Navratra (or navratri) literally means nine nights or new nights. It’s the festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and occurs 4 times a year. One falls in winters hence called “shardiya navratri”. This is also celebrated as Durga Puja with much fanfare in Bengal and by Bengalis everywhere.
This year Navratra commences on the 13 of October and ends on Dussehra which falls on the 22nd of October. It commences on the 1st day (pratipada) of the waxing period of the Ashwin Month. The navratra vrata (or fast) can be ascribed to Sage Narada who advocated it t Lord Rama to help him defeat Ravana. Another legend is that Goddess Durga fought with the demon Mahishasura for 9 nights of navratra and defeated him on the 10th (Dassera) and thus came to be known as Mahishasura mardini. The shardiya Navratri especially has a stronger influence of the divine elements and hence is ideal for shakti puja. Infact the last 4 days from 6th to 9th are celebrated as durga puja which is the biggest festival in Bengal.
How to observe Navratra?
- Fasting- One should partake only one meal a day. This may be difficult in modern times since we have to travel or work very long hours, hence the one can take fruits when hungry but grains only once a day. The regular meal should preferably be had after sunset.
- Praying/chanting- Continuous or atleast regular chanting is prescribed. One must focus the mind on God and engage in pious activities for these nine days to elevate themselves spiritually.
- Sattvik diet- The meals should definitely be vegetarian and preferably cooked without onion & garlic so as to not fuel tamasik elements of the body.
- Behavioural changes- Observe celibacy as it helps in preserving energy. Consciously abstain from any kind of lying, cheating or any other immoral act (not that one must do so at other times, but it is particularly important during this period. Live as simply as possible every minute of these 9 days should be dedicated to god instead of worrying about adorning ourselves.
- Light lamp (if possible continuously) at the altar.