Nothing Like Navarathri: What Is Celebrated During Navarathri Part 3 (of 3)
By Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
Part 3 of 3 in Navarathri Trilogy (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)
Why Do I Celebrate Navarathri with Golu?
In part two of this Navarathri trilogy, I shared my experiences with arranging the dolls on steps, or golu padi. Many have asked why do I do this. My answer is very similar to an answer given to me in Chennai just about ten years ago that initiated my interest in celebrating golu padi during Navarathri.
Question: Why do you keep dolls on steps? Why are all the dolls from different religions and cultures? I would have thought you’d put only Hindu statues because you’re Hindu and this is a Hindu holiday.
Answer: Navarathri is a Hindu Holiday, but it’s open to anyone to observe. We put golu padi because Navarathri is a holiday for the Goddess. We like to dress up the girls like goddesses and let them enjoy this time. One way girls enjoy is to play with dolls. But, rather than play, we collect and display timeless and heirloom pieces during this time so they are not forgotten. They are like our family antiques. As far as why we have all the religions and cultures displayed is because we believe all cultures and religions have a common thread and that all cultures and religions have something good to share and teach us. We hope by keeping these dolls together it communicates unity in diversity, religious harmony and an ability to keep an open mind and allow all good things into yourself and learn from others.
I have italicized the last few sentences because this is what I believe about golu. In my childhood our equivalent to golu padi was Christmas Nativity. Christmas nativities are indeed beautiful, awe-inspiring, creative and spiritual. But there is something a Christmas nativity has never given to me personally that a Navarathri golu padi has- the ability to communicate that we are a diverse world with diverse thoughts, interests, likes and beliefs and that is ok and should be celebrated.
For me, that is the main reason I not only enjoy putting golu padi, but will continue for years to come. I hope it becomes a new tradition of our family and that our future children will aspire to carry this on as well. All being said that would truly communicate a true golu padi from the steps of the doll’s world into real life. The reason being is that this is a south Indian Tamil tradition, neither a Hungarian-American girl’s tradition (me) nor a Keralite Delhi raised boy’s tradition (my husband). We would be true ambassadors of the philosophy of the golu padi!
For anyone who has read ‘The Secret,’ we all know we can create our own life through imagery and right thinking. So, the philosophy of golu padi is envisioned in our family itself being multicultural and following other cultural traditions neither of us grew up with, but also golu is a good place for creating scenes of what we dream of in life. Often people do themed golus. Sometimes the whole golu has an overall theme, or sometimes, as I have done, a theme of dolls is placed to the side of the golu. This year, I have made a theme of Kenya and safaris as we hope to go to Kenya someday. You may find this hokey, but one year, I themed an Indian wedding, many of the dolls in this set were wearing white saris/mundus with gold borders, and women in the crowd in pink dresses, complete with someone tying thali on a bride. This of course, happened to me not so long after doing that golu as a single girl, as I was married to a Keralite, who wears white saris and mundus as wedding attire and few women in the wedding, including my mom being one, were wearing pink salvaar kamiz with dupettas on their heads.
Other Golu Preparations/Traditions
Singing, praying to the goddess and numerology play important roles for some in Golu celebrations as per my experience.
Often these three aspects can be found in one occasion itself. Some, while planning for others to come and visit their golu decide to invite a certain number (usually 9) women (married and/or single) to the golu on a particular day of the celebration (not sure which of the 9 days) and they come, sit in front of the golu singing songs. Usually these songs are devotional, to the goddess. Other times, it is a time for especially young girls to test their singing talents by singing devotionals or any other song that fits their fancy.
I prefer a less formal style. I open the house to visitors for the nine days and friends come as they are free. When coming, if they want to bring a doll to add to the golu, sing a song, or pray to god, it is their choice to do it, or not. Nothing is formally planned. The spontaneous additions are always my favorite!
Other Navarathri Traditions
Navarathri goes on for 9 nights (effectively 10 days). In different parts of India, people celebrate differently. Some parts of India, this festival is a family and friends affair (such as this golu tradition), while in other parts of India, it is loud and full of dancing dandiya and garba (Gujarat state, and popular in Bombay/Mumbai), while in others it is all about the Devi and prayers to Devi (Calcutta/Kolkatta), while in others, no one really gives much importance. Because of this, in some states, such as West Bengal (Kolkatta) there are long holidays, while in others, people know it is Navarathri, but no holidays are granted.
Within Tamil Nadu, Chennai, in particular where I am quite familiar with this festival, the nine days are a time to pray to the goddess, host golu (I think mostly Brahmin families do this, but maybe others do this as well.), and observe certain prayers during certain days. I do not have all the details but only what I have experienced. It is Saraswathi puja day, a day before the last day of the festival that is my favorite. Goddess Saraswathi is the goddess of learning. It is on this day no reading or studying is done. Books are given rest along with other implements of learning. It is a time to reflect on other ways we can learn things in this life (more here). People as a token, will set one book, pen or other implement of learning in front of the puja alter (prayer stand) or the golu (as we did in the picture to the right). The last day of Navarathri, called Ayuda Puja is another favorite day for me. It is on this day people clean and decorate their household utensils. It may sound odd to those not used to this custom, but it has a nice meaning. You could also call it ‘fall cleaning’. People appreciate the what these implements help them to achieve- stoves, refrigerators, pots, pans, plates and cutlery help us cook and enjoy tasty food, while televisions, radios, computers, give us entertainment, and while cars, bikes, motorcycles and other vehicles help us get to the places we need to go every day. These things are all taken out, sorted through, cleaned, dried and decorated. Small items that go in the household are simply decorated by putting some viboodhi (cow dung ash from temple) or haldi and then a dot of kum kum placed on top. It is also this decoration that some of my friends applied over doorway entrances and on doors or entrances to various parts of the house, including the refrigerator. Some use this time to redecorate these kinds of symbols and patterns that appear throughout the year in permanent paint in their home. Most common place to find this is in the entry way of the door to the house, the floor board is painted with three red or yellow lines on either side. In wondering why people would decorate their household like this with powders such as haldi and kum kum that can and do stain facades may line up with tradition of evil eye. Cars and vehicles are washed and redecorated and even donned with fresh flowers. City busses are given a much needed wash and decoration as well. Wish I would have got some photos of that! Some also will do a puja to their vehicles by driving over lemons to rid of bad spirits. Some also make two pastes – one of haldi and one of sandalwood and paint decorations on their car with their fingers. These actually are not permanent and will wear off within a week or so. The decorations painted can be the ‘om’ sign or the swatsika. Before you freak out, let it be known that this ancient symbol represents the forces of the universe (like the yin/yang) and is a symbol of good luck (Some steal such symbols and give them the wrong meaning. We won’t mention who…) In fact, I also did this puja when I first returned from U.S. Yes I did drive around with this on my car for several days. But it was wearing off along the way, so not sure if anyone really saw the whole symbol. Being after 9/11 I would have got deported if that were the case (though I am an American citizen, no doubt!).
A last important tradition, ritual or superstition regarding golu in particular is in ‘closing the golu.’ How does one get ready to end the viewing of golu and take it apart and box it back up? There is a tradition that the last night of Navarathri, a doll on the golu should be laid on it’s side to sleep. Upon doing this, the person doing this would sit in front of golu a few mintues, think about this years golu, thank God for it, and wish the same and more for next year. I am not sure if it matters which doll you choose, I wasn’t told that. I chose a female doll of a male/female pair. She slept on his lap. I believe this superstition to some extent as last year was the first time in the four years I had done it, and this year I believe the golu is more amazing than last year.
Conclusions: How Navarathri and Golu has affected my life
The main ways Navarathri has affected my life include: appreciating the multicultural and multi-spiritual world we live in, inspires creativity in me for decorating and creating small arts and crafts (we have made our own mirrors with gods photos on the back to give in the gift bags), creating golu for other festivals (like Pongal, and dressing our doll in Kerala mundu for Onam décor) and has inspired our wedding plans also (we played dandiya at our wedding).
I love Navarathri. I still find it interesting that I have taken on so many of these Indian traditions and enjoy them as though they were ‘my own’ from birth itself. Yes, it’s hard. I don’t always know what to do or how to do it. I find that those who have grown up with the traditions sometimes find the same struggles. I find asking others questions helps me out a lot as well as reading peoples blogs. Reading others experiences of how they have celebrated and prepared for the same gives me new ideas to try and test out.
I appreciate the fact I live in a place where I have the freedom to explore and live different cultures in my own home, in my own family and in my own country. This is the one aspect that Navarathri reminds me of and inspires gratefulness in me. I know people in different countries do not have such freedoms nor do they have the scope to realize that other ways of life exist. I also know that it doesn’t matter about being in different countries. Right in our own wonderful country of America, families are out there that are not as open minded or willing to try new things. I know that there are families that do this to keep their lives very simple, and I can appreciate that. In fact, to me, sometimes that is enviable. However, once I stepped to this side of the ‘multicultural fence’ I do not want to go back to that ‘simple way’ of doing what has always been done. I am grateful my family has accepted the fact I am not like that and I want to continue to grow, change and learn from and adapt good aspects of many ways of life to enrich our own.
Thank you for reading.
Author of this post and owner of this blog; Jennifer Kumar, CC, MSW, is a cross-cultural coach helping people find comfort in foreign lands through multicultural advising, interfaith coaching, expat mentoring, English as Second Language conversational and life skills coaching and more! Contact her for more information at authenticjourneys at gmail dot com or follow her on Facebook. Read more about her bio and credentials here.
Updated January 2011