By: Garima Lohumi, Bureau Chief-ICN Himachal Pradesh
SHIMLA: Kept away for more than six months by coronavirus, the worst global pandemic in recent times, devotees have started visiting the temples again with the onset of Navratri Festival.
Like rest of the country religious shrines in Himachal were closed in March to help contain the spread of the dreaded virus. With no early respite from the virus in sight, the government decided to reopen the temples and other shrines last month with certain restrictions. However, wary of the fast spreading virus the people mostly stayed away and the temples remain deserted.
The onset of festive season with the nine-day Navratri Festival the mood seems to be changing. The air of despondency is gradually giving way to hope, though the festival remains a low-key affair. The hordes of teeming crowds usually seen in the temples and various Bazars during the festival are missing. The mood is sombre and instead of community celebrations and festivities, the focus will be on religious activities in home in isolation.
With famous Devi temples like Chitpurani, Chamunda , Naina Devi and Brjeshwari Devi in Kangra Himachal attracts lakhs of devotes during the Sharad Navratri, the most important Hindu festival. Celebrated twice a year in the month of Chaitra and Ashwin the “Navratri” not only has religious significance, it is also considered an auspicious time for starting new ventures. People wait for the Navratri for acquiring property, new vehicles, clothes and other such items. It is the boom time for business as everyone, from the poorest to the rich, buys one thing or the other depending on financial resources. Consumer durables like television sets, washing machines, refrigerators, cars, cameras, mobile phones record the maximum sales during the period.
This year it is altogether a different story, the pandemic has aggravated the woes of the people already reeling under the impact of prolonged economic slowdown. Jobs have been lost, earnings have taken a severe hit and most people hardly have any money to indulge in shopping, unlike past. Not only temples, shopping malls, cinema halls, gyms, hotels and restaurants have remained closed. The people have been advised not to venture out unless necessary and observe social distancing even after lifting of the lockdown. Nevertheless, people, particularly the business community, are hoping that their fortunes will witness the much-needed turnaround with the Navratri season.
During the festival nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped over the nine days during both Chaitra and Ashwin occasions. Some Shakti Peeths, Shakti temples, are famous as seats of Tantra as pursuers are able to unravel its mysteries and acquire knowledge much faster. For the common devotees Navratri is the time for introspection and self-purification through fasting, meditation and visiting temples to pay obeisance to the Goddess.
The Ashwin Navratri Festival is more significant as it follows the fortnight long inauspicious “pitri paksh” (Shraddha) during which the Hindus remember and pay their respects to their ancestors by performing various rituals. Being a period of mourning, the fortnight is considered inauspicious and the Hindus mostly avoid buying new clothes, undertaking any new ventures, acquiring property or solemnising weddings or other propitious events. The “Navratri” festival brings about a dramatic change from the sombre atmosphere of the “pitri paksh” to a season of boisterous celebrations, which continue for almost a month up to Diwali.
This is the most enjoyable time of the year during which people go on a shopping spree and make a point to visit various temples and seek blessings of Goddess Durga and other deities.
In the modern times, the festival also provides an occasion to pay tribute to the women power as symbolised by the Goddess Durga. The worship of pre-pubescent girls, symbolic representation of the nine forms of the deity, on “Ashtami”, the eighth day, is the most important part of the festival.