Navaratri is the time when Bhagavan is invoked, worshipped, and celebrated as the sacred feminine. Bhagavan has both the male and the feminine aspects. The male aspect is worshipped in the daytime and during Navaratri, the sacred feminine is worshipped in the night So, traditional sadhakas, sadhus, and other worshippers spend the night in contemplation, meditation, and worship. Recognising that a common person cannot spend six to eight hours in meditation, the masters in their wisdom added some sacred songs and bhajans.
It is difficult to sing while keeping awake in the night. Therefore, they invoked the divine form as a lamp kept in a nine-hole pot. The lamp represented consciousness and the nine holes for the nine apertures of the human body for the sense organs, with which the consciousness manifests into the world in terms of thinking, feeling, knowing, sensing.
With the Garbha in the centre, the people worshipping the Devi would move around, clapping their hands with a few graceful steps of garba, singing the divine songs so that they would be awake and not sleepy. Once they were energised enough, they would go back to their contemplation. If they felt sleepy again, they would do the garba again.
However, the practice of garba has got a bit commercialised in the cities over the last few decades. Navaratri is no more about worship but about finding the best venue where garba and dandiya can happen, where people arrive, decked up in the latest fashion. It is no more about fasting, living on fruits, nuts and liquids, but different types of fast food with the social media and the newspapers full of such recipes and where best to order it from etc.
The focus has become the best place to go for dandiya where celebrity singers charge lakhs of rupees to perform and participants pay in thousands just to enter the venue. It has become a huge commercial celebration.
By all means we can have fun in our celebrations but also let us put some of the worship back into Navaratri as it was meant to be.
(The writer is the founder of Aarsha Vidya Foundation. You can write to him at email@example.com)