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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Among all the festivals celebrated in India, Navaratri is the longest festival. Navaratri literally means nine nights. It is rich in meaning. This festival dedicates three days in worshipping each deity in its divine form. The first three days are dedicated to Goddess Durga or Shakti, the next three days for Goddess Lakshmi (wealth) and the last three days for Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge.

Navaratri is celebrated in different ways in India. In the North, they give more importance to Dushhera, the 10th day. In the West, especially in Gujarat, people celebrate Navaratri by dancing to the tunes of traditional devotional songs in praise of all the three goddesses. The amazing part of the dance and celebration is that men, women and children dance through the night for nine nights. This tradition is called Navaratri Garba. Each night begins with the Garba, where mainly women dance in circles dressed in their best traditional Chaniya Cholis and jewelry. The night concludes with the Dandiya Raas danced by men and women.

In the East, more importance is given to days six through10, popularly known as Durga Puja. In the South, the kolu is the essence of Navaratri celebrations. The tradition has been in existence for at least 500 years.

The Navaratri Kolu or Golu is done by constructing wide tiers or steps in any odd number, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11. A variety of dolls are displayed artistically and beautiful arranged on the steps.

The dolls are mostly from mythological characters or icons of various gods and goddesses painted in bright colors. Some families display dolls made of rosewood, sandalwood and ivory.

A Ramayana set, a Dasavatara set, a set of musicians and the ubiquitous pot-bellied smiling Chettiar and his equally plump wife were most common in most arrangements.

Things are a lit bit different these days. The dolls are not restricted to those of gods and goddesses. Now, there are dolls dressed in traditional costumes of Indian states. Fancy lighting and installations and computer graphics too are used as part of the decorations.

Apart from the morning and evening pujas for the Kolu during the nine days with aarti and prayers, ladies are invited and offered haldi kumkum with betel leaves with nuts and fruits. The ninth day is celebrated as Saraswati Puja. All learning tools such as books and musical instruments are decorated with flowers and worshipped. Vijay Dasami or the Dussera is the 10th day. It is believed to be an auspicious day when all fine arts like dance, music or a new venture in learning is begun. It is the `Learners' Day.

On the 10th night after the ceremonial arti and prayers, the dolls are carefully packed in cloth or paper, preserved and put away safely to be used next year.

For any student learning dance, Vijaya Dashmi is of utmost importance. I always offer salutations to my Guru, my teacher, who is a supreme spirit, my guide who is eternal and benign; who is beyond sound, line and art. Salutations to all those Gurus who are wonderful human beings, enlightening their disciples with the right values and awakening them with the strong ability to gauge between right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable norms.

In a world of globalization, when material things acquire luminosity and values are totally non-existent, the teacher who shows the path to eternal values needs to be celebrated.

The Guru is thus vested with responsibility. The best prayer that a Guru can offer is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati "Jnaanam Dehi Smritim Dehi Vidyaam Vidhyaadhidevathe Pratishtham Kavitham Dehi Shakti Shishyaprabodhikaam" (O Saraswati, Goddess of learning, grant me knowledge, grant me memory, grant me learning, reputation and poetry, and the power to enlighten disciples. This is a humble prayer and a sacred offering to all the great Gurus in the world.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


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