KARACHI: Men, women and children greet each other at an open space around the Shri Swaminarayan temple in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. The attendees have gathered at the brightly lit, 234-year-old temple to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Navaratri.
In Pakistan, the nine-day festival began on September 26 and will continue till October 4. During this period, the devotees honor nine manifestations of their goddess, Durga, who is revered in the Hindu mythology for her strength, power and ability to protect the weak.
The Swaminarayan temple situated in the Serai Quarters area is not only frequented by Hindus living in the neighbourhood, but members of the community from elsewhere in the bustling megapolis too.
A worship spot is set up at the center of the open space with seating for men and women on each side, segregated with a tent. The visitors worship the goddess, donate food and other things before joining the festivities.
It starts with children, women and men playing Dandiya Raas (a traditional dance holding short sticks in hands that traces its root to India's Gujarat) around the worship spot. This is followed by a Ram Leela act, performed by men, even the roles of women characters.
“We celebrate Goddess Durga in Navaratri,” Gunwanti Ramesh Verma, a housewife in her early 40s, told Arab News on the 5th night of the festival on Friday.
“For nine days, we perform Dandiya Raas and worship [Durga], wear nice clothes, make delicious desserts and celebrate the occasion together.”
After running through nine nights, Navaratri concludes with Dussehra on the 10th day.
“When Lord Rama had a war with Ravana, Bhagwan (Lord Rama) needed a lot of force. Praise for Goddess Durga was held for two days, after which the goddess herself emerged,” Sunita Mukesh, a 31-year-old beautician, told Arab News.
"The goddess then handed over the manual to Lord Shri Rama Chandra. Hence, we worship Goddess Durga for nine days and celebrate Navaratri with full zeal."
Ravana is burnt on Dussehra, the 10th day of Navaratari, which signifies the triumph of good over evil.
“On the 10th day, Ravana will be burnt here [Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple],” Jawaharlal Advani, a member of the managing committee at Shri Swaminarayan temple, told Arab News.
"Ravana isn't burnt anywhere else in Karachi."
As Navarati marks the celebration of the strength of Goddess Durga, it is often aligned with women’s empowerment. Hindu devotees worship their goddesses for nine days staring from Shailputri on day one, followed by Brahmcharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidhatri on day nine.
“The way men and women walk side by side in today’s time, we worship these goddesses during the nine days and give importance to them,” said Roshni, a 24-year-old corporate employee who only gave her first name.
For some, Navaratri is a time of religious reflection and fasting, while for others it is a time to dance, feast and celebrate. Among the fasting customs are observing a strict vegetarian diet and abstaining from alcohol and certain spices.
“Throughout the nine nights, Navaratri is celebrated at all Hindu temples in Karachi, Pakistan and the entire world,” said Jyoti Maheshwari, a journalist by profession.
"We observe fast for nine days, alongside worship, while men, women and children gather at the temple and perform Dandiya, Garba, etc."