Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hindus celebrate Navaratri

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WEARING saris, kurtas and other colourful attire, members of the local Gujarati community performed the Garba dance around images of the Mother Goddess, adorned with garlands at the centre of the cultural hall. They swung their arms and rotated their bodies rhythmically as they circled the hall at the Hindu Temple on St. Anne's Road.

"We get so involved in that dance, so much that it makes us feel that Mataji (mother) is dancing with us," said Hetal Suchak, who danced with her four-year-old daughter.

The dance last weekend marked the beginning of Navaratri, a festival of nine nights and 10 days that ends today. The annual festival is celebrated in different ways around India and other parts of the world, but the intent is the same -- to worship the female aspect of the divine in all her forms.

The manifestations include the goddess Durga, who represents power, the goddess Lakshmi, who represents wealth, and the goddess Saraswati, who represents knowledge.

"The idea is that God has given you wealth which doesn't belong to you, but to give to others," said Dr. Atish Maniar, a priest for the Hindu Society of Manitoba. "God has given you good strength, not to hurt others, but to protect others. God has given you knowledge, not to spread wrong gossip, but to give solace and understanding to others."

During Navaratri, many Hindus light small lamps at shrines in their homes and at temples. The light from the lamps, known as diya, is offered to the deities.

"That light gives us some strength," Maniar said. "The idea behind lighting the little lamp is not for the god or goddess, because God is a million times brighter than the sun. We light this little lamp praying that 'Give me one ray from that light, so I hate nobody.' "

While people from India's western state of Gujarat celebrate Navaratri with the folk dances Garba and Dandiya, it's celebrated in the eastern part of the country, including West Bengal, mainly through the Durga Puja. A puja is a ritual to honour the deities. In the city of Kolkata alone, devotees set up more than 2,000 pandals or temporary temples.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, many families celebrate Navaratri by displaying a Golu, a collection of dolls and figurines set on odd-numbered tiers. The dolls mostly represent gods and goddesses, but may also depict non-religious scenes. It's customary for women and children to visit other homes during Navaratri, view the Golu and receive treats, blessed food, and kumkum, a religious marking made of turmeric or saffron and applied to the forehead.

Deepa Raghavan has tried to maintain the tradition, setting up a Golu in the basement of her Winnipeg home. She has about 200 dolls, most of them purchased during visits to India.

"Each one has a story," she said. "I have a whole story of Krishna from his birth to his wedding."

Her 10-year-old son, Arjun, helped her set up the five steps on which the dolls sit. "It's more for him to follow some of our traditions," she said. "Though it's not as elaborate as what we do back home, it's something to touch base."

During Navaratri, she lights lamps and does a puja in front of the Golu. "I try to do a little puja on weekdays, and on weekends, it's a little bit elaborate," she said.

Melvin Durai is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2009 A9

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