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Nine Nights of Devotion
... To Amba Ma

Vimla Patil

E-Mail this travel feature to a friend When the last showers of the monsoon vanish from India's sprawling valleys and mountains, it is time for merry making and celebrating many festivals at harvest time.

Navratri or the nine nights dedicated to Durga, the mother goddess who also represents power, is one among these festivals. Beginning with the first day of the Hindu month of Ashwin and ending with Dusshera or Vijayadashami, the tenth day of victory, the festival of Navratri upholds the victory of good over evil.

The people of India worship Durga, the goddess who symbolises power, for annihilating the demon Mahishasura after a relentless battle lasting nine days and nights. Legend says that Durga alone was strong enough to vanquish the demon with her powerful personality and that she fought him with a different celestial weapon and taking a different form each night. This is why Navadurga is a name given to the goddess during this festival.

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.

The worship of the mother goddess or the earth goddess is not new to India. An ancient part of the grass roots religion of India, it takes different forms in various regions of the country. But Navratri brings around a veritable crescendo in the worship of the goddess.

Of all the states of India, Bengal and Gujarat have the most colourful and elaborate celebrations. While Bengalis make huge idols of the goddess killing the demon for community and family worship. The Gujaratis design painted or decorated earthen pots with water or with a lamp inside to symbolise the power of the goddess. The significance of the earthen pot is the allegory that divine power is the everlasting flame or the fluid water inside an entirely ephemeral container of mud, which is transitory.

Like the Bengalis, Gujaratis also hold art and culture festivals in public pandals, erected specially for the festival. Music and dance performances, plays, get-togethers and feasts are held long into the night.

As in Bengal, in Gujarat too, business comes almost to a standstill with communities getting together for dances and nightly feasts.

Gujaratis celebrate Navarati with pomp and splendor. The seaside state has two major religious communities among the Hindus. While a large number are Vaishnavs or worshippers of Krishna, the others venerate Amba or Durga. Amba temples in Gujarat are sacred places of pilgrimage and special wall hangings called Ambaji No Chandarvo are sold to devotees for decorating their homes. In Gujarat, the power of the goddess is symbolised during Navratri by painted earthen pots.

In cities like Bombay, young women are seen carrying such pots with a lamp inside while they ask for alms. When set up in a home or community hall, this pot is called a ghata and it is often venerated as the abode of the goddess. Possibly, this ritual conveys the thought that while the pot is transitory, the flame or life within the pot is powerful and everlasting.

Keeping the ghata in the centre, Gujarati women dance the garba around in circles either clapping their hands together to the rhythm of the music of traditional songs or using dandiyas or decorated sticks to click together to the energetic beat of the music. Most dandiya songs are dedicated to Durga's power and motherly, benevolent nature. Dandiya Raas as this community dance is called, is performed in large courtyards or public gardens to include as many people as possible.

In cities like Ahmedabad and Bombay, dandiya dances have become very commercialised over the years. Today, celebrities or film stars are invited to attend such functions so as to draw crowds of merry-makers who wish to see or meet the celebrity. The entry fees are hefty and only affluent can participate in dandiya dances which are televised on local city television channels. In these cities, dandiya dances are also held in residential areas or available open spaces. Music bands are booked months ahead and disco or film music replaces traditional songs of devotion to Durga. The young find this a good time let their hair down and dance away through the night.

Feasts of great variety and delicacy are offered to guests and family during the nine days. For women, Navratri is a time for shopping for new clothes and new pots. It is an auspicious time to buy gold or jewellery and the gold markets are open late each night. Women dress elaborately each day for the puja or rituals and nightly dances. Ghagra cholis or brightly embellished flowing skirts and body fitting tops are on sale in every boutique and designers sell these dandiya costumes wherever there is a large Gujarati community -- be it Bombay or London or New Jersey.

There is no typical feast for Navratri in Gujarat. All kinds of sweets and savouries are served to guests.

Two perennial favourites of Gujaratis:

Kopra Pak

  • 2 fresh coconuts, scraped finely
  • an equal quantity of sugar
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • a few strands of saffron
  • silver varkh for decoration

Heat sugar with a cup of water till it begins to bubble. Lower heat and cook till a syrup of one thread consistency is obtained. Cool slightly and add coconut, saffron and cardamom powder. Stir well and put into a greased thali or plate. Put varkh over and decorate with almonds. Cut into squares when cool.


  • 3 cups refined flour, sieved
  • 3 cups sugar
  • ghee as needed
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder

Knead flour with half cup ghee till the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Make small balls and reserve. Add one cup water to the sugar and cook gently till a two string syrup is ready. Add cardamom powder. Now heat ghee for deep frying and fry a few balls of dough at a time till golden. When all the balls are done, arrange in a tray. Pour sugar syrup over. Wait till the sugar solidifies and then separate the balushahis discarding extra sugar for use another time. Store in an airtight container to keep crisp.

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