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Celebrating the "Festival of the Nine Nights"

By Ed Brock

For Indians around the world the nights this week are filled with dancing and prayer.

Now is the time for ”Navratri,“ the Festival of Nine Nights, during which Hindus give special worship and thanks to the goddesses who provide the world with blessings. The festival began on Tuesday and continues until Oct. 15, said Dee Patel of Jonesboro, a member of the Shakti Mandir Hindu Temple in Lake City.

”It's called the Festival of Nine Nights but we celebrate it for longer,“ Patel said.

Around the temple and the Sumant Center educational building at 1450 Huie Road brightly colored, illuminated decorations have been erected. Somewhere around 4,000 people, from near and far, are expected to gather in circles around the ”mandap,“ a type of shrine bearing a likeness of the goddess Amba Mata, in the gymnasium-sized central room of the Sumant Center.

”The god is in the middle and we dance around her,“ Patel said.

There is a smaller ”mandap“ in the temple where the festival attendees will gather around 8 p.m. on each night of the festival for prayer. The dancing starts around 9 p.m. and can continue until the early morning hours.

”The dancing is for all ages, from two years to 80 years,“ Patel said. ”I have a 2-year-old daughter and she's so looking forward to coming tonight.“

The festival is dedicated to the three main goddesses of Hinduism, Parvati, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. Each night of the festival is dedicated to a different.

Singers are brought in from India to perform and the participants wear special costumes.

”People sometimes go to India to shop (for the festival garb),“ Patel said.

Patel said there are other temples in the Atlanta area where the Navratri celebrations are held and people will visit different locations during the time of the festival to enjoy the different singers. While there are Navratri dances at temples in Savannah Patel said residents there will often come to Atlanta for the larger celebrations.

The dances can be complex. Some women will balance heavy headdresses topped with candles at one point in the ”garba,“ or dance, but each participant is well practiced.

”We grew up doing this dance,“ Patel said.

Even during weekdays about 700 people are expected to come to the festival.

Parking at the temple is $5 and admittance to the dance is $10 for non-members.