According to Hindu calender, today marks the beginning of Nava raathri festival with its great spiritual and religious significance. This annual festival ends on Vijaya Dashami occuring on 6 October.
In my boyhood, like in all brahmin households, we used to celebrate this annual festival with great joy, by having `kolu' (display of dolls). On such occassions, it was a custom for all members in the household to share work toward the festival's lofty aims and objectives.
In the afternoon on this day every year, my mother used to bring out wooden boxes and iron `trunks' (boxes which contained things but were not used very much) from our store room to the main living room. She used to be assisted by one or two attenders from my father's school (a government high school in which my father was the headmaster). They would place wooden planks on the boxes such that the system looked like a gallery. Then my mother used to spread pure white clothes on the planks and then place dolls in a systematic manner. This was the custom in all brahmin households in those days. The main dolls were the images of deities.
We three siblings (I, my sister and brother) used to take part in the work gladly. We used to feel inexplainably happy as if the dolls were our `close' friends who were coming to visit us and stay with us till the end of the festival.
It was a custom in brahmin households to invite all friends and relatives to the house (usually only women and children). Hence, we used to follow the custom. My dad used to borrow a typewriter (as shown in the image at the end of this paragraph) from the school for some time; my mother would type invitation letters to guests (with `carbon copies' for multiple guests) to take part in the festival. My parents would sign each invitation `card' and distribute them to our prospective guests irrespective of whether they were materially rich or poor.
When guests arrived, they would be welcomed in the traditional manner. Then the congregation would sing devotional songs as a reflection of their Bhakthi (Devotion). At the end of each evening's programme, my mother would serve `prasaad' (eatables with divine connotation) to all the guests. It was a common custom for women and children to visit each others house at least on one of the nine evenings (from around sunset to 8 PM).
The most important part of the festivity consisted of worshipping Goddesses Durgaa, Mahaa Lakshmi and Sarasvathi, for three days and nights each.
As children, we used to enjoy bringing in innovations by making models of mountain temple, hydel dam, park, houses etc. As I had always been interested in drawing, painting and basic electronics, I loved the excercise. My sister and brother, both younger than me, would assist.
We loved to get ideas from our friends' kolu and implement them in our own kolu. Our friends did the same way. We learnt from each other without any ego or jelousy. There was no room for negative competition.
More recently, in 1985-1986 (when I worked in Kerala), I used to visit a nearby temple to enjoy cultural performances such as classical dances marking Nava raathri.
Nava raathri is celebrated not only in India but also abroad, for instance in the West Indies.