roller-kulfi (Indian ice-cream) that is only available on this festival. It is believed that Goddess Durga killed mighty demon Mahishasura during “Navratri“.
With passage of time, some more reasons were attributed to Navratri, namely, the veneration of the nine planets and of the nine manifestations of the Mother Goddess, Shakti. For the Bengali community as seen on the walks, the last four days are the most auspicious as on the sixth day Goddess Durga comes home to the earth wherein the idols are unveiled in the temporary make-shift pandals and leaves on the tenth day (Vijay Dashmi) after killing the demon.
Furthermore, says Amita Shah, “April Navratri is said to have been the period when King Dasharath hosted an Akhand Yagya to beseech Shakti to grant him an heir, a son. The October (Shardiya) Navratri is said to have been the period when Lord Ram hosted an Akhand Yagya to seek the blessings of Shakti before mounting his final assault on the demon king, Ravan”.
Fasting and Feasting: Pamela Timms in her book Korma, Kheer and Kismet says, “Unlike Eid, the Navratri are the times of avoidance of certain foods rather than complete abstinence and, while there is an emphasis on purification and cleansing, food is still at the heart of celebrations”.
Says Amita in her book Celebrate & Cook, “The human digestive system has to recalibrate itself to adjust to the impending change in climate. It needs time to make this change. Hence one eats a grain-free meal only once a day for nine consecutive days, giving the body rest and much needed time.
Navratra Delights: In the last few years, the festival of Navratri, has taken the city of Delhi by storm! The devout/fashionable eat a grain-free meal once a day, they throw Navratri parties, they curate lavish grain-free menus for the invitees, they buy outfits….in short, all stops are pulled out! Vrat ka Khanna (fasting food)- you can treat yourself to these amazing, specially curated menus by some of the biggest and best restaurants in the city. For all nine days, special Navratra menus are served to turn fasting to feasting. Lavish Durga Puja Bhog (food offerings to the gods) intrigues Bengalis and non-Bengalis alike, especially during the four main days of Durga Puja. Platters of dry fruits, nuts and sweets are offered to the gods during the season’s numerous pujas.
Navratra thali –Here are some healthy foods that not only go with fasting rituals but are also suitable for your family and enable you to enjoy the festival at the fullest.
For more lip-smacking recipes refer to Amita Shah’s book “Celebrate & Cook, available online and at most leading bookshops. Says Amita, “Each item is a culinary delight, cooked with passion and love”.
Mark your calendars for more spectacular places to visit for this festival. In Gujarat every evening men and women gather together, all clad in vibrant colours to play Garba and Dandiya (Gujarat’s folk dance. In the Kullu valley, a Dhalpur maiden is beautifully decorated with flowers and they don’t burn the effigies of Ravana. In Varanasi, the enactment of the epic – Ramayana spans forty days. In Mysore, the royal heritage is on display interspersed with ritualistic celebration, and is well worth witnessing. Here, the elaborate celebrations continue for 10 days, with the city honouring Goddess Chamundeswari, who killed the demon Mahishasura. The highlight of the event is the Mysore Palace beautifully illuminated with 100,000 light bulbs from 7 to 10 pm each day of the festival.
Dusshera celebrations in Mysore