Traditional celebrations often propagate stereotypes. Occupy Navratri is a way of challenging stereotypes and creating awareness.
Growing up, Navratri was one of my favorite times of the year! My siblings and I couldn’t wait for my parents and grandparents to unpack the Golu doll boxes.
We didn’t have ready-made Golu steps in those days, so we had to get creative and make the steps out of tables, boxes, suitcases, anything remotely rectangular in the house. Even if it meant no dining table for the family for those nine days or no coffee table for our grandparents, everyone pitched in to make the nine steps.
Arranging Golu dolls in those steps was an elaborate ritual by itself. From gently unpacking the layers of old newspaper bits that safely wrapped the dolls to dusting and arranging them, my siblings and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Of course, our favorite part of the arrangement is what we called ‘the park’, which usually goes on the side of the nine steps and includes various figurines that portray regular human beings (while the steps are mostly reserved for gods and goddesses.)
As an adult, life got busy, so I haven’t celebrated Navratri for several years now. This year I decided to stop with my excuses, and to make an effort.
When I started preparing for the celebration, I felt the same excitement as I felt in my childhood and teenage days, but of course I am a very different person today. My sensibilities are different. I would like to believe the people in my life and the experiences I have had, have made me a better person. I don’t blindly follow traditions anymore, especially if they are religious.
Navratri, as many of us know, is a celebration of Hindu goddesses and typically considered a women’s festival. Unfortunately, Navratri continues to propagate some of the stories from the Hindu mythology which are sexist, casteist, discriminatory and biased. The festival also continues to portray social representations that are out-dated, irrelevant, and sometimes inappropriate.
Considering the status of women in our country today and the difficulties and challenges they face everyday, I wondered if there was anything I could do differently to put the nine days to good use. That’s how Occupy Navratri was born.
The word ‘Occupy’, as many of you might know, symbolizes the Occupy movement. The Occupy Movement is an international movement against social and economic inequality and the lack of ‘real democracy’. In the last few years, the movement has taken several forms and has been used by communities across the globe to challenge the status quo and demand real and meaningful change. In essence the word Occupy now means to challenge the status-quo. It’s about time that we occupied Navratri to make the festival relevant, fair, and inclusive.
Instead of blindly displaying out-dated arrangement of dolls, I decided to display dolls with messages against sexism, misogyny, classism, casteism, LGBT phobia and other forms of social evil. I used my dolls to tell stories of gender equality, class and racial equality, economic equality and LGBT equality.
Check out some of my Golu arrangements this year! They are available on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you find this inspiring, I invite you to join me in celebrating Occupy Navratri in your home. Let’s claim the space, create our own stories and celebrate fairness and inclusivity. By doing something as simple as this, I am sure we will trigger conversations in our communities that might lead to real change.
Images: Shridhar Sadasivan