Navratri is a religious festival of Hindus, not a cultural fad

Navratri, the nine night festival has arrived. Being away from home, I get by with the photos, videos my parents send me, and Instagram reels I come across, thanks to the algorithm. Since then, the festival has been celebrated across India in different ways, but the basis is the upasana (worship) of the Devi Shakti. The Mother Goddess.

Some people fast for these nine days, surviving only on water, others don’t even take water. They pray to the Maa, welcome her in all her finery and absolute joy reigns everywhere. Among many forms of worship is the dance form. Which in Gujarat is ‘garba’. I once had the privilege of going to Ambaji, one of the 51 Shaktipeeth of Gujarat during Navratri and in the ‘chowk’ just outside the sanctum sanctorum the devotees were dancing at the top of their voices. The women wore their best clothes, all dressed up, because “they went back to their mother’s,” I was told. And why not?

The idol, image of the Maa Amba is placed in the center of an open space and men, women and children dance around it in circles on traditional songs which speak of the goddesses. Over time things have changed and commercialization has crept in, but the basis is still dance as a means of worship. No matter where you go, the garba will always start with an Aarti from Maa Amba.

I’m just gonna put it here because I feel nostalgic and miss home and Navratri at home.

Come back. The very essence of Navratri is to invoke Maa and worship her.

So while ‘liberals’ in India may want to appropriate it and call it a ‘cultural’ festival, they are wrong. Navratri is a Hindu religious festival. Dancing is a form of Maa worship. It’s as religious as it gets.

It is them that I do not understand the imbrication of secularism. When people who don’t believe in our gods and goddesses, including atheists, why should they participate in worship? Especially when their faith propagates idol worship is a sin why then would you whine when you are denied entry to garba events.

Every year, a lot of cries are raised that Bajrang Dal volunteers check the IDs of people entering the hall. The “liberals” cry out against discrimination. But then, what’s wrong with ensuring that only those who, at least by virtue of birth, are born into a faith that worships the Goddess are allowed to enter the premises? Of course, we must not take justice into our own hands and India being a free country, we cannot refuse someone access to public places. But then why would anyone want to go to a place that is a sin?

Of course, there’s this thing about mutual respect and I totally agree. So if you agree to bow down to the Goddess and accept prasad, perhaps you too could participate in this dance form of idol worship.

Because my Maa nourishes, protects and blesses those who believe in Her.

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