On Saturday afternoon, Savitri “Savvy” Iyer, her husband, Bala Iyer, and their son Rahul and daughter Shreya welcomed several other Hindu families to sing songs, share food and admire their intricate display of 100 dolls, or golu, representing an array of Hindu deities in various forms. The colorful displays are assembled by Hindu families to celebrate Navratri, the nine-night autumn festival honoring females of all ages.
“It’s a most auspicious time celebrated by Hindus the world over,” said Pratibha Shalini, a community organizer from Folsom who in the last week has dressed up in her best silk and cotton saris and jewelry along with her 12-year-old daughter Sukanya and gone “golu-hopping” to two dozen Hindu homes in the area. “People often choose these nine days to get married, name their children and buy new homes or cars,” Shalini said. “We clean up the house, get new clothes, decorate our altars, don’t eat meat or eggs, and try to heighten our senses to be more aligned with the energy within us.”
The first three days, which began Oct. 5, are dedicated to the goddess Durga, representing courage and confidence, Shalini said. The second three days focus on Lakshmi, representing prosperity. And the final three revolve around Saraswathi, representing knowledge and wisdom.
Savvy Iyer – as the hostess – gave her female guests gifts of fruit, betel nuts and lucky red kumkum powder in red velvet bags. When she and Shreya, 10, visited their friends’ homes, they too left with small gifts. The custom calls for women to make the rounds with their pre-teen daughters.
“We consider them little goddesses,” said Chitra Sivakumaran of Gold River, who also made the rounds with her daughter Chitra Leka. The 5-year-old came away with sweets, fruit and trinkets. “During these nine days, we sing a lot, chant a lot, do a lot of prayers and it brings us a lot of positive energy – we are always very cheerful.”
The hostesses bless their guests with a prayer – “May the light be with you,” Sivakumaran said.
“All women are considered goddesses,” said Shunmuga Sundaram, a software engineer at Intel whose wife, Ajuja, also has an ornate display of holy dolls where she and her friends pray, sing and laugh. “In these nine days, these three goddesses all merge into one body, Durga – they give her their weapons to fight against evil.”
During Navratri, Hindus seek to rid themselves of the nine demons of ignorance, foolishness, greed, ego, addiction, hatred or detachment, arrogance, jealousy and lust.
“These are seen as male demons – males are bad and females are good,” said Bala Iyer, a software engineer for the California Tech Agency. “In India, men are not even invited,” Sundaram said, as the mothers and daughters sang classical Indian songs and ballads honoring their gods.