Navarathri and the beautiful nine days of October is here. As I am typing this post, I recollect about the short vacation time during school years. It was called quarterly holidays. Memories of visiting neighbor’s and relative’s golu (dolls and figurines display), collecting numerous tiny packets of vethalai (beetal leaves), pakku (beetal nuts) and sundals, Carnatic songs (Indian Classical Music) reverberating through the nook and corner of my residential complex and memorable gifts from generous hosts comes by my mind when I think of those golden days.
In Hindu religious belief, three main goddess are considered very special.
1. Durga (Goddess of power)
2. Laskhmi (Goddess of wealth)
3. Saraswati (Goddess of wisdom)
The nine days are separated into three sets of three days each. On the first three days, we pray to Goddess Durga followed by Lakshmi and final three days is for Saraswati.
What is Navaratri / Golu?
Navaratri translates to Nine Nights. It’s a nine night festival celebrated to welcome the autumn season. It is considered as a sacred month for Goddess Durga. In South India, the ninth day is celebrated as Saraswati Pooja, a day to worship the goddess of wisdom and tenth day as Vijayadasami, a day to start new venture (work or learning a new art or registering for a course). On all these ten days, Goddess Durga is worshiped. The dates of the festival is determined from a lunar calender. It mostly falls in October (English Calender) every year. It is refered to as Durga Pooja in East India (West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Jharkhand). It is celebrated with garba and danya dance in West India (Mumbai and Gujurat). In Southern India, we call it gollu, where people set up steps (in odd numbers) and place idols on them.
What happens on Navaratri / Golu nights?
Since I come from South India, I am more equipped to talk about Golu celebration. The celebration begins on amavasai (no moon day) where women in home will pray to God and place kalasam (turmeric coated whole coconut placed in a silver Mahalakshmi Kodam) on the top-most step of gollu padi (Gollu Steps).
After dusk the freshly prepared sundals are offered to God. As a kid, I was impatient to get these rituals done. I would dutifully rock the silver bell for the arati and my lips would mechanically recite the slokas but my eyes would reach to the closest clock to check for the time that’s left to meet my girl friends. Once the evening prayers are offered by lighting lamps and quickly tasting the prasad, its dressing-up time. Clad in crisp pattu-pavadai (zari skirt-blouse), eyes lined with dark coal, ears dangling with jimkis, jasmine garland perched on top of the neat braid that would suave from left to right to the rhythm of the footsteps and the bells in the anklet dancing to the wind, young girls will step out complementing each other’s look and whispering the list of houses to visit for the evening. Much older girls will be draped in pretty Kanchivaram silk sarees, looking drop dead gorgeous, making every on looker on the street to awe at their beauty. Mothers will quietly announce “she is ready for marriage” tag to the world with the hope to be flooded with proposals.
Some house would have elaborate seven or nine or even eleven steps golu, while many will have five steps. It is important to keep the steps in odd number followed by logical arrangement of idols, with Lord Shiva, Ganesh, Vishnu, Murugan, Ranganathar placed at the top, followed by Ashta lakshmis (Eight Lakshmis) and then by Dasavatharam (10 avatars), then its Andal Kalyanam set, and the final row with statues of Chettiyar-Chettichis selling groceries. Along the side of the steps, there would be cricket team, park and zoo. We would discuss about whose golu looked the best and there would be one aunty in L1 block whose golu will have concepts from science exhibitions like display of drip irrigation or model with turbines moving with the flow of water, the electricity generated out of it will make a tiny light bulb placed along the paddy fields glow. We were always excited and curious to go and check out what new thing she will have for that year.
|My starters – Vegetable nuggets and cucumber sandwich
This year most of my friends have kept golu in the US. The coming weekend will be exciting as we get to dress up and visit my friend’s place for golu get-togethers or Golu party (that’s what we call it now). A much needed time to catch up with girl friends and their family over dinner. We dress up in traditional attires and my little one will wear kurta pyjama which my MIL sent. It will be an evening of long chats, scrumptious food and loud laughter. My friends always do an amazing job in setting up beautiful golus as good as the ones seen back home. With soothing devotional songs in the backdrop, golu steps glittering like a Christmas tree and the music echoing through my ears, there is divinity around and I get thr feeling of being back in India. This year I invited my friends for a simple gollu party last weekend. I didn’t set any steps with idols but called the girls for a “Navaratri” snack party and gave the traditional return gifts with kunkumam and manjal. I set the snacks as a buffet in my kitchen island.
|Return gifts for the guests – Puzzles for the kids and plastic box with manjal & kunkumam for women
Keys steps to plan a party
1. Plan ahead
2. Write the list of invitees
3. Shop a day before
4. Choose quick and easy recipes
5. Choose age appropriate return gifts
6. Have 1 starter, 1 sandwich, store bought snacks like Tex Mix or Chevda or Chips & Salsa, 1 drink (Soda or any homemade drinks), fruits, nuts.
See doesn’t that sound simple enough?
For my snack party, I served the following
1. Orange punch for drinks (recipe below)
2. Garbanzo beans sundal (kondakadalai sundal)
3. Vegetable nuggets (recipe coming soon)
4. Cucumber sandwich
5. Boiled peanuts in salt water (recipe coming soon)
7. Sesame and peanut candies (store bought)
9. Tostadas with soy chunks base and salsa (recipe coming soon)
It was a long tiring weekend. It was 10.30 PM by the time the guests left. A Quick shower for myself, diaper and dress change for little S who was still sleeping and we tucked ourselves comfortably inside the duvet. As I stare at the florescent stars studded ceiling in little S’s bedroom, I am tempted and inspired by my girl friends to get started with golu set up next year. Then I hear my son moan in this sleep, that reminds me of a boisterous boy at home and nightmares of he pulling out the base-cloth freaked me out. Next year I am going to try, I assure to myself. I was fast asleep within few minutes.Today I am sharing the recipe for one of the easiest drink ever. I tasted it for the first time at my friend Prerna’s place and I loved it from the first sip. She quickly shared the recipe with me. She made it with orange concentrate and ginger ale. Since I find the store bought concentrates too sugary, I replaced it with all-natural orange juice. For extra sweetness, I use coconut palm sugar syrup (homemade) or agave nectar. You can add more or less sweetness as your taste. I have been making this punch with mango, pineapple, lychee concentrate, sometime with ginger ale or with 7up. You can explore it with different fruits you have in hand.There is no recipe for it. You can add how much ever of each ingredient you want and come up with your own drink. You can a dash of vodka for a cocktail effect. The mild sweetness from mint leaves in every sip is so refreshing. The punch from ginger ale or 7 up blends so beautifully with the orange juice. Overall this drink is a winner.
Source: Prerna of Indian Simmer
Serves: 6 tall pitcher glass
- 6 cups ginger ale or 7 up
- 2 cups orange juice (more if you want)
- 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar syrup or agave nectar (also as per taste) or raw white sugar syrup
- 2 tablespoon fresh mint leaves – finely chopped or you could tear them too
- Mix them all together. Add some ice and serve cold.
- Make it after the guest arrives. You want the fix to stay for a long time. So make it around the time the guest come or after they arrive.
- Boil 3-4 tablespoon coconut palm sugar with 1/4 cup water and make a syrup out of it. Cool it and use it in the drink as a sweetener.