Beginnings and endings are two sides of the same coin. As Shradh ends, Navratri begins. As the ancestors return to Pitru Loka, Hindus begin their worship of the Goddess Durga. During Navratri (nine nights), devotees venerate the divine femininity which gives birth to all creation. She is ‘Ma’, the Universal Mother. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the Hindu calendar month Ashvin.
Unlike most female devotees that show up at the temple in their best sarees, I usually head to the temple in a simple blouse and jeans. But even I put in some effort today. I wore my favourite long red dress with a white shawl. I head to Sri Mariamman Temple, continuing a tradition my grandfather started. I’m fairly accustomed to the opening prayers that take place at 6pm everyday… but this was no ordinary day. The procession through the temple had already started by the time I got there.
I smile as I watch the procession make its rounds through the temple. The music soothes my soul. In-between beats, I inadvertently hear the Chinese Lion Dance that is taking place in the side street next to the temple. I laugh on the inside. Welcome to multicultural Singapore. The city-state’s oldest Hindu Temple is nestled in Chinatown.
As a former Bharatanatyam dancer, I personally know how integral dance and music is to Hindu worship. It is how one channels the divine. It is no easy task, I assure you. It takes years and years of vigorous training before one is able to withstand the heavy demands of classical dance. I haven’t danced in years, but I can appreciate the discipline and dedication that goes into the customs and practises of my faith.
The celebrations vary region by region. Typically, the festival’s nine nights are dedicated to different aspects of the Goddess. The first three days are dedicated to Goddess Durga, the next three days to the Goddess Lakshmi, and the final three days to Goddess Saraswati. They are the three Mothers of Hinduism: symbolising power, wealth and knowledge.
As we venerate the Mother Goddess during Navratri, we remind ourselves that there can be no creation without woman.