Navratri, the nine-night long festival is here. Being away from home, I make do with the pictures, videos my folks send me and the Instagram reels I come across, thanks to the algorithm. Since the festival is celebrated across India in various 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, some don’t even take water. They pray to the Maa, welcome Her in all her finery and there is absolute joy everywhere. Amongst many forms of worship is the dance form. Which in Gujarat is ‘garba’. Once I had the privilege of going to Ambaji, one of the 51 Shaktipeeth in Gujarat during Navratri and in the ‘chowk’, right outside the sanctum sanctorum the devotees were dancing their heart out. Women were wearing their finest clothes all dressed up because ‘they have come home to their mother’, I was told. And why not?
The idol, image of the Maa Amba is put in centre of an open space and men, women and children dance around it in circles to traditional songs which talk about the goddesses. With time, things have changed and commercialisation has crept in, but the basis still remains dance as a means of worship. No matter which place you go, garba will always start with an Aarti of Maa Amba.
I’ll just put it out here because I am feeling nostalgic and I miss home and Navratri back home.
Coming back. The very essence of Navratri is invoking the Maa and worshipping Her.
So, while the ‘liberals’ in India may want to appropriate it and call it a ‘cultural’ festival, they are wrong. Navratri is very much a Hindu religious festival. The dance is a form of worship of Maa. It is as religious as it could get.
Which is they I don’t understand the force-fitting of secularism. When people who do not believe in our gods and goddesses, including atheists, why should they be participating in the worshipping? Especially when their faith propagates idol worship is a sin, why do you then want to whine when you are denied entry into garba events.
Every year, much hue and cry is raised that Bajrang Dal volunteers are checking IDs of people entering the venue. ‘Liberals’ cry hoarse about discrimination. But then, what is wrong to ensure only those who at least by virtue of their birth are born into a faith that worships the goddess are allowed to enter the venues? Of course, one should not take law into their hands and India being a free country, one could not deny someone entry to public places. But then why would anyone want to go to a place which is a sin?
Of course, there is this thing about mutual respect and I am all for it. So, if you agree to bow down to the goddess and accept the prasad, maybe then you could too participate in this dance form of idol worship.
Because my Maa nurtures, protects and blesses those who believe in Her.