link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' link rel = "image_src” href=”preview-image-here.jpg” / expr:content='data:blog.metaDescription' Sukanya's musings: NAVARATHRI - SOUTH INDIAN STYLE

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Monday, October 6, 2008


I would like to send this also to LG's Festive Food Event


Navarathri is celebrated for nine days and nine nights followed by Vijayadashami on the tenth day.

This festival is celebrated from the new moon day to the ninth day of Purattasi and is considered as the most auspicious time of the Hindu Calendar. This period is one of the most celebrated time of the year.

Godessess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped for getting courage, wealth and knowledge respectively. Although it has different names in different parts of India, it is celebrated by Hindus from all regions.

In Tamil Nadu, the first three days of the festival are dedicated to Lakshmi, the next three to Durga and the last three to Saraswati.

KAL AAJ AUR KAL (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow)

This was the title of a movie made by the Great Raj Kapoor spanning 3 generations and My composition is a depiction of the Navarathri festival spanning three generations, My grandmother(KAL), my mom(AAJ) and me(TOMORROW). This is an effort on my part to illustrate, how the charm of festivals are fading off our lives? I am afraid that if our generation doesn’t take things into our hands and get serious about our traditions, we will loose our traditions and cultural values. The picture gets grimmer when we migrate to different countries and loose touch of our roots.

I feel that we don’t have as much fun as we used to have back home in Mumbai. Back then we always had the Terminal Exams (half yearly) during the Navarathri festival. The sweet co-incidence was it would always get over in time for us to enjoy the last weekend of the festival. The weekend after the exams was usually marked by full attendance. We got to enjoy the best of everything our style(traditional south indian style) plus playing the Dandiya Raas one of my favorite dances’ just after my Terminal Exams used to get over.

I consider myself as Tomorrow already, as, I don’t know how the Tomorrow after me(my daughter’s generation) is going to be. I am trying my best to go back over to the yesteryears and give my kids the knowledge and sweet memories enjoyed by my amma-amma (Grandma) who used to keep telling us of the Navarathri celebrations they used to have at Parawoor(her hometown) and keep lamenting on those wonderful days…………and the ones I enjoyed in my amma’s (mom’s) house in a sincere attempt to get them in touch with our traditions, values and the spirit of our festivals which not only emphasized on sharing happiness and the virtue of giving but also a social activity for all ages. If this (our tradition) continues no one would be lonely or suffer from stress or depression like we do in this modern age. This is one of the keys to form a happy society.


The Navarathri Atmosphere at Mumbai

The prices of flowers start to rise when the festival approaches. Huge mounds of Marigolds orange and yellow are piled up everywhere in the markets in Mumbai. The Toran (a string made of Mango leaves and marigolds) to decorate the entrance of your house is also available at all flower shops. Huge Pandals get erected from place to place, these pandals come alive in the late evenings. A lot of knick-knacks like earthern lamps, beautiful earthern pots called garba pots, Rangoli powders and many other items are sold at discounts on the street. Nothing can beat the shopping at Mumbai for festivals, the markets are so crowded and full of festive things. We used to go to the market to order for coconuts to be delivered to the house, buy the paaku (betel nut), vettalai(betel leaves), turmeric sticks, kumkum dabbis , blouse pieces and also gifts to be given to the ladies later during vettala paaku.

Navarathri celebrated in a South Indian home

The Navarathri Mornings at home

Being a South-Indian and living in Mumbai gave me the best of both the worlds is what I could easily say, as you see a cultural integration of all communities and get to enjoy the best of everything.

Getting up early in the morning to the sounds of Venketesha Suprabhatam and then M.S. Subbalakshmi’s Lalitha Sahasranamam (1000 names of the Devi). Have a nice oil bath which is usually the practice in my home and then go to the temple. After coming from the temple, there is also pooja at home.The kalasham is kept. A small earthern/brass/copper/silver pot is taken inside which we put some rice, toor dal, Turmeric stick and a dollar coin, indicating the house should be always filled with dhan and dhanyam. A coconut smeared with turmeric powder is placed on top of it as shown in the picture. Kumkumam is applied on 3 sides of the coconut and the tail can be adorned with flowers.

The house will be fragrant with lots of flowers, incense and dhoopam. The pictures of the deities dressed in flower garlands. Amma puts a huge ma-kolam outside the house and in front of our mini temple and we tie a Toran too at the entrance of our home. All of us sit together to chant the Lalitha Sahasranamam (1000 names of the devi), followed my Mahishasuramardhini strotram and all the devi stothrams, followed by a mini bhajan session,

(Above is a picture of Lalithambaal)

Appa always insisted that I should sing the bhajans, usually devi bhajans. A grand lunch used to be prepared by my mom, while chanting simultaneously as she doesn’t have the luxury of sitting with us doing pooja, since she has to finish cooking.

The Navarathri Lunch Menu

The Navarathri menu is pretty special,

Payasam (Pal Payasam)

Dal vadai (only paruppu vadai is prepared), usually ulundhu vadai (popularly known as medhu vadai (doughnut vadai) is not prepared for festivals since ulundhu vadai is made during shraddhams)

Hot Rice

Steamed Toor dal (Paruppu)





Thuvaran (dry vegetable) usually cabbage or beans with coconut is made.

Thayir Pachadi (Yogurt with cucumbers or tomatoes)

Chips (Banana, Chenai Chips) or Vadaams


Chundal / Sundal is usually prepared in the evening.

Sundal Menu

The types of sundal to be prepared on each of the navarathri days is given below:

•Day1: Moong dal (Green gram )

•Day2: Sweet Puttu /Red beans (can be made sweet or spicy)

•Day3: Peanut

•Day4: Kabuli Chana

•Day5: Bengal Gram dal (Chana da)l (kadalai paruppu) Yellow split

•Day6: Black eyed beans (Lobia) (can make it sweet or spicy)

•Day7: White peas /Green peas (pattaani)

•Day8: Field beans(mochai) /Karamani Chundal

•Day9: Konda kadalai (channa dal)

•Day10: Payasam / Chakara Pongal

Navarathri Evenings

At home

Evenings are a time when the ladies visit each other for Vettala Paaku. The ladies usually get dressed for the occasion, girls in pattu-paavadais, teenage girls in Daavanis and married ladies in their Kanjeevaram sarees or their best traditional clothes. Vettala Paaku used to be given everyday during the evenings after lighting the evening lamp in yesteryears, but nowadays since women are working and busy, they stipulate one evening during the Navarathri festival and on that day they prepare everything, call all the people they know and offer vettala paaku. There is no harm in doing that as long as people don’t stop this practice altogether. The token gifts that used to be given in the yesteryears have been replaced with special gifts given in bags. Every year, women like to offer a different gift. It’s almost become like a competition where women vie against each other to be the best as far as choosing the most thoughtful and useful gift is concerned. The Navaratri evenings were also fun as we

(the group of invited ladies) used to have mini bhajan/sthotra chanting sessions on weekends or marked days like Tuesdays or Fridays which are considered auspicious days for the Devi.

In the colony(a group of apartments forming a society)

Every year, in our colony, the residents have the Navarathri celebrations. All the people living in the colony contribute towards the celebrations. A huge pandal is erected in the centre of the ground. On Day 1 of the Navarathri celebrations, the pujari does the staapana of the idol of Goddess Durga and lighting of the akhand jyot (the lamp which cannot be let to extinguish). Residents take turns to ensure that the akhand jyot doesn’t get extinguished. Every morning and evening aarti is conducted with great devotion. After the aarti and Prasad distribution in the night, all the residents would dance garba, followed by daandia raas for the goddess.

We live in a cosmopolitan neighborhood, One particular year, the committee of residents who organize events in our society decided that we should have a Unity in Diversity theme and to emphasize that each day the aarti was conducted by the different communities of people residing in our society. So we had the Maharashtrian Aarti, Gujarati aarti (ours is a predominatly Gujarati neighborhood- so every year we used to have the traditional Gujarati Aarti ), south Indian aarti and so on and so forth. It was a really good experience as we got to get a glimpse of the aartis performed by different communities for the Goddess. Since I am a south – Indian, we formed a group and decided to chant the “Mahishasuramardhini stothram”. We started practicing every day in the evenings till we all perfected the art of singing in unison. The day it was the turn of the South Indians, all of us came together and recited the stothram and believe me it was the first time this had happened in our building, almost everybody i.e. the south-indians and the non-south Indians, some of whom had never heard it before were so impressed with the stotram, due to its alliteration and the very catchy rhythm that they wanted copies of the Stotra and wanted to learn it from us. India is a country with so many states and every state has its own way of celebrating festivals and what bonds each one of us is the fact that we are all human beings living close to each other. No matter what language we speak and which state we belong to, we are all one in the eyes of God (Our creator)

Navarathri in the yesteryears as told to me by my grandma. (Kal – Yesterday)

Shimmering lamps and fragrant flowers touch up homes in cities and towns commanding unflattering reverence. The ladies usually get dressed for the occasion, girls in pattu-paavadais, teenage girls in Daavanis and married ladies in their Kanjeevaram sarees.

If the interiors of a home bristle with women singing hymns and songs, children attired as various gods and goddesses prancing around add to the joyful cacophony. The air, thick with the fragrance of agarbatti and flowers, makes the entry to the house equally attractive. Traditional designs or rangolis made with various colored powders and flower petals are always an enticing sight.

While the impressive arrangement of artifacts at Golu (kolu) sets the tone of the festival, what takes the cake is the delicious concoction called `sundal', made from chickpeas, bean sprouts and coconut. Housewives get busy making and exchanging sundal and special sweets for the occasion.

This festival of nine nights epitomizes the social and cultural aspirations of people. It coincides with the rainy season, associated with sowing and sprouting of seeds — a sign of prosperity and abundance. The feminine equivalent of Hindu Holy Trinity — Durga embodying Shakti, Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and Saraswathi the goddess of learning and arts are invoked as part of the religious celebration.

Each day of the function starts with reciting the stothrams (prayer songs) on Godesses such as Lalitha Sahasranamam, Devi Bhagawatham etc. In the evening, they light the Kuthuvilakku and offer flowers, fruits etc. to the golu. They invite the neighbors, friends and relatives to receive thamboolam(vettalai paaku). Every day, a different kolam is drawn in front of the golu. The Devi Mahatmiyam and other texts invoking the Goddess who vanquished demons are recited.

In the end, they do the "mangala aarathi" (In a plate they mix some turmeric powder, and kumkum with water, and show to the Gods and finally pour it outside the house.) They assemble at every house daily to exercise their vocal chords. ‘Navavaranam’, (sung in praise of Devi) which is a rigorous musical exercise, is rendered most often by the congregation.

The house is charged with the energy of bhakti(devotion) and divinity. The women, after singing to their hearts’ content, are given hot milk (to soothe their throat) and snacks.

Vettrilai pakku(Shen Tamil)/Vettalai paaku(colloquial tamil) (betel leaves) is usually accompanied by many other items that women use to adorn themselves as mentioned below.

Each day, a type of sundal is prepared as offering to God. In the evening, people invite the neighbours and offer Thamboolam (vettala paaku) with the sundal, clothes, coconut or some token gifts.


There was a time when people used to visit their friends and relatives and call them for vettala-paaku and now is the time when people just call them over the phone. Of course the charm of all the festivals are slowly fading away, as nowadays people decide upon a date and call all the people on that date for vettala paaku. It’s no more like how it used to be in the yesteryears. But living in India and living abroad does make a difference in the festive ambience. Thanks, to my mother I am still aware of our rituals, our rich tradition and culture. With 2 kids she always strived hard to do everything and celebrated all festivals with gaiety and fervor. My grandmother had told her, “Celebrating festivals reaps good things/happenings/events, it spreads positive energy and brings about cheer. My grandma used to say the only people in whose house there has been a death, don’t celebrate festivals, so naranjya veetula (full house – meaning endowed with happiness & prosperity) where there hasn’t been any tragedy we shouldn’t act like we are mourning or be lazy to celebrate”. So my amma religiously celebrates all the festivals, but credit also goes to my appa who is equally enthusiastic and gives her his full co-operation and support helping her in everything, sincerely conducting the poojas and making the atmosphere so pious and festive. As of todays generation, you even call them, they don't have time to come for vettala paaku and hardly there are people left who call people of vettala paaku, time constraints and deadlines have made people anti-social and people dont want to visit each other for vettala paaku thinking of social obligations.

What constitutes the Vettala Paaku

Vettalai – Betel Leaves

Paaku – Betel


Manjal - Turmeric

Kumkumam – Bindi or the traditional ku

mkum powder

Manja Cheradu (Yellow thread)





Blouse piece





A gift – something in plastic or steel as per the convenience, financial status and likes of the person.

Out of these, Vettalai, Paaku, Manjal Kumkumam are the most important, the rest are upto one's own convenience and budget.


Golu is one of the cutest part of Navarathri, this is what interests the young children to visit houses with their mothers for vettala paaku. Golu means placing idols of Gods and dolls on a wooden staircase. Not everyone keeps Golu at home. It depends on family lineage. We don’t have the practice of keeping Golu at home, but as a kid I used to love to see the Golu at other homes during Navarathri. Early on Golu was meant to display stories of our Gods. Stories from the Ramayanam, Mahabharatham and Shiva puranam were displayed using dolls and idols of Gods, but as we have started to emancipate as a society modern themes have started entering our golus. Traditionally dolls and idols of Gods are arranged in steps like a staircase. On the top most step idols of Gods are placed followed by the other dolls on other steps. People decorate the steps with garlands of fresh flowers, nowadays people also decorate with art papers, festoons, balloons, lights etc. This is also an opportunity for women to exhibit the arts and crafts made by them on the steps. Though all family members get involved in the festivity, golu is traditionally a women's festival.

9th day

Saraswathi Pooja

Goddess Saraswathi is the wife of Lord Brahma(Creator of the Universe). Goddess Sarawathi is usually seen with books and musical instruments. My amma will make us read from our books

first before wrapping them neatly in an unused cloth(usually

silk) and then praying to Goddess Sarawathi to bless us with knowledge. On this day people make young children to learn to write. They usually teach the children to write”Om” followed by alphabets on sand.

Ayudha Poojai (Praying to the tools/equipments) is also done on this day. People pray to their tools on this day.

A musical concert of reputed classical singers is held every evening for nine days at Navarathri Mandapam of Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum.

Period: October/December every year.

10th day


This day is the last day of this festival. Dassera or Vijayadashmi is considered as the second biggest festival after Deepavali. This is a special day for attaining victory in anything and everything. Vijayam means victory. Therefore, this day is celebrated as an auspicious day for starting any new work. People start new activities like learning music, dance etc on this day. Those who play musical instruments or learn music, usually visit their Gurus with Thamboolam(Vettala, Paaku, Poo(Flowers), Pazham(Banana), Prostrate before their Guru, seeking his/her blessings and take atleast one lesson with their

Guru on that day marking sweet beginnings to their journey of learning. Those who keep Golu will change the position of one doll in the golu, marking the end and the next day the golu is removed. The entrance of the house is decorated

with a Thoranam made with Mango leaves and Marigolds.(You can see the entrance of my home decorated with Thoranam prepared by my husband)

You can also see a picture of the Maa-Kolam I drew outside my house on Dasera day.


The musical soirees during the Navarathri festival is a feast for the eye and intellect. Many temples organize music concerts in the evenings. Eminent musicians perform in the presence of the deity. Since religion and culture are interlinked, we have a delightful fusion of golu at home and kutcheri in the temples.


Kummi is one of the most important and ancient forms of village dances of Tamilnadu. It originated when there were no musical instruments, with the participants clapping their hands to keep time. This is performed by women; many varieties of Kummi, such as, Poonthatti Kummi, Deepa Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Mulaipari Kummi etc are known. The women stand in a circle and dance clapping their hands rhythmically. This dance is usually performed during temple festivals, Pongal, the harvest festival, family functions like the one to celebrate the coming of age (onset of puberty) of the girl-child etc. The first line of the song is sung by the leading lady, which the others repeat.

People dance around the deity clapping rhythmically. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap.

Kai Silambu Attam

This dance is performed in temples during Amman festivals or Navaratri festival. The dancers wear ankle-bells and hold anklets or silambu in their hands, which make noise when shaken. They perform various stepping styles jumps. The dance is in praise of all female deities, the most preferred being the powerful angry goddess - Kali or Durga.


Kolaattam is an ancient village art. This is mentioned in Kanchipuram as 'Cheivaikiyar Kolattam', which proves its antiquity. This is performed by women only, with two sticks held in each hand, beaten to make a rhythmic noise. Pinnal Kolaattam is danced with ropes which the women hold in their hands, the other of which are tied to a tall pole. With planned steps, the women skip over each other, which forms intricate lace-like patterns in the ropes. As coloured ropes are used, this lace looks extremely attractive. Again, they unravel this lace reversing the dance steps. This is performed for ten days, starting with the Amavasi or Newmoon night after Deepavali.

Originated as devotional Garba dances, which were performed in Durga's honor, this dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king, and is nicknamed "The Sword Dance". The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Durga.

What further adds colour and music to the Navarathri festival these days is the vibrant `Dandiya Ras'. The event has crossed geographical and cultural barriers to become a universal mode of celebration. In Tamil Nadu, it has a different form called `kolattam'. With the small wooden sticks having bells at the end in their hands, men and women dance to the vibrant rhythm of music. So popular are dandiya nights during Navarathri in any city that people don't hesitate to join in the elation.

To get a feel of the festival season, which is not just a religious occasion but highlights art as divinity, celebrates music as an obeisance to creativity and enjoys dance as a mass entertainment. People are out there, everywhere in temples, in neighbour's homes, at market places, on the streets to partake in the glitter and glow of the season. As usual discount sales are screaming out, as these are auspicious occasions to make purchases. It is a treat indeed to see women and children dazzling in their silk dress materials wearing gold ornaments and jasmine flowers tucked in their heads spreading an ethereal fragrance.


This is a festival that symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It is a festival of music, dance, of giving, of sharing, of good food, wearing good clothes, meeting people. Underlying everything is the universal message of peace, harmony and bonhomie.

Happy celebrations!


  1. Wow that's a lovely have written so much...thts cool...very gud info and nics pic...I love the way you celebrate all the festives here too...great going dear...

  2. I totally agree with pritis comments..fab post!

  3. What a wonderful exhaustive post,great you I am also a south Indian who grew up in Mumbai...enjoying both the golu/sundal tradition and the garba tradition too :-)

  4. What a wonderful exhaustive post,great you I am a south Indian who grew up in Mumbai..enjoying both the golu/sundal tradition and the garba tradition..:)

  5. Just happened to see yr postings, awesome, good work. Enjoyed very much, me being residing in trivandrum. Looking forward to see more of this.

  6. That is a very good post. I enjoyed reading it and thanks for sharing. Traditions do fade especially in this time and age, however if we give an importance to it, take the effort, they last for another 100 years ( 1 generation)..

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