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Story of Navratra

When Taimur the Lame invaded Delhi in September 1398 it was time for the Navratas preceding Dussehra. In those days the Kalkaji mandir and the one at Jhandewalan were the two highly venerated centres, writes R V Smith.

art and culture Updated: Sep 24, 2008 15:23 IST
R V Smith

When Taimur the Lame invaded Delhi in September 1398 it was time for the Navratas preceding Dussehra. In those days the Kalkaji mandir and the one at Jhandewalan were the two highly venerated centres.

While the Kalkaji mandir’s history goes back to a dim antiquity, Jhandewalan is said to have come into prominence during the reign of Prithviraj Chauhan in the last quarter of the 12th Century. Nadir Shah’s invasion took place on March 9, 1739, 341 years after that of Taimur.

The Vasanthik Navratas were due to be held. Mohammad Shah Rangila, the Mughal emperor, was quite secular in his approach and celebrated festivals like Basant and Holi and Diwali. Bahadur Shah Zafar, who came to the throne about 100 years after Nadir Shah’s invasion, was fond of eating the dal and rassa (with puris) sent by the seths of Chandni Chowk during the Navratas.

Historical evidence of Mughal participation (besides the stories of Akbar and his Rajput queens) in Delhi dates back to the time of Shah Alam, who helped in the re-construction of the Kalkaji temple. Akbar Shah II, his successor, continued his patronage and so did the latter’s son, Zafar.

The Navratas seem to have acquired more zealous participation in recent years, especially in the post-partition colonies. Earlier people used to worship at the ancient temples, but now because of the population explosion they prefer to worship in their own localities and feed not only the devotees but also passers-by in accordance with Purnic traditions.

The Chhattarpur mela held during the Navratas in Delhi is famous for its langar and people stand in long queues to taste the food distributed free to all. The Kalkaji mandir, near Okhla station, is believed to have been built in pre-historic times, though the oldest portions of the present building were constructed between 1764 and 1771. Besides the Navrata mahotsava, a fair is held there every Tuesday in honour of the goddess Kali.

There are many temples in Jhandewalan, including an ancient one of the Devi, which draws big crowds during the Navratas. One afternoon witnessed 60,000 people for darshan,of whom 13,000 ate at the mandir. Hanuman Mandir, near Connaught Place, also draws big crowds on Tuesdays and Saturdays, more so during the Navratas.