Navratri is one of the major and important festivals, celebrated to worship the Goddess Durga. It is essentially a nine day festival where different nine forms of the DeviDurga (Goddess) are worshipped. The festival is generally celebrated two times in a year (April and October). Many people observe a fast on this auspicious festival and visit temples to seek the divine blessings. Offering prayers to the Goddess every daygives inner peace to the devotees.
The legend has it that there was a very powerful demon king known as the Mahishasura. By worshipping Lord Shiva, he acquired mighty powers and began to commit atrocities on the people who took the name of the Lord other than him. He was so proud of his powers that he began to consider himself as a God. In order to safeguard the world from the evil practices of the demon, the holy trinity of God (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) came together and by combining their powers, created Goddess Durga. When Mahishasura saw the Goddess, he became attracted towards her beauty. The demon king was so mesmerized by the beauty of the Goddess that he sent her a proposal for the marriage. The Goddess agreed to marry him but on one condition that the Mahishasura have to defeat her in a battle. The demon king, so proud of his powers immediately accepted the challenge. The battle between the Goddess and Mahishasura lasted for nine nights and at the end of ninth night, the demon king was killed by the Goddess. From then on, the nine days came to be known as the Navratri.
During the nine days, people fast in order to please the Goddess and offer prayers for the prosperity of family and business. The temples and idols of Goddess in various parts of the country are beautifully decorated. Many people either break their fast on the eighth day (Ashtami) or ninth day (Ram Navami). On both these days, Kanya Pujan (worshipping girls) is held because they symbolize the Goddess Durga. The girls are given various things to eat such as the halwa, poori, chana, coconut, sweet, money and other gift items. After the Kanya Pujan is over, people break their fast. In various places Bhandaras and Jagratas are also organized.
The famous Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu sees a huge rush of the devotees during the Navratri festival. Thousands of devotees from various parts of India and world arrive at the Vaishno Devi Shrine. Visiting the temple, especially during the Navratri is considered to be auspicious and fulfills the needs of the people. The devotees have to trek (approx 13 km) to reach the Mata Rani Bhawan Complex. Besides walking, the people also have the facility to avail the helicopter services from Katra to reach the temple.
In Gujarat, people celebrate the festival in a very joyful manner. The girls dress themselves in the colorful ghagracholis and boys in the beautiful kurta pajamas. People of all ages gather together at a place where the Garbha Dance or Dandiya Raas is organized.
In the state of West Bengal, the festival is celebrated with great excitement and fervor. Special Pandals are set up in various parts of the state where the Goddess Durga is worshipped. Most of the Pandals are beautifully decorated according to the different styles or themes. A lot of extensive planning is done to build the Pandals. On the last day of Navratri, the idols that are placed in the Pandals are taken for a procession with people playing colors and dance. The idols are then immersed in the river.