Navarathiri (which means “nine nights” in Tamil) is celebrated in honour of Mother Goddess Rajarajeshwari who takes the form of various Goddesses; Sri Durga (representing power), Sri Lakshmi (representing wealth) and Sri Saraswathy (representing knowledge). For nine nights the temples in Singapore echo with the exotic sounds of Indian music, songs and dances in honour of Goddess Rajarajeshwari. The nine nights festival is divided into three segments of three nights, each dedicated to one Goddess at a time.
Each day, observers of this festival either fast or take only one meal a day. Abstinence and austerity is observed during this period. An interesting feature of the festival is golu meaning display of various idols of Hindu gods, goddesses, sages, poets, mythological characters, war heroes, national leaders, animals, etc are displayed on a row of steps called Golu Padi. Giving thambulams is as important as the Golu itself and is an integral part of Golu. Thambulam is a gift consisting of betel leaves, betel nuts, turmeric, vermilion, flowers and some fruit. Coconut, glass bangles, a bindi / kumkum container, a small mirror are also added to the thambulam. Affluent families also add small trinkets, small pictures or idols of Hindu gods, goddesses and other such useful items. Served during Navarathiri is the delicious and mouth watering soondal (a dish of cooked pulses). In commercial organizations, business houses, shops and establishments the eighth day is celebrated as Ayudha Pooja. The office or place of business is cleaned and given a new look. All the machines, equipments, tools etc. that are used in the organization are cleaned and smeared with sandalwood paste and vermilion and adorned with flowers.
In Hindu homes, on the ninth day or Navami, prayers are offered to Goddess Saraswathi the Goddess of Knowledge. Books of children and youngsters as well as musical instruments are placed before the Goddess on that day and pujas (prayers) performed. Hindus believe that the Goddess resides in books, in all forms of reading / learning material as also in musical instruments. The placing of these items in worship is therefore a sign of respect to those forms that impart knowledge to us. On the tenth night, also known as Vijayadhashami (meaning the Day of Victory), the statue of Mother Goddess, splendidly adorned with flowers and jewellery is placed on a chariot and paraded around the temple in a symbolic victory of the Goddess over the demon Mahishasuran. According to Hindu mythology, a very powerful asura (demon king) Mahishasuran, prayed to the almighty and asked for a boon – that his death should at the hands of a woman and by no other human being or any form of living being.
On being granted his wish, he started inflicting atrocities on all human beings on the earth. He considered himself to be immortal as he thought that it was impossible for a woman or any female form of a human being to be powerful enough to kill him. When his cruelty became unbearable, people prayed to Sakthi the consort of Lord Shiva to save them from the demon and to provide them with salvation. Sakthi then took the form of Durga and slayed the demon. The fight between Durga and Mahishasuran is said to have lasted for nine days and nights.