These 10 days days, when the climate across the country is a mellow autumn, when the sun is just about the perfect temperature ,clear blue skies and gentle breeze .Sigh !!!
Coming to the variations , starting with Mahalaya ,the 10 days are full of festivities and are celebrated as Durga Puja or simply put "Pujo" in Bengal . The idols eyes are drawn by the artisans on the first day of puja or the Mahalaya day ( The day AIR has been airing "Ya devi sarvabhuteshu …..., " the invocation to the godess in the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra at 4am from as long as i can remember ) .Sashti -day 6 is when the idols are brought into puja pandals . This is in the east
In the south , these 10 days become Dussehra in Karnataka with the breath taking decoration of the Mysore palace and the procession of goddess Chamudeshwari at the hill top temple. Navaratri in Tamil Nadu as we all know is where Golus are kept . In the west and the north this is called Navratra with dandia raas which is particular to Gujarat .
Ashtami- day 8 is celebrated in Bengal/ Bihar as Mahaashtami which is also Saraswati puja for Bengalis as well as Malayalees . This is ONLY saraswati puja for both communities . They put their books and pens up for worship and these are worshipped through ashtami and navami . The best part is, no one is supposed to do any reading as long as the books are up for worship . The books and pens are taken back on Dashami and everyone does some amount of studying/reading on Dashami. Children are introduced to the written word on Dashami .
Speaking of Vijayadashami , I should also add here that on Dashami , in the north there is something called "Ravan dahan " , three huge idols of Ravana, Kumbhakaran and Meghanath are erected in a large open playground of sorts. These idols are full of firecrackers . On Dashami evening, actors dressed as Srirama and Lakshmana are taken in a procession and they shoot fire arros at these idols and set them afire. The idols explode into brilliant fireworks . Boils down to destruction of evil, victory of good over evil . I had the good fortune of growing up amidst all this .
In other parts of south india, these aforementioned days are celebrated as Ayudha Puja, worshipping not only books but also work tools, vehicles and implements . - slight difference even among the southern states here !
BUT in the north both of these days (apart from Bengal's saraswati puja ) are not only on different days but are also differentiated from each other . The saraswati puja is sometime in January/February with the advent of spring. Each house quietly celebrates it or it is celebrated as a community puja but on a smaller scale . This involves worshipping only books and study materials and knowledge in general .
Worship of tools, implements ,all mechanical things etc. comes in the form of Vishwakarma puja , in honour of the celestial engineer-cum-blacksmith-cum-goldsmith Lord Vishwakarma . This is celebrated on September 17th on a pretty large scale mostly in factories and workshops .
As if all this fun wasnt't enough , these is lakshmi puja or " Lokhi pujo " sometime between navarati and diwali , and the solewhat spooky "kali pujo" bang at midnight on the night of diwali !!
So , for a single festival, conveying more or less the same emotion and devotion, we have plenty of variations both in time and practices across the length and breadth of the country but the net point is pretty much the same . In one word AMAZING !! HAPPY CELEBRATING !!