NAVARAATRI, KOLU (FESTIVAL OF DOLLS) AND DUSSERA
(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, SEPTEMBER 2011)
Navaraatri is the worship of the female trinity Goddesses; Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi. Our cosmos envisages the existence of Brahman the absolute. In Sanskrit, Brahman is in the neuter gender. It has no gender and refers to the completeness (POORNAM). The male trinities Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva each have their own well defined sphere of activity. They are all in the masculine gender in Sanskrit. The Primordial Energy--Adi Sakthi which is in feminine gender in Sanskrit, generated three POORNAMS-- Veeryam (Heroism) represented by Durga; Dhanam (wealth) represented by Lakshmi and Vidya (learning-knowledge), represented by Sarasvati, each one of them engaged in their own sphere of activity.
Navaaratri occurs in the month of Kanyaa (Purattaasi) in some years and in the others in the month of Tula (Aippasi), corresponding to September or October. Just as Narayana is invoked by 'Ashtaakshari' or eight syllables "Om Namoh Narayanaaya", Siva by the 'Panchaakshari' or five syllables "Namah Sivaaya", Adi Shakti is invoked by the Navaakshari or nine syllables "Hreem Durgaa, Lakshmee Sarasvatee" in the Sanskrit language, the language of the Divinity, "Devanaagari". Navaraatri worship is called Dussera in North India. In Bengal it is the most important festival and exclusively dedicated to Durga. At the conclusion of nine nights of worship, the image of Goddess Durga is immersed in water on the tenth day. The eighth day called Durgashtami is their most important festival day.
The Goddess is worshiped in the form of idols as in East India or in the form of Poorna Kumbha which ceremony is known as Gatha-sthaapana. In Gujrat women carry the sacred pot on their head, place it in the center of a courtyard and dance around it singing Garba or songs of the divine womb that extol the glory of the Goddess. On the eighth day people worship their tools in the hope that Devi empowers them with her grace.
The exclusive and special worship of Lakshmi is done during Diwali in North India, and Sarasvati during Basant Panchami in Bengal.
During Durga Puja festival a temporary image of the goddess is molded out of clay or modeled using various plants and utensils. This temporary image is immersed in a river or a lake or a sea when the ceremony is over. This clay for molding the idol of the mother Goddess is mixed with mud collected from brothel because of the ancient belief that associated courtesans with the Mother Goddess and Mother Earth. Apsaras, the celestial nymphs were created during the churning of the milky ocean along with Goddess Lakshmi. Courtesans belong to Mother Earth and none else and offered pleasure to all. In ancient India, courtesans were considered symbols of worldly power, wealth and luxury and only rich kings, noblemen and merchants could obtain their services. They never became widows. They were ritually adored during festivals of the Mother Goddess.
In most parts of India, Navaraatri festival is celebrated as the glorification of Goddess Sakthi's victory over Mahishasura, a buffalo headed demon. According to legend, he managed to get a boon from Brahma of immortality and if at all he was to be killed it could be only by a woman not born in any womb (a-yonijaa). His arrogance knew no bounds and the afflicted Devas during this period supplicated to Primeval Energy Adi-Shakthi. To wipe the tears of the suffering Devas and to give them solace, she assumed the form of Durga (one who is inaccessible) and killed this demon. She is there for us as Mahishasura Mardini (crusher of demon Mahishasura). In a nutshell this occasion is the apotheosis, glorification and adoration of the female aspect of divinity.
In South India, Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati are worshipped generally during this festival. The first three days are devoted to the worship of Durga (provider of strength and energy); the second period of three days to Lakshmi (provider of wealth and prosperity) and the last three days to Sarasvati (provider of learning wisdom and enlightenment). In some parts of India on the eighth day Lord Viswakarma (provider of engineering and architectural skills) is also worshipped. This day is also earmarked for Aayudha Pooja; (worship of tools and instruments). Artisans worship their tools and convert their place of work into altars for Aayudha Pooja. This also extends to bicycles, bullock carts, cars, buses, trucks. Such vehicles are given religious decorations and worshipped. How life would be without basic tools and implements is beyond comprehension; Hence the reverence and Pooja. Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped on the ninth day by creating an altar of books, musical instruments and tools representing skills. No study or learning is carried out on this day. On the tenth day, known as Vijayadasami, Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped again. The books from the altar are received with the blessings of the elders and some time is spent on study. On this day a child begins to learn the alphabets in a ceremony known as Akshara-abhyaasa. New businesses are started, and it is considered auspicious to start music, dance and other educational endeavors for young and old, and this is called "Vidya-arambham" (commencement to learn an art). It is believed that any trade or skill begun on this day will succeed. In Bengal Sarasvati Pooja is celebrated on Basant Panchami day. Sarasvati Pooja marks the beginning of any type of learning. One offers gifts to one's teacher as token of thanks to seek their blessings and prayers for success in one's endeavors.
Navaraatri is a festival of enjoyment for people of all ages and both sexes, especially children and teens of female sex. In fact all Hindu festivals are socio-religious in observance and the central theme is the victory of virtue over unrighteousness, good over evil, light over darkness and wisdom over ignorance.
In South India the festival of KOLU PANDIGAI (display of dolls) is very famous. During Navaraatri Goddess Durga holds court or durbar complete with her crown, scepter and mace. This durbar or royal assembly of dolls is called Kolu. It is an unwritten law and convention, that the first two dolls put on the display are those of a couple made of wood called "marappacchi" or Tirupathi dolls. Most households have a collection of dolls made of wood, porcelain, clay or paper Mache, a part of which is passed down from generation to generation. Traditionally the mother hands over some dolls to the daughter, when she is given away in marriage, and she in turn does the same. The collections are enriched and supplemented in the course of one's life. Wooden stools, benches and boxes are kept tier over tier, like the steps of a staircase and dolls are arranged on them. They must be in odd number counts (3, 5, 7 and 9). According to mythology, Devi's chariot had nine tiers and she was seated on the top tier with all the weapons given to her by all the Gods of the Hindu pantheon. The chariots of the female generals under her command had 7, 5 or 3 tiers; this is why odd numbers of tiers are chosen for display. Carpenters also sell ready made steps which are assembled at this time and go back to storage disassembled after the event. The number nine is significant for Navaraatri because of Navaaksharee Mantra. Nine steps symbolize the nine syllables. Before the steps and icons are set up, a "Kalasam" (vessel filled with water with coconut placed on top with some mango leaves between the vessel and the coconut) is installed on the first step invoking Goddess Sakthi. Common sights of dolls are Vishnu residing on Adisesha on milky ocean, Siva and Sakthi and so on. The eighth step sports incarnations of the absolute such as avataars of Vishnu, Nataraja the dancing form of Siva, Kaali in her dancing form etc. Some decorations also include ground cover like the depiction of a village. Children usually are given the opportunity to sprout lentils to create a field or farm with cattle, dogs, chickens etc. This encourages innovative thinking among the young to create something unique to their household. Creative artists also design blocks of houses, hospitals, battlefields, shops, markets, gardens, parks, railway stations with toy trains running around, zoo with animals. Once the Kolu has been set, it is not to be disturbed till the ninth day. On Vijayadasami night, a single doll is moved to a reclining position, marking the ceremonial end of this celebration. The belief is that for nine days the trinity of Goddesses is set to be "Nishta" or meditation sitting on a pin and nothing is to disturb them. Also during this period, no sewing or cutting of material is done in homes. Thus the KOLU represents in itself the whole gamut of creation and beyond from God absolute to the lowest and the smallest in creation. The dolls return to safe storage after the tenth day.
Groups of girls and ladies invite and are invited, and visit each other's houses in the evenings, in their best attire to view the Navaraatri display, sometimes also dressing up as different mythological characters. The visitors entertain the host by singing and dancing. There is a display of talents and expertise in full, not to mention the finery of dresses. In temples such as Madurai Meenakshi and Mylapore Kapaleeswara, the Kolu tradition continues, where all can participate including those who cannot afford their own Kolu arrangement. In recent years, KOLU has gained commercial importance and artistic creativity. Model displays of KOLU expositions can be viewed in Handicrafts emporiums of 'Poompuhar' in Chennai, 'Kaveri' in Bangalore and handicrafts emporiums in Tirupathi during the ten days of Navaraatri.
The prasadam for Kolu is usually "chundal" (cooked and spiced channa/lentils). Various kinds of grains and lentils (rich in protein) are boiled and tempered with salt, some condiments, and fresh coconut gratings. Our ancestors were very thoughtful indeed in making provision for this tasty protein rich prasadam. This is offered to visitors who come to share the festive occasion. Also the practice of giving "Vethilai-Pakku" (betel leaves and areca nuts) to the visitor is a common customary practice. Haldi (turmeric), Kumkum (red vermillion), betel leaves (paan) and areca nuts (supaari) with a fruit, is given to all female visitors. This is a way of honoring the guest and a gift of this nature is supposed to increase the prosperity and happiness of the host family.
Haldi-Kumkum plays an important part in the worship of Goddess. Married woman gather together and anoint each other with Haldi (turmeric powder) and Kumkum (Vermilion powder) to celebrate their feminism and to wish each other prosperity and good luck. Turmeric is the yellow powder of the herb which has antiseptic properties and is symbolic of Mother Earth being a root product. It is believed to drive away malevolent forces. The red color of Kumkum is symbolic of blood. Blood is life-supporting, sacred fluid which runs in the body. Wherever blood flows in the body all pervasive Antaryaamin moves around. Hence vermilion is considered sacred and is applied on the forehead; it is applied to idols and tools as well to herald benevolent forces and drive away malevolent forces.
Navaraatri is also otherwise known as Dussera (ten nights) with the inclusion of Vijayadasami day. It is associated with the killing of Raavana, Kumbhakarna and Indrajit, and the emancipation of Pandavas from exile at the end of the thirteen years, and the victory of Arjuna in the battle with Duryodhana, fighting for King Viraata who was their benefactor during their exile. In northern India effigies of Ravana are taken in procession on the tenth day and burnt in public, as marking the end of the tyranny and evil.
The Navaraatri before Divali is not to be confused with Vasanta Navaraathri, which occurs in the month of Chaitra (Mesha) and is performed to propitiate divinity in the female aspect. This festival is celebrated in Siva temples and the presiding deities are taken in procession to the Vasanta Mandapam (Hall) of such temples. This Navaraathri culminates with the Navami.
Chandi Homa (sacrifical fire offerings to Goddess Durga), Akanda Ramaayana path (non stop reading of Tulsidas Ramayana for 24 hours) reading of Valmiki Ramayana, Sapta Shati yantra pooja (worship of Durga and chanting of 700 slokas on Durga from Devi Mahaatmiyam) Durga pooja, Lakshmi pooja, Saraswathi pooja, Aayudha pooja, Viswakarma pooja, etc form the part of the ritualistic parts during Navaraatri. During KOLU, Jamboo Savaari (grand procession of the king of Mysore and now Goddess Durga) and Ramleela (enacting Ramaayana) are the socio-religious part of the Navaraatri.
It may be of interest to know that dolls are honored in Japan too by way of encouraging the development of feminine qualities of young girls. During the festival of Hina Matsuri (girl's festival) dolls are arranged in a special alcove, known as the tokonoma, in family living rooms. The dolls often represent a medieval emperor, empress and retinue of courtiers. The dolls are offered fruits and vegetables on miniature dishes by young girls dressed in the finest kimonos, as is offered to family guests. This ceremony takes place every March 5.
The following slokas are chanted in reverence to the Trinities, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati:
1. Yaa Devee sarva bhooteshu SAKTI roopena samsthita
Namas-tasyai Namas-tasyai Nams-tasyai namoe nam
(In devotion to Goddess Durga)
2. Yaa Devee sarva bhooteshu LAKSHMI roopena samsthita
Namas-tasyai Namas-tasyai Nams-tasyai Namoe Namaha
(In devotion to Goddess Lakshmi)
3. Yaa Devee sarva bhooteshu BUDDHI roopena samsthita
Namas-tasyai Namas-tasyai Nams-tasyai Namoe Namaha
(In devotion to Goddess Saraswati)
Why Durga is worshiped during Dussehra?
Dussehra is a famous festival for Hindus celebrated after nine sacred night of “Sharad Navratri”. After Navratri, on the tenth day it is Dussehra, which is also known as “Vijayadashami”. This festival is a triumph of good over evil, on this day lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu killed 10-headed demon Ravana and Goddess Durga killed buffalo demon Mahishashur. People from every part of India enjoy Dussehra with great enthusiasm. Hindu festival “Dussehra” is an auspicious day for the people of India. In Bengal, Dussehra is celebrated as an important festival after popular Durga Puja.
In other regional language, Dussehra is called as “Dasara”, “Dashera” or “Dussera”. The meaning of Dussehra in Sanskrit language is “Dasha” (Ten Evils) & “Hara” (Defeat or Remove) i.e. remove the ten bad evils. While Vijayadashami meaning in Sanskrit is “Vijaya” (Victory) + Dashmi (10th Day) thus literally it means Victory on the Dashmi (the 10th day of the Hindu calendar). Other than India, It is also celebrated in other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, Japan and Java etc. Many events and fairs are organized in the most of the parts of India during Dussehra festival. Ayudha puja is also one of the rituals, which has been performed on the eighth day in South India about which I discussed in detail. Ninth Day is Sarasvati Puja. Dussehra is a festival for sacrificing ego, anger & evils and to acquire calm & good behavior.
In the Valmiki Ramayana, there is no mention of worship to Durga Devi by Rama. But, the sage Agastya came to the battle field and suggested Rama to worship Sun-God, Surya to conquer all enemies. (Yuddha kanda sarga 105 of Valmiki Ramayana)
As per Patteeshwaram Ashtabhuja Durga Temple Sthala Purana (local myth), it is noted that the worship of Devi Durga owes its origin to Shree Rama. In the 'Ramayana', as it goes, Rama went to 'Lanka' to rescue his abducted wife, Sita, from the grip of Ravana, the king of the Demons in Lanka. Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Rama wanted the blessings of Devi Durga. He came to know that the Goddess would be pleased only if she is worshipped with one hundred 'Neel Kamal' or blue lotuses. Rama, after travelling the whole world, could gather only ninety nine of them. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Rama, appeared before him and blessed him.
No doubt this story is based on the Ramayana, but does not actually come in the Ramayana text of Valmiki. It is found in various Puranas and other Ramayanas including Bengali Ramayana by Kirtibasi. When Rama was going to cross the ocean, some texts describe that He performed worship of Durga Devi to inform her of His intentions of invading Lanka. The reason for this is that Durga was the protector of Kubera's island of Lanka before it was taken by Ravana. As such, it was proper etiquette for Rama, acting as a human king, to inform Durga Devi that He was about to invade her area of control. In this story, Rama acts as a Yajaman (performer of Yajna), and Brahma acts as a priest who performs the sacrifice to please Durga Devi.
In the Sattvika puranas, the story is described that Rama prays to Durga, and Durga replies, "I am your external shadow energy. Whatever you wish to do, I am your servant." This is along the lines of the text "shrishti-sthiti-pralaya-sadhana-shaktir eka chayeva yasya bhuvanani bibharti durga" found in the scriptures. Durga Devi (Maha Maya) is the shadow energy of Lord Narayana.
Probal Roy Choudhary, Professor-researcher explained that Bengali Ramayana depicts Rama as performing Durga puja to gain victory over Ravana. Called ‘Akala Bodhana’, reference of Rama’s puja is found in Krittibas Ojha’s Bengali Ramayana. Displaying the Krittibas Ramayan painting depicting the goddess appearing before Rama and saying “You have to perform the worship with 108 lotuses,” the speaker narrated the legend.
Both the words Akaal and Bodhan are Sanskritr words, which are also included in many other Indian languages, including Bengali. The word Akaal means untimed (kaal=time and a=not) and the word Bodhan means worship or invocation. Thus, Akaal Bodhan means worship or invocation of Durga in an uncustomary time. It is given this name since the period of this worship differs from the conventional period, which is during the spring Vasanta Navaratri.
Rama goes to rescue his abducted wife, Sita, from the grip of Ravana the king of the Demons in Lanka. Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Rama wanted the blessings of Devi Durga.
He came to know that the Goddess would be pleased only if she is worshipped with 108 Neel Kamal (blue lotuses). After travelling the whole world, Rama could gather only one hundred and seven of them. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Rama, appeared before him and blessed him. The battle started on the Saptami and Ravana was finally killed on the Sandhikshan (i.e., the crossover period between Ashtami [the next day] and Navami [the day after]).
Ravana was cremated on Dasami. Burning of effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Indrajit takes place on this day in the North. The huge idol of Durga is taken to the Ganga on two boats and at a gun salute the boats separate immersing the idol of the goddess. There are no Durga temples in Bengal while the idols are made every year and immersed. Preferably the idols are made from clay from the Ganga and the eyes are painted.South Indians start Navaratri with Durga and Bengalis conclude Dussehra with an Immersion ceremony of Durga in sea or running water if they live outside where Ganges does not flow. The significance of Visargen is similar to that of Ganesha, as I explained.
POPULAR KOLU STORY FROM TAMILNADU
Once a king named Suratha made an image of Goddess Kaali out of the clay got from the river bed, undertook fast and worshiped her as advised by his Guru Sumata to vanquish his enemies. Devi blessed him in his endeavor and he started a new life of happiness, joy and peace vanquishing all his erstwhile enemies.
"If anyone worships my image made out of mud, a product from among the five great elements (Panchbhootaas) and worship me with devotion I will reward him with prosperity and peace" says Devi in Devi Puraana. King Suratha was successful in eliminating all his enemies following the guidelines provided in Devi Puraana. Since then it has become a practice to arrange the dolls dearer to Devi during Navaraatri and worship them, highlighted by Sarasvati pooja, which forms an important part of the celebration.
Every individual progresses towards spiritual evolution and salvation step by step. The steps in Kolu display, brings forth that philosophy to the mind of everyone. It is customary to have nine steps on which dolls are displayed and worshipped.
First Step: Trees, plants and creepers etc. which have one sense in their creation.
Second Step: Animates like snails, conch and tortoise etc which have two senses.
Third Step: Animates like ants, cock-roaches which have three senses.
Fourth Step: Animates like crabs, wasp and birds etc. which have four senses.
Fifth Step: Animates like cow, goat, lion and tiger etc. which have five senses.
Sixth Step: Human Beings who have been blessed additionally with sixth sense.
Seventh Step: Liberated souls like saints and sages.
Eighth Step: Divines, Nine Planets, Five Elements etc.
Ninth Step: Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Devi, Ganapati and their Incarnations.
In this way if Kolu is displayed and worshiped the Trinities of Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati will bestow upon us knowledge, wealth and strength.
The Philosophy behind Kolu: The last three steps are like rice, cereal, and vessel etc. representing predominance of Tamasic (inert) nature. The middle three steps in which kings, queens and ministers etc. are displayed represent predominance of Rajasic (Ego and action) nature. The top three steps in which the divinities are displayed represent predominance of Saatvic (good) nature.
Benefits derived by worshipping Sarasvati: Sarasvati is the most celebrated divinity in Vedas as one who takes care of Yajnas (sacrifices). She is the one who bestows intelligence, brilliance, strength, success etc. The sacred word "Swaahaa" used in Yajanas signifies Sarasvati*. She is the one who makes our lives pleasant. She is also glorified as Medha Devi. You all know the story how when Sarasvati was away Brahma got delayed for his Yagna, substituted her with Gayatri and got into trouble according to Puranas. If we worship Sarasvati at home we will have ever increasing prosperity. There is no Hindu home where Sarasvati is not worshiped or a photo of her will not be found though temples for her are very rare. Probably there is only one temple for Her consort Brahma too in India.
Navaraatris that are celebrated by women for their benefit: The navaraatris that are celebrated in the month of Chaitra is called Vasanta Navaraatri. That which is celebrated in the Tamil month of Purattasi is Bhadrupada Navaraatri or Saarada Navaraatri. Saarada Navaraatri is for the benefit of all. Celebrating Navaraatri helps unmarried girls to get good husbands of their choices. Those that are married can aspire for longevity of life for their husbands. The older married ladies will derive the benefit of happiness, fullness of life and satisfaction. The waxing fortnight of Full-moon starts on the first day of Purattasi month and ends on Vijayadasami day. Since this worship goes on for ten days it is called Dussera.
Nine Durgas: Vana Durga; Soolini Durga; Jaataveda Durga; Jwaalaa Durga; Chaandi Durga: Sabari Durga: Deepa Durga; Aakari Durga and Lavanadurga. These are all the nine forms of Durga. (There are different versions of Navadurga in different Sampradayas.)
Ashta Lakshmis: Aadi Lakshmi; Mahaa Lakshmi; Dhana Lakshmi; Dhaanya Lakshmi; Santaana Lakshmi; Veera Lakshmi; Vijaya Lakshmi and Gaja Lakshmi. These are all eight aspects of Lakshmi.
Ashta Sarasvati: Vageeswari; Chitresvaree; Tulajaa; Geetteesvaree; Antariksha Sarasvati; Ghata Sarasvati; Neela Sarasvati; Kili Sarasvati (responsible for the melody in birds). These are the eight aspects of Sarasvati.
Primordial Energy or Devi pervades everything is the concept that is brought forth in the display of dolls in Kolu.
[This is a translation from Tamil text provided by courtesy Naga Rajan]
May Devi's choicest blessings be showered on you!
*NOTE—In Upanishads the sacred one word mantra SWAAHAA is used while offering oblations to various deities and the mantra SVADHAA while offering oblations to one's ancestors (Pitrus). According to Puranas Agni (Fire God) will not carry the oblations unless the mantra Swaahaa is chanted. Swaahaa is the consort of Agni while Sarasvati is that of Brahma or the Creatorin Puranas.
Sarasvati is an aspect of Durga, the Vedic deity glorified in Puranas. Sarasvati is celebrated as a river in Upanishads and Vedas. Durga and Agni are both referred as Brahman in Durgaasookta. The word Prajaapati originally referred to Brahman in his manifested form was later made specific to Brahma, the Creator. There are Upanishadic texts in which Agni is referred as Jataveda ((Durgaa Sookta) as Vyaahriti (accessory) for Brahman and therefore represents Brahman.
Brahma and Agni are the only Brahmins in the Varnaashrama of Deities which was later adopted by humans and was also made Varnasrama Dharma in Bhagvadgeetaa. Brahman in his creative aspect becomes Brahman and Durga as primordial energy also is Brahman, active aspect Brahman. Therefore the author stretches his contention to call Sarasvati Swaahaa.
Contributions by Kamala Raghunathan and Naga Rajan are gratefully acknowledged in preparing this discourse.