Thursday, October 7, 2010

Navratri Nostalgia

I was invited by Pree to join her Durga Puja blog event, "Beyond Five Days of Durga Puja". Let me admit right off the bat, that even though I have wanted to for years...I have never been part of an authentic pandal-hopping Bengali Durga Puja event, inspite of a cousin living in Kolkata who has always asked me to come visit! But Durga Puja in Kolkata or Navratri in Tamil Nadu, Kullu Dussehra in Himachal Pradesh or Bommai Kolu in AP and Karnataka, for each and every Indian it is the same - 9 days of reverence, decoration, food and festivites culminating in the 10th day or Vijaya Dasami, the day we loved as children, cos we had to keep all our school books in the prayer room for Goddess Saraswati, and got away without doing homework!!!!

For as long as I can remember, the best place to be for these 9 days was, and still is, our ancestral home in Chennai. This is where nothing has changed in the way Navratri is celebrated, over the last 80 odd years! It was home to 6 families at one time living jointly, but of course over the past years people have passed on and children have left for the US in search of fame and fortune, so only 6 people reside there now. But even today, come Navratri, the rituals and customs stay the same...and while we were away in the US for 23 years, we would get all the news about the preparations, and pictures and descriptions would be sent by obliging family members.
Here are some pics to give you an idea...every day the flower arrangement would be devoted to a particular God

Sifting and sorting through all the flowers bought at the and red rose petals, yellow and saffron marigolds, green leaved "davanam" or Artemesia, purple chrysanthemums and intoxicating white jasmine. The fragrance would linger in the house for days after...

Gossiping and threading the flowers to make garlands

Decorating Lord Shiva's bull - the Nandi

Flowers forming the symbol of Shiva, the linga
The peacock and the spear (or Vel), dedicated to the war god, Lord Muruga, the second son of Lord Shiva

The discus and the conch symolizing Lord Vishnu

Goddess Lakshmi sitting on a lotus

The Brindavanam of Sri Raghavendra Swamy

18 squares symbolizing the 18 holy steps one has to climb to view the Sanctum Sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala

The favorite elephant god Ganesha!

It was nothing so elaborate in my home...but my mother religiously set up the "Golu" - a gallery of handcrafted dolls representing major deities, scenes from everyday life, doll sets representing mythological events and so on. These dolls get handed down from generation to generation. In Tamil, Golu means a sovereign sitting in his royal durbar. The underlying belief in arranging the dolls in a tier is to depict Goddess Durga or Mahishasuramardhini, sitting in her Golu, prior to the slaying of the demon Mahishasura!

But whether it was our family home in Chennai or our home, the best part always came after the prayer - the food! For each of the nine days a different sweet dish would be prepared. One day it would be creamy semiyan payasam or kheer, the next day sticky chakra pongal/jaggery rice laced with cashews, then it would be rich rava kesari or melt in your mouth mysore pak!

And then to balance the sweetness there was sundal......tangy, spiced chick peas seasoned with mustard and garnished with grated coconut.

Recipe for sundal:

1 cup chole/white chick peas or garbanzo beans soaked overnight
1/4 tsp oil
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1tsp black gram dal
1-2 dried red chilies - adjust to taste
2-3 tbsp freshly grated coconut, frozen works too
salt to taste

Drain the chick peas, add 1 1/2 cups of water, bring to high boil and cook over a stove top so it does not get too cooked and mushy. It should have a bite to it, not too soft or too raw. It should take about 15 minutes. Halfway through add some salt to it. Drain the water. In a skillet add the oil, add the mustard seeds. Once they start popping add the black gram dal and red chilies. Stir till the black gram turns reddish brown. Add the cooked chick peas and give it a toss. Add the coconut, cook for another 2 minutes, serve warm.

So what will I be doing this Navratri??? I will decorate our puja room with flowers, light lamps in the evenings, maybe make sundal......and then my mom just told me this evening that she has unearthed an old wooden box that had been hiding in her loft, which has really old handcrafted mud dolls that belonged to her grandmother.....!!! So I am waiting eagerly for her to bring them tomorrow....shall share that will all of you!
Have a great holiday and festival season!


GB said...

Kamini, that was spectacular and touching at the same time.

Happy navratri!

Anonymous said...

You definitely made me nostalgic! And I am setting up the golu here in San Jose right now :).

Patricia Torres said...

What an awesome awesome post!! That sure is a grand celebration.. I love it when the woman sit to make gardlands out of the flowers... I've tried this a few times.. and failed miserably..

Love the diyas.... with the rangoli made to look like peacock feathers... I'm going to take that idea... and recycle for Diwali..

The food is always the best part of any celebration!!

Anpu said...

Oh Kamini - your post is making me nostalgic of the navrathri, we used to celebrate at home in Mumbai, the Golu and all the preparations,and the evening haldi kum kum. We were the only home, that used to keep the everyone would just come home...and have the hot filter coffee and Shundal.
Loved the flower rangolies and all those beautiful golu dolls. I am desperately looking for these Golu dolls...and i believe you probably only get in Chennai...
Thanks for the lovely post...makes me want to reach out and give you a hug. Thanks the lord, I dont have your number...:)
Anyway, grab that ox and all those precious mud dolls...

~mE said...

Oh my! those flower rangolis are so creative and pretty.. i like the way a garland is draw with flowers. I am going to copy :)
thanks for sharing kamini

purplehomes said...

what a beautiful post! I loved going through it..and actually read it twice:) the rangolis are so intricate & gorgeous.

jayashree chithi said...

taht was so beautiful!takes me backto my childhood-my grandparents place in kollengode where golu was celebrated much the same way..and then our own home in delhi too, where it was 9 days of goodies and going out in our pattu pavadais to other homes for golu,being made to sing(!)and returning with bags of praadams and other goodies..much like the return gift bags of today!wish we could relive those days!The rangolis are awesome and the idea of a theme for each day is as novelas the ideas!hope you carry on a bit if this tradition at your home, so we can come and see and savour..amma would be a too willing helper and advisor,i'm sure.

PreeOccupied said...

I don't know if my last comment got posted here. I am having problems commenting.

Kamini said...

Thanks all, and yes please feel free to take as many ideas from here as you want! Thats the whole idea...!
JC - I am tempted to do a similar thing, maybe just on one day...
Pree - didn't get any other comment from you.

Anu@My Dream Canvas said...

Kamini, this was the perfect way to start my morning. I am so nostalgic now. My grandparents passed away recently and the festivals will never be the same again. However the memories remain of the good times. Hopefully I can pass some of the traditions to my kids!!

PreeOccupied said...

My last comment which was actually the first vanished. Which is not really why I am back again. I want to tell you, I loved this post and thanks much for doing such a beautiful and informative post.

The Golu is so tradition, I have seen some in the past too, but you revived old memories. The floral "rangolis" are so beautiful, I wish I could do some here too.

Pavithra said...

Omg I am visiting here for the first time the decorations which you have done are marvellous and I am looking all these again and again.. cannot take out my eyes from that floral decor.. beautiful...

Anonymous said...

I read your blogs regularly and enjoy all your posts related to design.
The navratri pictures are not loading at all.

Do I need a password ?

Kamini said...


Do try now, it should work. A few months ago I messed around with Picasa web and accidentally deleted some pics off my blog :-( So every now and them when a reader notifies me I have to go in and bring them in again!
Welcome to my blog! :-)