Today is Maha Navami, the ninth day of the auspicious navaratras. Going by the recommended dietary items permitted during the fast, losing weight can pose a real challenge, unless one is particularly strict and eats frugally, as most ingredients allowed during the fast are carbohydrate-and-fat rich.
A navaratra fast can also be daunting for many, as a variety of food items have to be avoided. Onion, garlic, and chemical salt are a strict no-no but rock salt is allowed. Spices permitted during the holy nine-day period are: red chillies, cumin, kalonji, turmeric, small cardamom, whole black pepper, poppy seeds and water melon seeds. Other items to ‘spice’ up one’s food may consist of fresh coriander, green chillies, and ginger.
Fruits, nuts, coconut, sugar, makhana, milk and milk products are allowed as offerings and in recipes.
Pooris or chapatis are made with flour from water chestnut, kottu and rajgiri; khichdi is made from saboodana, and arrowroot is also included. Oil and ghee are used liberally to cook the various dishes.
Vegetables that are considered auspicious for the occasion are: potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, arbi, raw papaya, raw banana, curry leaves, lemon, water chestnut, and yam.
Navaratri in south India is very traditional and colourful. Women gather together in the evenings and visit each other’s houses, paying obeisance to the Goddess Durga. Married women, symbolizing the mother goddess Shakti are invited home and offered vermilion, betel leaves with betel nut, a coconut, a piece of colourful silk or cotton cloth, glass bangles, bindis, and a mirror. All these are the signs of marriage known as ‘sumangali’ and auspiciousness.
Children who come visiting with their mothers are charmed by the multi-coloured decoration of steps made in odd numbers, for example three, five, seven and so on. These steps are decorated with dolls (almost like a Christmas tree) and the celebration is called ‘Golu’. Children also love the different chana preparations made everyday, known as ‘Sundal’.
Sundal is made of different types of dals such as kabuli chana, small chana dal, black chana, green gram, cholai, dried peas, etc.
On Maha Navami day, little girls are invited and offered vermilion, clothes, and sweets. They sing devotional songs to the goddess Shakti and perform Saraswati puja.
The fasting and feasting ends on Dashami day with much joy and gaiety.