Through childhood – for me – Navratri was a time when we decked in our Pattu Pavadais and all the little girly accessories. It was a time when outdoor playtime was relegated in favour of visiting all the Mamis who had “golu” at their homes. It was a time when, to be very honest, more than the “golus”, what ruled the roost was the neivedyams or prasadams in each mami’s house.
It was also a time of excitement and sheer joy. Of looking forward to something. The unpacking of the Golu stand, the golu dolls and trying to imagine and then decide as to what that year’s theme would be. Then to go shopping for the necessary stationery and “create” to one’s hearts content.
We used to have “golu” at home too. While my mom used to be totally steeped in tradition, for me it was an opportunity to unleash my imagination and try and get a little artistic. I still remember with distinct clarity about how I used to look forward to Navratri because that gave me a legitimate reason to paint clay pottery. Especially the broad pottery in which my mom would be growing the Paligai.
Pali means row of trees and this ritual symbolically refers to planting of trees by for the upkeep and happiness of the family. In modern days, this consists of sowing germinated seeds of nine kinds (navadhanyam) of pre-soaked cereals in a mud pot.
It also meant countless possibilities with regard to the Golu stand. There were years when the Golu stand was decorated like a chariot too – complete with wheels made out of thermocole and coloured and painted till they dazzled.
The only part that used to sober us up a bit then was the possibility of facing the ever increasing multitude of mamis. Mamis who were all resplendent in their kancheevaram silks and jewellery and bling blings on their ears and nose. Mamis, who, with their eye for detail, would have put hawks to shame. Mamis who would scrutinize each and every girl they came across and file her away mentally for future reference. Mamis, who took it upon themselves to act as catalysts to non existent marriage proposals. Mamis, who considered it their birthright to bully girls into displaying their prowess (or the lack of it, in my case) in the musical arena.
Out here in HK too, Navratri is one of the festivals which sees the Indian Community here at its active best. The Gujarati Mandal is seen organizing Garba and Dandiya. The Mamis are seen visiting each others’ houses for Vettalai Pakku. We had quite a few Mamis over for Vettalai Pakku and on many a days Yours Truly was one of the mamis visiting other Mamis for Vettalai Pakku.
Aparna made sure that her wardrobe was an ever changing one – what with many of the salwar kameezes and lehengas and chaniya cholis and pattu pavadais and the huge collection of bangles in just about all available colours being put to very good use.
Abhay has already started to look at Nabratri (that’s how he pronounces it – now to add to his already existing accent he seems to use a very Bengali twist while saying Nabratri) as a “girls’ festival”. The minute he saw either me or Aparna in our Indian costumes – pat would come the question “You going for Vettalai Pakku ?”
Confusion arose when he asked mommy “What is Vettalai ?” and mommy told him “Vettalai is a leaf”. And the poor little guy pointed out to the various potted plants that we have at home and said “There are leaves at home. See (with that famous index finger pointed at the plants). See. So many leaves.” Knowing him, he might well have been questioning the sanity of the girls on their quest of the “Vettalai leaf”.
Navaratri is a festival that is celebrated throughout India – in virtually every state people worship the Goddess, people worship Shakti during these nine days. The Raas Garba, is again a dance which is performed essentially by women. Among the South Indian community too, the tradition of exchanging Vettalai Pakku is again a ladies forte. Navratri, essentially, celebrates the universal feminine force in the Universe – Shakti.
Through it all, however, one thing does keep niggling at the back of my mind. In the very same country which worships the Goddess reverently over a span of nine days, there still abound plenty of instances of female foeticide, of female infanticide. The horrors of dowry deaths still rear their ugly head way too often. Females are still looked down upon in many parts of the country. How does one correlate these facts ? What is the cultural parallel that one could possibly draw ?
Somethings, sometimes just remain questions. The answers are ever elusive. This, I guess, is one of them.