>In 2010, the nine-day long Navratri Festival 2010 begins on 8th October 2010. Mahanavami / Ayudha Puja 2010 is on 16th October 2010 and Dussehra (Dasara) / Vijayadasami is celebrated on 17th October 2010.
Though there are five Navaratris devoted to Shakti, only three are in vogue. They are:
Sharad Navratri – Sharad Navaratri is the most important of the Navratris and is called as Navratri or Maha Navratri (the Great Navratri). Observed during the beginning of winter (September – October), this festival celebrates the killing of the demon, Mahishasura, by the Goddess Durga.
Vasant Navratri – Vasant Navaratri or Basant Navaratri is celebrated during Vasanta Ritu (spring season – March- April), this Navaratri is celebrated in North India. Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu celebrates this Navaratri in a grand scale.
Ashada Navratri – Ashada Navaratri is significant for the devotees of Goddess Varahi, this is celebrated in July-August. This Navaratri is called Guhya Navaratri in Himachal Pradesh. Varahi is one of the saptha mathrukas (seven mothers) who helped the Goddess Shakti in her fight against the demons, Shumbha and Nishumbha.
The most popular legend associated with Navaratri is the slaying of the demon king, Mahishasura, by Goddess Durga.
According to legends, Mahishasura was a powerful demon king who obtained a boon from the almighty that his death should be at the hands of a woman and by no other human being or any form of living being. His boon was granted and consequently he started doing violence on all human beings on the earth.
Unable to bear his cruelty, people prayed to Goddess Shakti, the consort of Lord Shiva, to save them from the demon. Shakti then took the form of Durga and entered a war with him, which lasted for nine days. The Goddess Durga killed Mahishasura on the tenth day.
The nine nights of Navratri denote the nine nights of the war between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura.
The first three days of Navratri are devoted to the worship of Goddess Durga. Each day is dedicated to her appearances, namely Kumari, Parvati and Kali.
In some places, there is a custom of planting barley seeds in a small bed of mud on the first day of puja. After the puja, the shoots when grown are distributed.
The fourth, fifth and sixth days of Navratri are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.
The seventh day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. A yagna is also performed during the day.
The eighth or ninth day is celebrated as Ayudha Pooja by commercial organizations, business houses, shops and establishments. Machines, equipments and tools that are used in the organization are cleaned and smeared with sandalwood paste (Chandanam) and vermilion (KumKum) and adorned with flowers.
During the eighth day, prayers are offered to Goddess Saraswathi. People place books of children and musical instruments before the goddess. Pujas are performed on the day.
The ninth day of Navratri celebrations is also known as Mahanavami or Maha Navami. Kanya puja is performed during the day. Nine young girls, who have not yet reached the stage of puberty, are worshipped as these nine girls are said to symbolize the nine forms of Goddess Durga. The feet of the girls are washed and the girls are offered food and a set of new clothes.
During the Sharad Navaratri, that is the September – October Navratri celebrations, the tenth day is celebrated as Dussehra.