Throughout last week, Indians all over the world celebrated what the Gujrathis call Navratri and what Bengalis call Durga Pooja. As the name suggests, Navratri (nine nights) celebrated for nine days continuously, during which Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped as three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy. It is a symbol of the triumph of good over evil and is one of the greatest of all Hindu festivals.
Navratri is traditionally celebrated through communities getting together for dances and nightly feasts. In Gujarat, painted earthen pots with water or a lamp inside symbolize the power of the three goddesses. It is in India that the most colourful and elaborate celebrations take part, especially in Bengal, where huge idols of the goddesses are worshipped. All over India, feasts of great variety and delicacy are offered to guests and family throughout the nine days. Women dress elaborately each day for the pooja or rituals and nightly dances. After having worshipped her for nine days, her image is taken to the streets in a procession and there is much celebration and dancing. To mark Durga leaving her mother after the nine day visit, her image is cast into water at the end of the festival.
In the UK too, the majority of Hindus celebrated all or part of these nine days with great zest. The members of the committees responsible for the organisation of such events often tend to be second generation immigrants and find extreme happiness in sharing these auspicious days with one another. It brings together all types of people from many different backgrounds. In the words of Divya Galani, a home-maker at Leeds and an active member of her charter, Durga Pooja is “a tribute to the spirit of Indianness that transcends the myriad differences to rejoice in our inherent oneness”.
And she’s right. In the UK alone, Navratri means so much more than its religious heritage. It is a celebration of cultural overlap: it is not just Hindus who come to celebrate, but members of all groups- religious and non-religious- who wish to celebrate the goodness in the world. In this way, it holds a wonderful promise of respect and understanding of different faiths and cultures. [Nidhi, a young mother of two confirms that for her, the really important aspect of Navratri is that it connects children who have been brought up in this country with their culture and tradition.]
Shimul Bhattacharya, a priest at the Leeds Temple, claims that even with all these hope and intentions, all celebrations had necessarily been anglicised. England being a comparatively quieter country, has not yet openly embraced the loud Indian festivals. The priest says that the Temple has had to appeal t the neighbourhood for celebrating during festival-time. Most children brought up here do not own the traditional attires for the auspicious days, which the elders like Mahesh Bose, feels “kills the ambience”. Eighteen-year-old Minacsi, feels that children like herself, who are brought up here are in fact part of a community that is neither Indian nor English, but a separate sub- culture who can roughly be coined as the Anglo-Indians. They identify themselves with the British adaptation of their parents’ culture from back home.