Fasting and feasting - young Indians celebrate Navratra

March 30th, 2009 - 1:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Preeti Chopra, a 25-year-old media professional here, is on a diet of potatoes, rock salt, kuttu ka atta (black wheat flour) and fruits.

Since Friday (March 27), when Hindus began celebrating the spring Navratra, a nine-day festival coinciding with the birth of Lord Ram on Ram Navami April 3, Preeti has been thriving on the frugal Navratra fare.

Traditionally, devotees fast through the day and break it at sundown after praying to Goddess Durga, the feminine deity of strength, to whom the festival is dedicated.

“But I don’t fast like my mother and grandmother. I eat a traditional Navratra breakfast in the morning and carry chips and fruits to work. However, I diligently read the ‘Ramayana’ every day after bathing in the morning,” Preeti told IANS.

A 10th generation Delhiite, she has been observing Navratra for the last 12 years.

Spring Navratra - also known as the Vasant, Chaitra and Ram Navratra across north India - is traditionally celebrated to welcome summer. Observed a couple of weeks after the spring equinox March 22, it marks a change in climate and is associated with cleansing the body to face the rigours of the Indian summer.

The festival is celebrated by millions in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and some parts of eastern India.

On the eighth day, devotees in Haryana and Punjab perform the ‘kanjak’ when little girls are worshipped as “manifestation of the goddess” with food and gifts. The ninth day marks Lord Ram’s birthday.

Navratra, according to the traders’ fraternity, is also an auspicious period for new investments and acquisitions.

Traditions and spirituality apart, the spring Navratra is associated with special food.

The Navratra menu includes puris made of kuttu atta, sitaphal (pumpkin), paneer (cottage cheese), potato curry, potato fritters and namkeen (salted munchies). Everything is cooked with rock salt, minus onions and garlic.

But the Navratra fare is kind of a designer menu now, say hoteliers in the capital as more people prefer to dine out after evening prayers.

The simple meal is also sought after by health conscious foodies, keen to re-connect with tradition through a spiritual platter. Moreover, eating out saves time.

“Cooking such complicated traditional dishes at home and observing the sattwik (holy) kitchen rituals for vegetarian meals is difficult,” said Mita Mohanty, a professional from East Delhi.

She prefers the Navratra thali (platter) at the high-end eateries in the city.

In keeping with the spirit of the festival and the spurt in the Navratra lunch and dinner crowd, eateries are going out of their way to come up with creative menus.

Baluchi, an eatery at The Lalit near Connaught Place has rustled up a special Navratra platter for lunch and dinner priced at Rs.750.

“We have tried to be innovative this time, especially with potatoes,” said a spokesperson of the restaurant.

An average Navratra thali in the capital costs anywhere between Rs.150 and Rs.850 depending on the variety and quality of dishes.

Old-timers, however, still root for tradition. Vasanti Singh, a retired schoolteacher, usually fasts during Navratra.

“We do not eat ‘anna (rice or wheat)’ and stick to black wheat flour, saboo dana (cereals) and potatoes (sweet and normal),” Singh told IANS.

The family usually prays at a Durga or Ram temple on the eight and ninth days of the festival.

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