Navarathri/Navratri is celebrated with full of enthusiasm all over India. Just like its diverse language and culture, this festival is celebrated differently in each state. Navarathri means “nine nights’ and this year it is from October 5th to October 14th. West Bengal celebrate Navarathri as Durga pooja, Kerala like to celebrate it as Vijayadashami and Vidyarambam means a child starts learning from the auspicious day of Vjayadashmi (i.e. from the last day of Navarathri). Karnataka like to celebrate as Dasara. While North India like to celebrate as Dussehra. One thing unique in this festival is that everybody worships Goddess Shakti/Devi. First, in the form of Goddess worshipped as Durga/Kali or as Goddess Lakshmi or as Goddess of Wealth and finally as Saraswathi/ Goddess of wisdom.
In my hometown, Trivandrum, Navarathi celebrations have its own ritual and stories attached to it. Every year the idol of goddess Saraswathi is brought from Padmanabhapuram palace to the Navarathri mandapam situated at the eastern entrance of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.This ritual is done as part of promise made by a Chera King centuries ago. The sage Kambar gave an idol of Goddess Saraswathi to a Chera King, who promised that the Goddess would be worshiped and the Navarathri Festival was held in her honor every year.
When Maharaja Swati Tirunal shifted the capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram in the 19th century, he made arrangements to bring the Devi to his new capital every year and built the Navaratri Mandapam adjoining his royal palace. It is situated near Sreepadnabha Swami temple. Even in this 21st century that ritual has continued. For the rest of the year, Devi blesses devotees from Her Thevarakkettu at Padmanabhapuram Palace. It is the ‘Moola Vigraham,/Main idol’ and is brought to Thiruvananthapuram leaving a lighted lamp in the sanctum.
During the visit, Saraswathi Devi is accompanied by Lord Kumaraswamy on a silver horse (from Kumara Kovil)and Goddess Munnoothinangai (from Sucheendram) on a palanquin. When the procession reaches Navaratri Mandapam, it is received by the head of the royal family of Travancore. The Saraswati Devi is taken inside the Nalukettu and to the sanctum in the Chokita Mandapam the next morning.
Velayuda Perumal proceeds to the Aryasala Temple and Munnutu Nangamma to Chenthitha Temple. Finally, after Vidyarambham, Saraswati Devi is taken to the Nalukettu from the sanctum for `Nalliirupu,’ where it is believed that the Goddess is resting for two days. On the third day, Velayutha Perumal and Munnutu Nangamma are taken to the Poojapura Mandapam for celebrations where they await the arrival of Saraswati Devi. On the morning of the 12th day, Saraswati Amman is escorted back elephants to the Poojapura mandapam and together with Velayutha Perumal and Munnutu Nangamma they are taken in a procession to their respective temples.
During my childhood days, appa would take us to see all these Gods at respective temples. We have to wait to see Saraswathi Devi as there will be musicians singing traditional music for a particular period of time.
In our house, mom used to keep Gollu/ kolu/Tier of dolls. When people each other’s house to see the Kolu, usually they are given prasad (the offering given to God that day), kumkum and a small bag of gifts. These are only given to girls and married women. In the evenings, a “kuthuvilakku” (small lamp) is lit, in the middle of a decorated “kolam“(Rangoli), before the Kolu and devotional hymns and shlokas are chanted. After performing the pujas, the food items that have been prepared are offered to the goddesses.
As kids we are more interested in the prasadam/offering. We like to go to the houses that makes sweet version of sundals than the savory version. I used to go to neighbors’ house and invite them saying like this “Mami Atathile kollu vachirukka, Vettalai pakku vanga varungo” Means we kept kolu/ tier of dolls in our house, please come to see and have offerings.
I will go to Meenakshi Amman temple in Pearland, where they keep huge kolu and do special poojas. All these pictures are from that kolu. I will make sundals for the 9 days and on the 10th day I will make payasam with rice and jaggery and coconut and Uzhunuv ada as mom does during the vijayadashmi day.
Here are few sundal recipes tried and tested in my kitchen. Sundals are mainly cooked lentils with coconut and few seasoning. It is really healthy and delicious treat you can ever imagine. You are free to use any kind of lentils, legumes or beans of your choice. If you learn to cook one you can follow that method to other one, only lentils change, but the step stays pretty much the same. If you are a sweet loving person, make sweet sundal by adding cooked lentils to jaggery or brown sugar, and condition it with coconut and a touch of cardamom. Kids love it. That was my favorite sundal in childhood days. Now due to health consciences, I am making only savory sundals.
During Navarthri, people from northern and western part of India do fasting and at that time they won’t eat any wheat , and prefer gluten free grains like Rajgira/Amaranth grains which are normally cooked with potato, they make puri, (fired flat bread) roti etc. They call it vrat ka khana meaning eaten during fasting. They also don’t use any lentils rice, wheat and even regular salt etc.
Again everybody have their own mom and grandma’s recipe. If you want to try something different take a look at here.