Navratri, is a Hindu festival of worship of Shakti and dance & festivities. The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit, nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. it is commonly referred to as Dussehra.
Navratri, is a festival celebrated, with great fervor both religiously and socially, all over India. Navratri is celebrated differently in different parts of India by Hindus. But in all places the victory of good over evil is celebrated and Goddess Shakti is propitiated. Such adoration to Mother Goddess is unique to Hinduism.
Navratri is celebrated in honor of goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. The festival commences on the first day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Ashwin (September-October) although as the dates of the festival are according to the Hindu calendar (which is based on the Moon), the festival may be held for a day more or a day less depending on the calendar.
During Navaratri, we invoke the energy aspect of God in the form of the universal mother, commonly referred to as "Durga," which literally means the remover of miseries of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power). It is this energy, which helps God to proceed with the work of creation, preservation and destruction. In other words, you can say that God is motionless, absolutely changeless, and the Divine Mother Durga, does everything. Truly speaking, our worship of Shakti re-confirms the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or destroyed. It is always there.
In Hindu mythology, Navratri celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon. She fought for nine days and nine nights before emerging victorious on the tenth day.
Goddess Shakti in the nine forms is worshipped during the period for knowledge, wealth, prosperity and auspiciousness. Knowingly or unknowingly during this period we also recognize the primordial source of energy (Shakti), which manifests in all living and nonliving.
There are many legends attached to the conception of Navratri like all Indian festivals but all of them are related to Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother Goddess) and her various forms. Navratri is divided into three-day sets, each devoted to a different aspect of the supreme goddess. The first three days are devoted to Goddess Durga (Warrior Goddess to destroy all our vices, impurities, and defects) dresses in red and mounted on a lion. The next three day set is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi (the giver of spiritual and material wealth) dressed in gold and mounted on an owl, and the last set is devoted to Goddess Saraswati (the goddess of wisdom) dressed in milky white and mounted on a pure white swan.
To celebrate a good harvest and to propitiate the nine planets, women also plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers during these nine days and then offer the young saplings to the goddess.
A period of introspection and purification, Navratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new venture
These days are dedicated to Durga Maa; the Goddess of power and energy. On the first three days, the goddess is invoked as a powerful spiritual force called Durga in order to destroy all our impurities, vices and defects.
During this period people worship Lakshmi Maa, the Goddess of peace and prosperity. During the next three days, the Mother is adored as a giver of spiritual wealth, Lakshmi, who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees the inexhaustible wealth.
Saraswati Maa is worship during this period, to acquire the spiritual knowledge
On this day Kanya puja is performed, nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshiped.T he final set of three days is spent in worshipping the daughter of Brahma as the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In order to have all-round success in life, we need the blessings of all three aspects of the divine femininity, hence, the worship for nine nights.
Navaratri is celebrated four times a year. They are Vasanta Navaratri, Ashadha Navaratri, the Sharada Navaratri, and the Poushya/Magha Navaratri. Of these, the Sharada Navaratri of the month of Puratashi and the Vasanta Navaratri of the Vasanta kala are very important.
Basanta Navrathri, also known as Vasant Navratras, is the festival of nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the spring season (March–April). It is also known as Chaitra Navratra. The nine days of festival is also known as Raama Navratri.
Gupta Navratri, also referred as Ashadha or Gayatri or Shakambhari Navratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Ashadha (June–July). Gupta Navaratri is observed during the Ashadha Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
This is the most important of the Navratris. It is simply called Maha Navratri (the Great Navratri) and is celebrated in the month of Ashvina. Also known as Sharad Navaratri, as it is celebrated during Sharad (beginning of winter, September–October).
Poushya Navratri is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Pousha (December–January). Poushya Navaratri is observed during the Pousha Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
Magha Navratri, also referred as Gupta Navratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Magha (January–February). Magha Navaratri is observed during the Magha Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
source taken from :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navratri Rituals:
Navaratri is celebrated in different ways throughout India.
People in Northern India observe a fast that lasts for the nine days of the festival, only to be opened on the tenth day of Dussehra. Traditionally, Navratri was celebrated by Hindu women only, in the honor of goddess Amba/Durga. Amba/Durga is believed to be a Shakti, originating from Lord Shankara. On the tenth day of Navratri, the holiday of Dussehra, an effigy of Ravana is burnt to celebrate the victory of good (Rama) over evil.
The last four days of Sharad Navratri take on a particularly dramatic form in the state of West Bengal in East India where they are celebrated as Durga Puja. This is the biggest festival of the year in this state. Exquisitely crafted and decorated life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up in temples and other places. These idols are then worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day.
Durga Puja, the most happening festival of the Bengalis can be sensed with its spurt of fanfare on all the four days of the Durga Puja festival. This autumnal festival popularly known as Sharodotsav, recalls the power of female Shakti symbolized by the Goddess Durga who slays asura to reestablish peace and sanctity on earth again. Bengalis all over the world during these days of Durga Puja rejoice to their heart's content reconnecting with friends and relatives. Durga Puja is an occasion when the familiar sound of Dhak, Dhunuchi nachh,the mild fragrance of Shiuli, gives a familiar tug to every Bengali heart.
People in western India, especially in Gujarat, spend the nine nights of Navratri in song, dance and merriment. Garba is a graceful form of dance, wherein women dressed in exquisitely embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas, dance gracefully in circles around a pot containing a lamp.
The name Garba comes from the Sanskrit term Garbha Deep. Garbha, when translated, most closely resembles the English preposition inside, and Deep is a small earthenware lamp. Garba is a dance that originated in the Gujarat region. Traditionally, either the lamp (the Garba Deep), or an image of Amba is placed in the middle of the concentric rings. People dance around the deity clapping rhythmically. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap. The songs of the Garba are often historic and melodious and have been handed down through generations. The origins of them seem to be a tribal dance revolving around a hunt; later it was transformed into an agricultural ritual dedicated to the goddess Ambika. Today in the cities and town the dance is a social activity and entertainment rather than religious agricultural or fertility symbol. People clad in chaniya-cholis and dhoti-kurtas dancing in a synchronized manner. There are variations in the garba in different regions and communities. Dancers have involved their own style and steps. The Garba of Gujarat is the most popular women's folk dance of Gujarat. During Navratri, a pot is ceremoniously placed attractive designs are made on the pot and a light is placed inside. Village girls bearing pots (garbis) on their heads go from door to door and dance around the respective house.
Navratri is known as Bommla Koluvu in Andhra Pradesh and Navarathri in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Navratri is observed as Dusshera in Karnataka, where it is observed for ten days. The main event during Navrathri in South India is the display of dolls and idols – Kolu and the placing of Kalash, which represents Goddess.
Relatives and friends are invited during Navratri to visit the 'Golu" at homes. They are Given prasad (the snack items offered to the goddess on that day) Kumkum(Red vermillion powder) and small bag of gidt usually containing a mirror, a comb, a small box of kumkum and fruits. These are only given to girls and married women as Navratri mainly celebrated by women.
A kalasam(pot) is filled with water and the God of Ocean and water(God VArun) is invoked in brass pot by chanting the verses from the ancient Indian Scriptus.
The "Kalasam" is Prepared and placed as the first auspicious item on the top followed by the display of the dolls.
The pot symbolizes Mother Earth. Water is the life-giver, as it symbolizes the primordial water from which the creation emerged. The green mango leaves stand fertility and life. The coconut stands for the head of the Supreme('Sripala' in Sanskrit) representing the divine consciousness. Thus, the 'kalasam' is the divine essence and gives life to all.
'Marapachi' is a pair of finely carved male and female wooden dolls which form the most imortant part of the Navratri Golu arrangement. these wooden dolls are beautigully adorned in colourful cloths and jewellery. Marapachi dolls were often gifted to a new bride by her parents and would then get handed down through the generations.
Goddess Durga is worshipped in different forms. SHE is a form of "Shakti". The evolution of Shri Maha Saraswati, Shri Maha Laxmi and Shri Mahakali (the 3 main forms of "Shakti") took place from Shri Brahma, Shri Vishnu and Shri Mahesh(Shiva) respectively. Each of these 3 deities gave rise to 3 more forms and hence in all, these 9 forms together are known as Nav-Durga .....
1. Shailputri .....
The Navratri festival begins with worship of Durga in form of Shailaputri where Shaila means mountain and Putri means daughter. (Daughter of Mountain, the Himalaya). Devi Durga is considered as a daughter of Himalaya. Shailaputri is the first among nine Durgas. Other name of Shailaputri is Parvati. Parvati or Shailaputri worshiped Lord Shiva to be his wife. Lord Shiva, being satisfied with her devotion and sacrifice married her.
HER 2 hands, display a trident and a lotus. SHE is mounted upon a bull.
2. Bhramcharni .....
Hindus worship Durga as Brahmacharini in the second day of Navratri. Here Brahma means Tapa (Penance), Charini means who performs. Hence meaning of Brahmacharini is who performs or observe penance. Devarshi Narad told her to performed it to get Lord Shiva as her husband and she did accordingly. She is also known as Uma.
The idol of this Goddess is very gorgeous. One hand hold a "Kumbha" or water pot, and the other holds a rosary. She personifies love and loyalty. Bhramcharini is the store house of knowledge and wisdom. Rudraksha beads are Her most adored ornaments!
3. Chandraghanta .....
Worshipped on the 3rd night this Durga Shakti is astride a tiger, displays a golden hue to HER skin, possesses ten hands and 3 eyes. Eight of HER hands display weapons while the remaining two are respectively in the mudras of gestures of boon giving and stopping harm.
Chandra means the moon. Chandraghanta carries a half circular moon in her forehead, hence called with that name .Chandra + Ghanta, meaning supreme bliss and knowledge, showering peace and serenity, like cool breeze in a moonlit night.Chandraghanta form of Shakti is ready to fight all evils, demons and danavas.
Goddess Durga is worshipped in this form in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu) India.
4. Kushmanda .....
The 4th night begins the worship of Kushmanda, possessed of eight arms, holding weapons and a mala or rosary. HER mount is a tiger and SHE emanates a solar like aura.
Kushmanda means pumpkin. The fourth form of Durga loves offering of pumpkins. Hence, the name Kushmanda became famous. It is told that she creates the universe. This image has eight hands, holding seven types of weapons and a Rosary.
The abode of Kushmanda is in Bhimaparvat.
5. Skand mata .....
Using a lion as a vehicle SHE holds HER son, SKAND in HER lap while displaying 3 eyes and 4 hands; two hands hold lotuses while the other 2 hands respectively display defending and granting gestures. Its said, by the mercy of Skandmata, even the idiot becomes an ocean of knowledge. The great and legendary Sanskrit Scholar Kalidas created his two masterpieces works viz. "Raghuvansh Maha Kavya" and "Meghdoot" by the grace of Skandmata.
6. Kaatyayani .....
Sixth form of goddess Durga is Katyayani. Rishi Katyayan had observed penance and get Parama Shakti as his daughter. As a daughter of Katyayan, she is referred as Katyayani . This 6th Shakti is also astride a lion with 3 eyes and 4 arms. One left hand holds a weapon and the other a lotus. The other 2 hands respectively display defending and granting gestures. HER complexion is golden coloured.
7. Kaalratri .....
Hindus worship horrifying image of Durga as Kalratri on Maha Saptami, the Seventh night of Navratri. Here Kal means death and Ratri means night. Kalratri is black as darkness of night, hairs unlocked, three dazzling and rounded eyes and flames coming out of her nostrils. She stands on a Shava (dead body) with a sharp sword in her right hand and a burning torch (mashal) is in the left. She blesses with her lower hands in fearless style. She is known as Shubhamkari while auspicious.
HER vahana is a faithful donkey. The destroyer of darkness and ignorance, Kaalratri is the seventh form of Nav-Durga meaning scourer of darkness; enemy of darkness. Kaalratri's famous shrine is in Calcutta, India
8. Mahagauri .....
Maha Gauri, form of Durga as eight years old virgin is worshiped on Maha Ashtami, the eightth day of navratri. Maha means great and Gaur means white. Gauri is derived from Gaur and means a female with white color. Dust made the girl observing penance diry and Lord Shiva brought river Ganga to clean her that made her bright like lightening. Her body, face, clothes, ornaments and even her vehicle bull, all are white .
Four arms with the fairest complexion of all the Durga Shaktis. Peace and compassion radiate from HER being and SHE is often dressed in a white or green sari. SHE holds a drum and a trident and is often depicted riding a bull.
Mahagauri can be seen in a temple at Kankhal near pilgrim centre Haridwar, India
9. Siddhiratri .....
Siddhi means attainment and Datri means doner or provider. Devotees achieve eight ultimate Siddhis Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Iishitva and Vashitva by worshiping ninth form of Durga as Siddhidatri. Devi Puran tells us that even Lord Shiva got this Siddhies by worshiping Maha Shakti Siddhidatri. Hindus worship her on Maha Navami, the ninth day of Navaratri.
Ensconced upon a lotus, most commonly, with 4 arms, and is the possessor of 26 different wishes to grant HER bhakts. Siddhiratri's famous pilgrim centre, is located in Nanda Parvat in the Himalayas