Missing Report: Navratri Celebrations

Is it always the case that the days past always seem romantic and the present day will be the romance of a later time? No really, nearly everyone seems to talk in those terms:

“You know, those days when…”
“Its really nothing like how when we were kids….”
“You should have been there when…”

But is it really mere romance and the perks of a claim to nostalgia?
I am now in Bangalore (don’t bother keeping track of the places I have been in the past 2 years) and … where is the Navratri? Pathway to a smaller heaven I am not interested in the sales (actually, I am), or shows or fireworks. What happened to those simple joy that everybody was party to?


To those who aren’t familiar with that, it was basically an assembly of planks along an incline, much like a staircase, on which a variety of dolls and trinklets were assembled in the most colourful manner. The golupadi (hereafter called GP, because I anticipate I will be using it often) was covered in a cloth (usually a veshti) and we found great pleasure in tucking it in alignment with the edges of the GP. My uncle is the finest at assembling the GP. The GP at their house was enormous and would cover the entire living room. The GP was not the only thing to focus on. Around the GP on the floor, parks, beaches, swimming pools, marriage processions and the like would be assembled. Let me describe the process in a little more detail.

On Amavasya night, we’d start lowering the cartons from the attic/loft. When we were kids (and this is no romance) we got to climb into the attic space which couldn’t hold an adult. So it was a privilege to be crawling in there. I would be on my knees crawling all over and pushing cartons closer to the mouth of the loft, and dad would lower it with the help of mom. Then, mom and my sis would start unpacking stuff and marking the cartons (to ease the process of re-packing). Mom would have packed some of the porcelain dolls in one of my old shirts or shorts and then there would be squeals and sighs from the floorspace about how I have grown up so fast! Geez! Give me a break.
Once the cartons were all on the floor, we would complete the unpacking and start assembling the wooden GP (this was later replaced with a nut-n-bolt iron GP). What followed was mayhem while deciding which doll should go where. The night was usually consumed in this chatter and whimpering about how “my idea never gets an ear”.
The next day mom would light the kerala lamps (polished with tamarind paste or vibhuti) and the rangoli would be spread well. Years of watching her and my sis do the rangoli helped me in competitions that my companies held.
Silken AngelsAs the name goes, Navratri is all about what happens at night. The house would be well lit with lamps and the smell of sundal (a mostly-dry dish made of legumes) would fill the air. Ladies from all over the neighbourhood would come over and bring their daughters along (this is also why I liked the Navratris ;-). The girls would walk in in their fresh pattu pavadais (set of silk blouse and skirt) and look so devastatingly beautiful. Did you by any chance catch the advt. on the hoarding about the reversible pavadai? Wow! That kid looks so beautiful. I personally think pavadais were invented to make fathers and in general guys develop jelly knees! Anyway, so these lovely ladies and their mothers would walk in, admire the GP and all the arrangement and either sing or recommend that their daughters sing (which worked fine with me) some carnatic piece. This went on for 9 nights and everyday there was a different sundal at our place. I am not particularly a fan of sundal unless there is some element of spice in there. No, I am not talking about the girls.
Another part of the evening found my sister and I walk into the houses of people who had also assembled a GP. These people would usually come over home to invite us, or we would go to their place and invite them. So, we’d walk in, admire their GP (I invariably spotted areas of improvements which were promptly shushed by my sister). I got to be cute and smiling and allowed every elderly lady to ruffle my hair while I smiled cutely at them. My sister took great pleasure in showing me off as her stuffed toy and for reasons best left unknown, I let her. We would sit there for a while, collect the packets of sundal (some places I got a chocolate or an apple for accompanying my sis) and then bear my sister singing a song. Frankly, she’s not bad, but somehow she always managed to go off-tune at a particular point in the song. Those days my voice was easily matched with my sister’s (and I even got to talk on her behalf when she didn’t feel like talking to her “friend” on the phone) and I would try to fill in those places where she erred!
There was always the fun of picking the best sundal, and I would make it a point to visit that “auntie” once more!! Saraswati puja gave us legal excuse to stay away from books (although of late I find it very difficult to stay away from my instruments and books) and we enjoyed the act of going to each and every room and painting every item with sandal wood paste and kumkum. Then the party would end.

So where has all of this disappeared? It seems to linger a bit in Madras, although most of my fun times and memories come from the Navratri celebrations in Bombay. Madras was fine too, but nowadays there isn’t much of this “visiting-collecting-singing-inviting” role being played. Pattu pavadais seem to become drab after the age of 6-7 for girls nowadays. Some lingering whiffs of those wonderful days still hang around the corners of my world, but it is definitely nothing like what it was then.

Now in Bangalore, our neighbour was telling my mother last night, that she has never been invited to a Navratri evening at anyone’s place. I rolled my eyes over and over again, till I felt dizzy!

Now people have shopping festivals and the like… I miss the festivals we once had which were available to everyone… In case you are celebrating it the old fashioned way, do let me know. I promise to behave and will surely sing a song. You can even give a shot at ruffling my hair (not much of it remains). All I want is a golupadi, some sundal, lots and lots of girls in pattu pavadai and a willingness to accept my invitation to visit our golu. Anyone?


7 thoughts on “Missing Report: Navratri Celebrations

  1. What a darling post! And accurate to a T – pattu pavaadais, sundals, singing songs at home and at others’ homes were the norm when we were children…Very nostalgic indeed.

  2. Right now am busy with Navratri too.From Italian cuisine to Sundal is quite a transition…:)Have to see where i can catch “Food is home” though…sounds good.Thanks.[ijust follow la cucina italiana ]Your depiction reminded me of RK Narayan’s writings somehow.“Then the party would end.”??hahaBeauty of India is in it’s diverse traditions followed on such days [ should i mention the various sweets too? :)]more lateron(*_*)UmaP.S:..accepting the invite…and when can we expect you here? kiddin…

  3. hmmm.. a great post. despite all the modern intrusions into the existing traditions, I feel that these habits would never fizzle out. what has been surviving for nearly 5000 years, be it indian classical music, festivals, customs and traditions, would be there for eternity. It is just that the people who embrace and appreciate the beauty would change. … but then, yes, you dont see much of what happened in those nostalgic times of the past, these days.

  4. Dear P, Glad you liked the post! 🙂Dear GI, Welcome back… 🙂 I am sure you miss home. You should have dropped by for this season. 🙂Dear Anon-U, Food is the essence, milady, hence a transition is inevitable and seamless! 🙂 RKN’s writing? My, my, my! I am flattered! And there I was thiking that I could visit your Navratri-golu… Kidding? 😦Dear RS, Welcome back dear friend. Its been a long time since you commented on this blog. If you trust me, then do believe that I was immensely delighted to see your comment here. I am not as optimistic as you are. I am sure that these things will fizzle out. Look at me, although I talk thus, I observe that I am losing my touch on certain things. Relatively speaking I might be way ahead of the average Joe in following traditional practices, but that was never my touchstone. Point is, things are slipping but all I can do is to keep it alive wherever I can and wherever it wants to stay alive… 🙂

  5. This post reminds me so much of the bygone days…. *sigh*There I go doing the ‘good old days’ talk! 😀My collection of childhood memories is certainly a treasure trove that I keep visiting time and again. It’s like a secret attic, well hidden from everybody else’s eyes, holding precious snapshots and video clippings that only my brain can view/play. Every visit to this attic is sure to add a smile to my face and a sparkle to my eyes. 🙂 Yours seems to be much the same…. at least with regards to Navarathri.

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