Navarathri or Dusshera

Navarathri is one of the most important festivals for Hindus, especially South Indians. Navarathri means nine nights. During these nine nights and ten days, the different forms of Ambal or Shakti or Durga are worshipped. Navarathri begins on the first day of he bright fortnight or Shukla Paksham of the Lunar calendar month Ashwin.

This year, Navarathri is celebrated from the 1st October to 11th October in India and other countries.
The day to arrange golu, Amavasya is on Friday, September 30th. 
Saraswathi Pooja and Ayudha Pooja is observed on Monday, October 10th. 
Vijayadasami Pooja is observed on Tuesday, October 11th.

Navarathri Schedule At A Quick Glance

Day Goddess North Indian Color South Indian Color North Indian Neivedhyam South Indian Neivedhyam
Shailaputri Navadurga –
Red Royal Blue Ghee Ven Pongal
Brahmacharini Navadurga –
Gayathri Devi
Royal Blue Yellow Sugar Puliyogare
Chandrakanta Navadurga –
Annapoorna Devi
Yellow Cream/White Milk Coconut Rice
Kushmanda Navadurga –
Lalitha Tripura Sundari
Green Sky Blue Malpua Medhu Vada
Skandamata Navadurga –
Saraswathi Devi
Grey Orange Banana Curd Rice
Katyayini Navadurga –
Mahalakshmi Devi
Orange White Honey Rava Kesari
Kalarathri Mata –
Durga Devi
White Maroon Jaggery Kadhambam Rice
Mahagowri Navadurga –
Mahishasura Mardhini Devi
Pink  Red Coconuts Jaggery Rice/Pongal
Sidhidhatri Navadurga –
Sri Rajarajeshwari Devi
Sky Blue Green All foods Payasam


Legend behind Navarathri

There are several legends behind the importance of Navarathri but the one that is most popular is the slaying of Mahishasuran by Goddess Durga which is contained in the chapters 81 to 93 or the Markandeya Purana. These chapters are collectively called “Devi Mahaatmyam” and is thus recited during Navarathri. It is said that Navarathri is the time period during which Goddess Durga is doing tapas or penance to derive the power to kill Mahishasuran and so all the Gods and Goddesses stood still, like dolls, to transfer their energy into her; and hence the custom of keeping dolls in the Kolu.

The story goes thus. Danu had two sons – Rambha and Karambha who performed several penances and gained several powers as boons. Rambha performed his penance by standing amidst five fires called Panchagni and Karambha did his by standing neck deep in water. The Gods were threatened by the powers that these two brothers were gaining and so, Indra killed Karambha by taking the form of a crocodile in the water while he was in his penance. This angered Rambha and motivated him to perform much deeper penance and again acquired several boons like beauty, invincibility, and other boons, among them, one being that he cannot be killed by humans or Gods or Asuras.

One day, he fell in love with a female buffalo and so took the form of a male buffalo and mated with the she-buffalo. But alas, a real male buffalo found Rambha and killed him – unfortunately, the boon that Rambha asked for did not protect him against animals. the female buffalo, now pregnant, decided to throw herself in the funeral pyre of Rambha and from the pyre, arose the demon, Mahishasura, with the head of a buffalo and body of a human.

Mahishasura wrecked havoc for the Devas and gave them a lot of troubles and they jointly approached the Trimurthis – The Holy Trinity – Brahma Vishnu Shiva, to protect them from this demon. So, the trinity gave form to the power of rage within them and this form was Goddess Durga. Since she was born out of the three Gods, she wields the weapons belonging to the three of them among other weapons – The trident or trishul from Shiva, the discus or Sudharshana Chakram from Vishnu, the water pot from Brahma, the conch from Varuna, the spear from Agni, the cudgel from Yama, the bow from Vayu, the arrows from Surya, the lightning or vajra from Indra, the mace from Kubera, the sword from Kala and the axe from Vishwakarma. Himavan gave her a mountain lion to serve as her vaahanam or vehicle.

When Mahishasura saw the Goddess Durga, he was captivated by her beauty and brilliance that he fell in love with her and asked to marry her. Durga promised to marry him on one condition – that he should defeat her in a battle. This battle went on for nine days – to form the nine days of the Navarathri, during which all Gods and Goddess gave her their energy to destroy Mahishasura and hence stood still. Finally, Durga took the terrifying form of Chandika and slayed Mahishasura by pinning him on the ground with her foot and piercing the spear through his neck and beheading him.

This story of the slaying of Mahishasura is extolled in a lot of other Puranas and texts as well, especially the Devi Mahaatmyam.

Kolu Arrangement

Navarathri Golu at my home in Chennai in 2012

During Navarathri, most tamilians keep “Kolu”, that is, they set up steps of odd numbers and place idols of deities and dolls typical of Kolu arrangement. The kolu is kept on the Amavasya day before the day on which Navarathri begins. According to the traditions and ritualist beliefs, the number of steps should always be odd, beginning from 5; eg: 5 or 7 or 9 or 11 etc. 3 is not considered an auspicious number in the Hindu religion and therefore avoided. However, due to constraints in space availability, sometimes people also restrain to just 1 or 2 steps. Apart from the steps, on the ground (the ground does not count as a step) people arrange “parks” and other different innovative arrangements where different themes like a school, or a city, or a construction site, or any doll set is placed. Also, some of these sets are also placed on the steps. The kolu has to be arranged such that it faces the east or west direction.

Many people use this opportunity to showcase their creative sides by making a lot of craft items and artistic designs, like Kolams, Rangolis, Muththalathis, flowers made by them, decoration of dolls by handmade or bought items, decoration of lamps etc. Muththalathis is an arrangement of tiny beads, traditionally made with rice flour but now, made with Tapioca balls (Sabudana or Jowarisi or Sago balls) and different Rangoli colors on a plate or thambaalam.

Navarathri 2012 in Chennai: Muththalathi by me!

Also, people put Kolams and Rangoli designs as well, outside their homes and even inside, near the Kolu and the Puja place to celebrate the occasion.

A mini version of my mom’s prize winning “Rally Fan” kolam!

Preparing the “Kalash” or “Kalasam”

A “Kalash” or “Kalasam” is placed in the center on either of the top three steps. To prepare the kalasam, a chombu or pot made of silver or bronze is washed well and decorated with chandanam and kumkum pottu on all four sides to all four directions. The chombu is filled with turmeric water upto half or three-fourths of the chombu and a currency coin (usually 1 Rupee coin) is dropped into it. a bunch of mango leaves is arranged at the mouth of the chombu enveloping the opening. A coconut, smeared with turmeric paste is decorated with the chandanam and kumkum pottu on the front and back, is placed on the mouth of the chombu such that the head of the coconut is pointing upward. The kalasam has to be prepared and placed on the Kolu at an auspicious time (no Raahu Kaalam etc.). In fact, the kolu itself is to be arranged at an auspicous time. Whenever the kalasam is kept in the kolu it is necessary to take Haarathi of the kolu at night to take off all dhrishti from the Ambal who is believed to have entered the kalasam.

Placing dolls on Kolu

The dolls are arranged on the steps according to the person’s taste and creativity. The “park” area on the ground provides more opportunity to be innovative, and people put attractive rangoli designs as well. Also, one of the main important dolls for the kolu are the “Marpaachi Bommais” which are dolls made of rosewood. These dolls are carved out of rose wood in the figure of a man and a woman and are adorned with nice clothes and accessories. The traditional dolls other than these are the Dashavatharam set (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), Rama Sita Lakshman Hanuman Set, Lakshmi Saraswathi, Ashta Lakshmi, Shiva Parvathi, Aaru Padai Veedu (Six houses of Lord Muruga) and other idols that signify different aspects of the Hindu mythology. Also, dolls like “Chettiar Mama and Mami” are also quite popular for Kolu.

Neivedhyam during Navarathri
During Navarathri, different types of chundals or sundals are prepared and offered to the Kolu. Also, during Navarathri, people invite ladies and children to visit each other’s houses, sing songs to the Kolu, and collect Vethillai Paaku or Thamboolam and Neivedhyam. Along with Vethillai Paaku, usually people give sari blouse pieces, some accessories like hair clips, bangles, etc or small gift bags, or boxes etc as gift items along with a currency coin too, sometimes; but these are just customs evolved over the years. There is no hard and fast rule, except for the betel leaves, betel nuts, turmeric, kumkum (vermillion), coconut and a fruit (usually banana). Also, during this time, people really make up for the lost proteins in their diet as the chundals are prepared from different types of beans, pulses and cereals! There are also some stories that say that the reason of preparing protein rich chundals is also to give Goddess Durga strength in the form of proteins (remember learning that proteins are required for the growth, maintenance and repair of body cells?!).

Ninth day of Navarathri – Saraswathi Pooja and Ayudha Pooja

On the ninth day of the festival, people place books, tools, machines, musical instruments, the bells or salangai for dance, the cymbals or thaalam for dance nattuvangam, and other fine-art related items in front of Goddess Saraswathi, for pooja.

Procedure for Saraswathi Pooja

During auspicious time, preparations for the Pooja are done. There is a belief that the Tamil star Moolam is the star of Goddess Saraswathi. So, some people keep the books and other things they will keep in the pooja, aside on the day that the star Moolam falls, during Navarathri. Most people also just keep things aside and ready during a good auspicious time on the previous day to reduce rush on the day of the pooja.

  1. A wooden plank (Palakai) is decorated with maavu kolam.
  2. Naalu Moolu kolam is put with maavu kolam outside the house, after cleaning the front of the house.
  3. Books are arranged on the palakai.
  4. The pile of books is covered with a cloth.
  5. On the cloth, a small chandanam kumkum pottu is kept and a gold ornament is also placed to offer in respects to Goddess Saraswathi.
  6. Other items like pencils, pens, musical instruments, tools etc. are kept near the book arrangement.
  7. Musical instruments, machines, tools etc are decorated with the chandanam kumkum pottu.
  8. The idol of Saraswathi is decorated with flowers.
  9. Saraswathi pooja is done by reciting slokas of Saraswathi and also the Dhyanam sloka for Saraswathi from the Devi Mahaatmyam.
  10. No books are read or instruments played etc on this day because it is considered that on this day Goddess Saraswathi blesses all forms of knowledge herself.

Procedure for Ayudha Pooja

On this day, Ayudha pooja is also performed. Ayudha means weapons or tools. So pooja is done to vehicles and occupational tools (whatever is relevant to their occupation). People from all backgrounds of occupations like elephant mahouts, barbers, farmers, wood cutters etc. also do the pooja by worshipping their tools.

Usually, people who own cars, bikes etc. do the following:

  1. The vehicle is thoroughly cleaned and washed.
  2. Chandanam Kumkum Pottu is applied all over in important places like on the hood of the car, windows, rear view mirror, steering wheel, speedometer display behind steering wheel, side mirrors, etc.
  3. Flower garlands are hung decoratively in the front of the vehicle.
  4. Pooja is done by lighting a piece of camphor and showing the fumes to the vehicle to cleanse it.
  5. Some people also do the “dhrishti” removal for their vehicles by showing the burning camphor in a pumpkin, and then throwing it on the ground to destroy the evil effects of the evil eye.

Neivedhyam for Saraswathi Pooja and Ayudha Pooja

Typically, people prepare the following for Saraswathi Pooja.

  • Payasam
  • Paruppu Vadai
  • Black Channa Chundal Or White Channa (Chickpea or Garbanzo Bean) Chundal (the black channa is native to South India while the normal Channa is actually native to North India, so nowadays people also make the white channa variety)
  • Nei Appam

Apart from these typical neivedhyams, people also make different dishes simply to celebrate in a grand manner, like medhu vadai, uppappam, milk sweets etc. It purely depends on what the individual wants to offer to the God!

For Ayudha Pooja, those who get their livelihood through their vehicles, like autorikshaw owners, bus tours, travels etc. offer Mutta Pori, Pottu Kadalai (Fried Bengal Gram) and groundnuts mixed together as neivedhyam and distribute it among friends and families.

Tenth day of Navarathri – Vijayadasami

Vijayadasami, also known as Vidyaarambam is a very important day as it is on this day that performing artists visit their Gurus and take their blessings and give the Guru Dakshinai an also learn new things. This day’s importance lies on the learning of new things and renewing the knowledge already acquired to keep progressing. Children are initiated to the world of education on this day. Most people write the letters of the different languages they know, numbers, etc, beginning with “Hari Sri Mahaganapathaye Namaha” (to always start by invoking the blessings of Lord Ganapathy) and other religious lines like “Sri Rama Jayam” etc on this day in front of the pooja, with their index finger. For little children, if it is their first Vidyaarambam, they are made to write all this on rice (uncooked) with their index fingers held by their parents, but for others, they usually write on the floor with their index fingers.

Offerings to the Guru

On Vijayadasami, students of performing arts or any other fine art offer gurudakshinai to their Gurus and seek their blessings. Usually, these offerings are:

  • Vethillai – Betel Leaves
  • Paaku – Betel Nuts
  • Manjal – Turmeric
  • Kumkum – Vermillion
  • Coconut
  • Fruits like banana, apple, orange etc
  • flowers – usually jasmine flowers that are most often garlanded over the idols of Gods and later distributed among guests/students
  • Gurudakshinai – in the form of cash as a token of gratitude and respect

Neivedhyam for Vijayadasami

On vijayadasami people usually prepare some payasam. Usually that is the staple neivedhyam for most families, however, this day’s neivedhyams also depend on the individual’s wishes. Navarathri is a festival where people offer whatever they please to the God as she will accept anything! 🙂

Methods of Worship and Prayers or Slokas

During Navarathri, the three forms of Ambal or Devi are worshipped:

  1. As Durga or Shakti, Goddess of Strength, on the first three days.
  2. As Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, on the next three days.
  3. As Saraswathi, Goddess of Knowledge, on the last three days.

Apart from the above main forms, during these nine days, nine forms of Durga (the invincible form) are worshipped, known as the Navadurgas:

  1. Bhadrakali – the auspicious and fortunate form of Kali
  2. Jagadamba – the mother of the universe
  3. Annapoorneshwari – the provider of food or annam (rice)
  4. Sarvamangala – the provider of joy and aupiciousness
  5. Bhairavi – fierce form of Devi who is the consort of Bhairava
  6. Chandika – supreme Goddess of Devi Mahaatmyam who is a combination of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati
  7. Lalitha – she who plays, also refers to Tripura Sundari – beautiful Goddess in the form of a 16 year old girl who embodies 16 types of desire (Shodashi)
  8. Bhavani – giver of life
  9. Mookambika – the giver of knowledge

During Navarathri, people recite the Devi Mahaatmyam, and other Devi Slokas like the Lalitha Sahasranamam, Lalithamba Shobanam and other slokas on Ambal.

In North India, Navarathri is celebrated as Dusshera (ten days) and is filled with lots of fun and music and dance. In Gujarat, people participate in the Garbha and Dandiya Raas, where everyone dances with dandiya sticks, and have a lot of fun celebrating the festival. In West Bengal, there is much importance to the Durga Pooja as Goddess Durga is their main Goddess. Huge idols of Durga slaying Mahishasura are made and on the fifth day, immersed in water, similar to the Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations in Maharashtra.

Hope all of you have a great time celebrating Navarathri!

To check out recipes of Chundals, click here or choose the “Chundals/Sundals” category from the side bar. We shall upload some more chundals shortly! 🙂


One Comment Add yours

  1. brilliant post here! what a detailed description… am sure it is educating a lot of ppl..

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