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Significance of Navratri

Navaratri is a time of excitement for the more lively girls and boys. The girls welcome the opportunity to visit houses where the kolu is kept and sing before the idols. The boys, meanwhile, take pleasure in more mundane pursuits: collecting chundal from the maximum number of houses.

Apart from keeping children engaged in the evenings, the Navaratri puja in South Indian homes is also a social function.

Navaratri honours Shakti, or the female principle, through the three manifestations of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, representing action, wealth and learning.

The highlight of the Navaratri puja is the kolu display that many homes put up. The kolu is a decorative stepped arrangement of idols of gods.

Some people have readymade steps so that the major hassle is taken care of. But, in a large number of houses, it is the most interesting and exasperating part of arranging the kolu. Every flat object comes out of the kitchen, store and lofts.

After a typical two or three hours of juggling with the items, the steps finally come up, with planks, stools, chairs and biscuit tins thrown in. The little gaps are filled with old newspapers and magazines, and the wobbles are set right with, perhaps, pencil boxes.

Once the steps are up, the idols are taken out of storage, dusted, and put up. There have to be an odd number of steps. Many of the idols come in sets, and are kept together. The central place, of course, goes to the Durga-Lakshmi-Saraswati trio and to Ganesha. A consecrated kalasha is kept in the centre of one of the steps.

The kolu platform is decorated with streamers and lights. Many people also construct a model park or zoo by the side, with the possibilities limited only by ingenuity.

The kolu is put up on the first day of Navaratri, and remains till Vijayadashami, or Dussehra, the day after Navaratri.

On all the nine days of Navaratri, prayers and shlokas are recited in the morning. In the evening, too, arati is performed for the gods, and the day's chundal, a dish made of lentils, is offered to the goddess.

Women are invited to the house in the evenings, and custom dictates that nobody decline an invitation. They view the kolu and the puja, and it is taken for granted that anyone with even basic musical ability, sing a song or two.

The guests are then presented with a coconut, some prasad, and things of cosmetic use, like kumkum boxes, mirrors, and combs.

The most important days of the Navaratri celebrations are the eighth and ninth days, apart from Vijayadashami. These days are dedicated to Durga (Durgaashtami), Lakshmi (Mahanavami) and Saraswati (Vijayadashami), and elaborate pujas are held.

On Navami, all the instruments of learning are kept in front of the puja, and the puja is sealed, to be opened on the next day. Once the puja is set, nobody is supposed to read, sing, or do anything that has anything to do with learning. So, from the children's point of view, it is a day that is eagerly awaited.

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