Dasara always reminds me of my childhood. Dressed up in red green pattu Pavadai(or langa davani in Kannada) , me and my friends used to go to metu mami’s home to sing.
Metu mami was a tall thin lady, hair tied in a bun and drapped in a traditional silk saree. Her customary greeting as we crossed her Kolam filled threshold would be ‘Vango Vango’ to all us little ones.
For a few seconds we would be mesmerized, for mami always had a fascinating Kolu display during Dasara days. There would be tier of steps all covered in white. The steps were always odd in number- sometimes 5, 7 and if mami had help 9. And each tier would have a different theme. There would be Siva-Parvati dolls in one step and scenes from Ramayana in the next. Sometimes mami would have arranged an entire row of goddess Durga in her various avatars. The tiers also boasted of Pattada Gombe- royal dolls of sandalwood symbolizing the King and Queen.
For me the fascination lay at the bottom of the steps- a tiny little farm complete with a pond,a garden and animals.
Mami had explained to us the significance of this. ‘ Our Gombe display is incomplete without the pond and garden.October is the harvest time for pulses. So pulses like Chickpeas, Moong and even Ragi, mustard are sprouted,’ she used to say in her sing-song voice. And she had even showed us how to do it.
‘ Take some ragi seeds and immerse them in water. Then drain the water and allow it to sprout. You can then take these sprouts and sprinkle them in the mud. ‘
Today I know Navaratri is not just remembering the goddess but is also a way of saying thanks to the harvest.
After our starry eyes could take all that , mami would ask us to sit cross legged and sing bhajans. We prattled away the songs of gods and goddesses learnt at our music school and were rewarded with sundal at the end of our power packed performance. Sundal is a salad of sprouted channa bean blended with roasted spices and a sprinkling of fresh coconut. Yum’s the only word for it.Till date Sundal happens to be my go to comfort food.
The significance of Navaratri:
In May I happened to attend a friend’s wedding in Mysore. The bride was given lovely gifts by her mother and one of them was this Pattada Gombe set. It was a male-female pair dressed in red and gold zari, decked up with jewels. ‘ It is to help her start her Kolu arrangement during Navaratri at her new home,’ explained the bride’s mother when I questioned the bride as to why she needs a doll set during her wedding day. Perhaps it signifies compatibility for the new bride in her new household. On an other note Kolu means royal presence. And the Mysore Dasara has always been a State ritual boasting of Wodeyar’s presence. So the Pattada Gombe could be the symbol of Kingship as well.
The tradition of Dasara goes back to Vijayanagara times where Navaratri was an elaborate nine day ritual complete with entertainment, battle scenes and sacrifices. It was a public gathering with the King beginning the festivities after offering prayers to the goddess at the Vijayanagara capital. The Navaratri also saw the exchange of gifts and good will by the lower ranking chieftains and officials to their king. And these festivities also gave the chiefs an opportunity to display their power and wealth. They used to come with their troop of elephants,horses and men.
Many of the sixteenth century rituals have been carried out in Mysore Dasara rituals as well. The procession, the worshiping of weapons, the battle between goddess and the demon Mahishasura etc. to name a few.
However Navaratri is not just about royal presence . Navaratri is the worship of the goddess Shakthi in her nine forms. It is the triumph of good over evil when goddess Durga defeats the demon Mahishasura. Be it the Durga Pooja of Bengal or the Navaratri Golu/Kolu/Bomme Habba down south the focus is on worshiping the different forms of Shakthi on different days and incorporating her qualities.
The book ‘Kingship and political practice in colonial India’ gives a different perspective to the festivities. It mentions that these festivities reinforced the belief in the public that both the king and the goddess were the true custodians protecting dharma and maintaining peace and prosperity in the State. Together they slew the demon Mahishasura.
Navaratri in the city:
Things have changed now, yet most of the rituals still remain. The temples especially in South India are decked up-the goddess is worshiped in her nine forms- Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. The temples become a cultural hub showcasing dance performance, yakshaganas and song orchestras.
The city wears a festive look. Durga Pooja pandals, Dandiya nights not to mention the Golu dolls spring up in the city. And for a moment the city forgets its dust,traffic and pollution inviting Durga with open arms.
To get a peek a boo of the city during Navaratri join us on our two walks, Basavangudi and Military coming up this weekend.