Navratri is the Hindu festival of nine nights dedicated to the glorification of Shakti, the feminine form of the Divine. During these nine nights, the mother goddess is worshipped in nine different forms. Navratri culminates on the 10th day with the festivities of Vijayadashami, also known as Dusshera. A common greeting during this festival is Shubh Navratri (Happy Navratri).
Navratri is celebrated all over India and among the Hindu diaspora with great fanfare. Prior to the festival, skilled artisans prepare clay models of the goddess in her various manifestations. Many Hindus take part in special ceremonies, rituals, fasts and festivities. People buy new clothes, prepare delicious sweets and buy gifts for family and friends. During Navratri, many Hindus in Gujarat and elsewhere wear colorful costumes and perform a special type of vigorous dance known as garba. Traditionally, garbas are performed around an earthen lamp or images / statues of the mother goddess.
In eastern India and in the Bengali diaspora, during the last six nights of Navratri, the goddess Durga is worshipped in a grand manner. She is venerated in the form of a fierce, but kind many-armed goddess riding atop a lion or a tiger, and stamping on the demon Mahishashura. On the 10th day following Navratri, the statue of the goddess Durga is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with singing and dancing to be immersed in a river or the sea.
In north India, Vijayadashami, also known as Dusshera is the 10th day following Navratri. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and marks the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana. Huge effigies of Ravana are burnt on this day.
Navratri is observed in the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin. In 2011, Navratri starts on Sept. 28 and lasts until Oct. 6. Durga Puja celebrations begin on Oct. 1, 2011.