Navarathri – Messages of a Festival

Navrathri Kolu at Sri Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Salem

October, 2018

Navarathri means nine nights in Sanskrit, and is the name of the festival dedicated to the worship of goddess Durga Devi. It refers to the nine nights of darkness and of battle against evil and the tenth day of victory and of light.

This year, at the Ramakrishna Mutt temple in Salem, there were five sections in the Navarathri Kolu.

The first section had the most beautiful rangoli of Durga devi, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

During this nine day festival nine different manifestations of the goddess Durga are worshipped. The nine goddesses are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Maha Gowri, and Siddhidatri.

The nine devis of Navarathri,the manifestations of devi Durga and the slokas in Tamil for each devi, to be recited during on the nine days of Navarathri

The message of Navarathri is the innate strength of woman. We only need to remind ourselves of this tremendous strength within us. Goddess Durga shows us that we are capable of standing up to evil, to conceit, to atrocity, that we too can stand up and battle the demons in our life. That we can say no firmly to weakness, to fear, to wickedness, to tears, to feeling helpless. Just tell yourself, ‘I am strong’, ‘I can face any hardship that comes my way and triumph’.

The second and fourth sections were the Bommai Kolu – the traditional display of painted clay dolls on specially put up golden steps.

Each step had groups of dolls of different kinds, like,the Chettiar and his wife selling provisions, dolls depicting Dasavatharam, the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, dolls of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati and of Ardhaneshwara, Ganesha and Muruga.

Navrathri Kolu (5)

Navrathri Kolu (2)

Navrathri Kolu (1)

The central section had an idol of Goddess Durga as Mahisha Mardhini, the slayer of the buffalo faced demon, Mahishasura. To her right and left are goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati. Ganesha and Subramanya are seen below on either side of the vanquished demon Mahishasura.

The last section was dedicated to the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekanadha’s famous Chicago addresses. It showed Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and a miniature of the Art Institute in Chicago,USA, the venue of the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893.

The Parliament of Religions was held here from September 11 to September 27, 1893.

It was within its halls,that 125 years ago, on September 11th 1893, Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous, trail blazing Chicago address.It was here that his words swayed a gathering of 4000 and went on to sway the heart of a nation, where people had no true idea of India and of the Hindu religion.

He addressed the audience first on September 11. More lectures were to follow in further sessions and he went on to become one of the most popular speakers at the Parliament. His address at the final session was delivered on September 27.  

Parts of his speech and lectures were exhibited at the Kolu, both in Tamil and in English.

The impact of reading his memorable words is as strong today, as it was for those who heard them delivered more than a century ago. For those who were fortunate to hear his words on that day, half way across the globe, the impact was huge and decisive. It permanently changed the way the world looked at India and its understanding of the Hindu religion.




Certain days in the Hindu almanac are considered very auspicious. The festival of Navarathri is celebrated for ten such days that are considered to be very holy. Nava means  nine, rathri means  nights. Navarathri is nine nights and one day devoted to the worship of the Divine Mother in her various forms. The Divine Mother symbolizes all womanhood and the creative energy of woman known as Shakthi.

All over India Navarathri is celebrated in various forms that are unique to the different States, as Durga Puja in West Bengal, Dussera in Karnataka, Navarathri in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh , as Kullu Dussera in Himachal Pradhesh and so on.

Navarathri Kolu

Navarathri Kolu
Navarathri Kolu at Ramakrishna Mutt, Salem

In Tamil Nadu  an important part of the festival is the Kolu which is an arrangement and display of dolls called the Kolu Bommai on decorated makeshift steps called the Kolu Padi. These steps are usually in odd numbers.

Navarathri in Tamil Nadu is also a celebration of the girl child. All girls below the age of 9 years, are thought to personify Ambal who is often worshipped as a young girl.

The dolls that are used for the Kolu are handed down from generation to generation. New dolls are bought to add to the existing collection.

There are traditional wooden dolls called as Marapaachi Bommai, colourful painted dolls made of clay and papier mache of Gods and Goddesses, the Thanjavur Thalaiaati  Bommai whose head nods in the slightest breeze…the range is awesome.


There are doll – sets depicting scenes from the Ramayana,  Mahabharatha, Hindu weddings and so on.

Scene from the Ramayana
Scene from the Ramayana
A wedding in Tamil Nadu
A wedding scene
Tales of Krishna
Tales of Krishna – Dolls on display at the Poompuhar Crafts emporium
The Court of Lankeshwara
The Court of Ravana -Poompuhar Crafts emporium
Dolls for sale at the Poompuhar crafts emporium
Dolls for sale at the Poompuhar crafts emporium

As you can see, Kolu is fun! Who doesn’t love dolls!!

On all nine days special pujas are done in the mornings and evenings. It is an occasion to invite friends, relatives, and neighbours to look at the Kolu. Married women and young girls who come to see the Kolu are given gifts of a coconut, betel leaves and betel nut, small boxes of turmeric, kumkum, a small mirror, a comb , bangles  and lengths of coloured fabric for stitching blouses. All these are considered very auspicious. They are asked to sing devotional  songs which also adds to the fun.

Kolu display in the Ramakrishna Mutt in Salem.

A special dish called Sundal is prepared on all nine days. It is made of lentils or pulses which are different on each day. Sundal is given to all the guests as a take home gift. Sometimes there is a delicious sweet dish called puttu instead of sundal.


This lovely picture of Sri Krishna is not a painting! It is a perfect Rangoli made by a young girl who is a student of Class XII as part of the Navrathri Kolu at Sri Ramakrishna Mutt in Salem.

This just goes to show that talent is nothing but some aspect of the Divine that inspires and manifests through a chosen few such as this young girl, Lalithambigai whose name appears in the lower right corner of this Rangoli.


20th October,2015