India is a land of culture, tradition, and festivities. The beauty of it lies in how diverse it is. The season of festivities that last nine nights start on the 17th of October this year and culminates on the 25th. These nights and ten days are dedicated to the nine forms (avatars) of Goddess Durga and commemorates the victory of good over evil.
Though Navratri revolves around a single belief, it is celebrated differently across the country. Varied approaches in seeking blessing, different forms of prayer, distinct rituals and of course, the vibrant and diverse food culture.
Fasting is considered an important element of the Navratri preparations and devotees steer clear of non-vegetarian food. Many households refrain from consuming onion and garlic and follow a satvik diet. Simple food with very little masala and considerable emphasis is given to the forgotten grains like buckwheat, finger millet and water chestnut flour. Sabudana (tapioca pearls) steal the limelight during the Navratri festivities and is turned into a khichdi, or a fritter (vada). This becomes a delicacy during this time of the year! Potatoes, colocacia, lotus seeds, raw papaya, raw banana and seasonal fruits are made use of in the most beautiful ways.
Though a vegetarian, home-cooked meal is regarded ideal, Bengalis consider Durga Pooja as the time for eating out. There are hardly any restrictions on what they eat, community bhogs (meals) form a big part of their celebration and Khichdi, Baigun Bhaja (fried brinjal), tomato-date chutney, Lucchi and more embellish the feast.
The one common element that is mandatory be it Diwali, Onam, Christmas, Eid or Navrathri is the presence of sweets. Sweets are made as an offering or just as part of the celebration, halwa made of bottle gourd (lauki) , potatoes, semolina, or sweetmeats like Kalakand, Payasam, Laddoos adorn the kitchens of every house hold.
In South Kerala, Goddess Saraswathy is worshipped on the 7th and 8th day and Chundal, an offering made of black chick pea tempered with coconut and mustard seeds is served with tea. The Brahmin communities arrange beautiful ‘Golus’, the festive display of dolls and figurines, at home and little girls are gifted with hampers that hold a small mirror, kumkum, kajal, bangles and sweets. Rice is substituted with different grains in the North, whereas lemon rice, coconut rice, tamarind rice and tomato rice are prepared in the South. Navadhaniyangal (nine grains) gets used in skilful ways during this period. Sugar is easily replaced with jaggery and each day begins with a note of sweet treat.
While the crux of the festivity revolves around recognizing how goodness always prevails, there is a contrast in how it is observed. For each their own, and the essence of unity lies in this very belief.
Information courtesy: Anindya, Ankur Namdev and Revathy Krishnan
(The author is a food blogger and culinary enthusiast)