Every year during the lunar month of Ashwin/Kartik, Hindus observe ten days of ceremonies, rituals, fasts and feasts in honour of the supreme mother goddess; while it is known by different names, this is one of the few festivals celebrated across India.
In the north, the first nine days of the festival—known as Navaratri, ‘nine nights’—are observed as a rigorous fast. In Gujarat this time is the occasion for two special dances. Gorba (‘womb’) is a graceful dance that women perform around a lamp contained within the ‘womb’ of a pot, a way of honouring the goddess who is mother to the fire of life in us all. The dandia is a complex dance performed by both men and women holding sticks festooned with bells that they strike against those of their partner in increasingly frenzied rhythms.
In Bengal the eighth day of Navaratri is known as Durga Puja. Durga means ‘inaccessible’, the goddess perceived as the personification of the shakti (‘divine energy’) of Lord Shiva. Huge structures called pandals are constructed and decorated to house communal services and celebrations. On the final day an earthen statue of Durga is taken in procession to a nearby river, where it is ceremonially immersed and given a passionate send-off, marking the return of the goddess to her home on Mount Kailash after her brief visit to Earth.
In the south the final day of the festival is observed as Dussehra (‘tenth’), during which the triumph of good over evil is celebrated in mythic terms as the death of the demon king Ravana. Huge effigies of Ravana are burned amidst the cacophany of fireworks.