Navratri, which means worshipping of nine forms of a goddess, is one of the most important Hindu festivals. It is generally associated with ritual dance forms like garba and dandiya.
In Goa, it is associated with Makharotsav, which is held in various temples of Goa, especially in the Ponda region, where the deity is placed in a makhar which is a wooden, rectangular-shaped ‘temple’ that resembles a swing and is suspended from the ceiling.
It is heavily decorated with colourful glass, paper, flowers, etc, and the idol of the goddess is placed in it.
Along with this, many ritual-centric events are held in various temples of Goa, like Gondhal at Shri Navdurga Temple in Poinguinim, Canacona. Here, tarang and satri (representation of the deities) are brought out and men perform a ritual dance. This dance form is known as Gondhal.
In addition to these rituals during Navratri, there are some which are practiced in Hindu homes, especially in rural parts of Goa.
In the book, Feasts, Festivals and Observances of Goa by Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues, the author states, “At home, ladies perform pujas every day for nine days. Abstinence during these days is to be observed and shivrak (vegetarian) food is consumed. Payas or kheer is presented as an offering to the deity in the nivedya. Near the tulas (tulsi plant) a mathav (a small wooden structure) is erected and garlands of flowers are put on it, and everyday garlands are added. On the first day, one garland, second day, two, till the ninth day; every day by increasing one garland.”
This ritual of offering garlands to the tulsi plant is known as vastra ghalap. The married lady of the family makes these garlands at home for nine days. So, on the ninth day, nine garlands need to be offered. And, on the tenth day, which is the day of Dasara, or Dasro, one garland is offered.
All these garlands are generally made at home by the women of the family.
Interestingly, as the days start increasing; the number of garlands also increases. Thus, on ninth day, nine garlands are made. These garlands are made of flowers – mainly local, colourful flowers like hibiscus, shabduli, anant, to name a few – along with the leaves of aralia plant.
During this festival, the paddy harvest season begins. In many villages of Goa during Navratri, the paddy is harvested and brought to the local temple to get blessed. It is then distributed to the entire village. It is first kept at the tulsi vrindavan, along with coconut, and is worshipped again in each home.
This worshipped/blessed paddy harvest is hung on the main door of the house. Usually a garland of marigold flowers and mango leaves is also hung. This image has now come to be associated with Dussehra. But, in many parts of Goa, paddy harvest is used, instead.
There’s also a local tradition of exchanging the leaves of the aapto tree (Bauhinia purpurea) on this day. It is believed that these heart-shaped leaves symbolise gold.
All this usage of flowers and leaves indicate the wealth of the local biodiversity and also a change in the seasons. Now, as the monsoon season ends, there’s a change in the climate, and we witness the blooming of flowers and also the beginning of the paddy harvest season.
As we are traditionally an agrarian community, it is quite natural to make an offering of the harvest as we invoke blessings for the coming harvest season.
All these rituals indicate how connected we are to our ecology, and our festivals are in many ways revering this ecology. Thus, we need to conserve our green spaces as that’s an intrinsic part of our identity and our being.