A spiritual note from The Quran: Fasting in Navratri
The Quran states in 2:183 that fasting is prescribed for Muslims now as it was prescribed for those before. One of the periods of fasting in another religion is that during Navratri, during which period our Hindu brothers and sisters do not consume certain kinds of food.
The festival of Navratri is celebrated with prayers and gaiety. It is a period for self-reflection and getting back to the Source. Likewise, Eid ul-Fitr was celebrated last week by Muslims worldwide after a period of soul-purifying fasting during the month of Ramadan.
In Navratri, the seeker finds the true source through fasting, prayer, silence and meditation. Night is called ratri because it brings rest and rejuvenation.
It is interesting that the Quran also speaks of a Night – the night in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), thus bringing spiritual light to mankind.
While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies speech and brings rest to the mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s being.
It is known that Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation during a period of fasting and meditation in the cave of Hira. (This is commemorated in the last part of Ramadan, in the night mentioned before, called Lailat al-Qadr). It is therefore important that one resorts to these methods of seeking communication with Almighty God.
Navratri is thus a celebration of the spirit, and if followed in the correct way, it can destroy pride and extreme forms of craving and aversion. According to the Quran (2:183) as well, fasting is important for Muslims to stop such kinds of behaviour as mentioned above, as one is meant to achieve taqwa, or nearness to God. Also, the Prophet Muhammad said: “He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, God has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” Thus, in both the Muslim fasting during Ramadan, and the Hindu fasting of Navratri, the main aim is to give up bad habits, to behave better towards one another, and to achieve greater closeness with God.
Navratri was celebrated this year during the period 30 September - 8 October.
Source: A Spiritual Note: Edition 173 - Oktober 10, 2008 - Shawwaal 10, 1429, Instituut voor IslamitischeStudies en Publicaties, http://www.ivisep.org/spirnote/173.htm
Festivals in India epitomise the religious, cultural and social aspirations of the people, and are occasions to reaffirm one's gratitude and allegiance to one's family. Most Hindu festivals are a soul-purifying experience for the believer. And festivals are instrumental in diluting the humdrum of everyday life by adding their special touch to it.Navratri, or 'The Festival of Nine Nights', is celebrated during the first nine days of the Hindu month of Ashvin (September-October) which coincides with the end of the rainy season. This season is considered to be an auspicious one as it is generally associated with the sowing of seeds, and watching new seeds sprout - a sign of prosperity and abundance. Most people consider it the best time of the year to undertake or start new ventures.The Navratri festival is dedicated to the Mother Goddess. Known by other names such as Durga, Devi, she occupies a special place in the Hindu pantheon. She represents Shakti, the cosmic energy that animates all beings, and is also considered to be prakriti (nature), the counterpart of purusha. Together, they are responsible for the creation of the world according to the Puranas and Vedas (ancient Hindu Scriptures).This nine-day festival is celebrated in a unique manner. A different form of the Mother Goddess is worshipped on each different day. On the first three days, the Goddess Durga (Goddess of Valour) is venerated. The next three days are spent in the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth). And the last three days are a celebration of the Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Learning and Arts). Together, the three goddesses are worshipped as the feminine equivalent of the Hindu Holy Trinity.This festival symbolises health and prosperity, and is celebrated in a very traditional way. People perform yagna (sacrifice offered in order to procure purification through fire) or havana (symbolic ceremony involving the purifying aspects of fire). During both ceremonies, ghee (clarified butter), paayas or kheer (rice cooked in condensed milk) and sesame seeds are poured into the holy flames to the chanting of mantras (holy verses). Each cycle of oblation culminates with the priest summoning Swaha, the consort of Agni, or fire. Some believers fast (vrat) throughout the nine days, whilst others settle for a daylong fast. Fasting is considered to be one of the most popular means of self-discipline and spiritual development. On the fifth day, known as Lalitha Panchami, it is customary to gather the books in the house and place them before a sacred lamp in order to seek the Goddess Saraswati's blessings. Artisans also lay their tools at the feet of the Goddess for a more prosperous trade.Navratri is celebrated in different regions of the country with a lot of vim and brio.In West Bengal, it takes the form of Durga Puja, an occasion to celebrate the Triumph of Good over Evil. According to legend, a vicious buffalo-demon, Mahishasura, had raised hell at the gates of heaven, causing widespread terror. The Goddess Durga was actualised by the combined efforts of all the deities to slay him. Thus, Durga astride a lion, with an assortment of weapons in her 10 hands, slayed Mahishasura. Durga is also worshipped as Shakti, and beautiful idols of the Mother Goddess adorn elaborate pandals (marquees) for five days (starting from the fifth day of Navratri). Believers (and non-believers) flock to these pandals with gay abandon. On the tenth day of the celebrations, the idols are carried out in colourful processions to be immersed (visarjan) in a river or a pond.In the state of Punjab, people usually fast during this period, for seven days, and on Ashtami, the eighth day, devotees break their fast by worshipping young girls who are supposed to be representatives of the Goddess herself by offering them the traditional puris (sort of deep-fried Indian bread), halwa (a dessert primarily made of flour and sugar), chanas (Bengal gram) and red chunnis (long scarves). In this region, the festival is predominantly linked with harvest. This is the time of the khetri, (wheat grown in pots in the urban context) that is worshipped in homes, and whose seedlings are given to devotees as blessings from God.The festival of Navratri also coincides with the festival of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashmi. Vijaya Dashami (literally meaning 'The Day marking the Triumph of Good over Evil') falls on the day after Navratri, and is associated with another legend where Lord Rama killed the demon-king Ravana. In the northern parts of India, Ram Lilas draw from the epic, the Ramayana, to bring the life and times of Lord Rama back to the common folk through dramatic representations.In the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the festival of Navratri is celebrated in a different manner. Women adorn their houses with dolls (Bommai Kolu), draw traditional designs or rangolis (patterns made on the floor by using various coloured powders and flowers), and light lamps. During this festival (also known as Kolu in the state of Tamil Nadu), families proudly display traditional wooden dolls and gather to sing songs and depict scenes from the various epics, for a period of ten days. Another runaway hit is the sundal, a special sweet made from lentil and brown sugar. Families and friends exchange the traditional gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets on this occasion.The festival of Navratri acquires quite a fascinating and colourful dimension in the region of Gujarat, and in some parts of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The highlights of the festival are the extremely colourful dances of Garbha and Dandiya-Rasa during which, both men and women dressed in the traditional attires of dhoti-kurta (traditional Indian attire worn by menfolk, comprising a long shirt and a long flowing garment worn over the lower part of the body), and chania-choli(mirror-work skirts and blouses), put up stunning performances to the vibrant rhythm of music. These dances are performed around the traditionally decorated terracotta pot called the garbi that has a small diya (lamp) burning inside signifying knowledge, or light meant to dissipate the ignorance, or darkness, within. Dholak players (drummers) accompany the dancers, and groups of singers sing songs handed down generations.Today the commercialisation of these dances seems evident, with the traditional and delicate rhythms being replaced by alternate forms that are quite far-removed from the original versions.As a dance form, the Garbha is mainly performed by women. The leader starts with the first line of the song. Other dancers who sway gracefully, with their arms describing movements in perfect synchrony to the rhythmic clapping, or beating of sticks then pick this up.Yet another variation of the Garbha is the Goph Guntan, or the string dance. As the dancers execute the movements, they hold on to one end of a rope in strands, while the other end of the rope is tied either to the ceiling or a wooden pole. Gradually, as the dancers weave in and around each other, a braid is formed. It is quite an interesting sight as it takes a certain degree of skill and accuracy to intertwine and untangle the braid without falling out of pace.Another dance form that is popular during the Navratri celebrations is the Dandiya-Rasa, performed mostly by menfolk forming complex circular patterns to represent the lotus and other floral designs. These dancers hold the dandiyas (small wooden sticks with tiny bells attached at the ends) and dance in complex concentric circles. The dancers rhythmically beat the sticks even during a series of complicated moves that they must execute while sitting, standing or lying down.Different communities have different variations of these dances. And the heady mix of jubilation and enthusiasm is all-pervasive.