From the morning of 'Mahalya' the atmosphere takes a sudden turn. It seems so pure and divine that words can not express it and the best part of it in small towns and cities is the chanting on loud speakers by the priests. This is the beginning of Navratra which also signals a beginning of festivities which continue till Holi.
Navratra is not only associated with prayers to God Durga but also with good food. On the one hand, one can find people on a fast for the 9 days when they eat 'satvik' food: fruits, halwa of kutuk flour, makhana kheer. On the other hand are the mortals who love navratra for the 'prasad' and the good food. In houses where priests come to perform puja, the kids wait excitedly for the gentleman to finish his puja so that they can get the 'prasad' which can be anything ranging from illaichidana to fruits or sweets.
The actual feelings start sinking in by the 6th day when the idols are nearly ready and the roads are blocked for vehicular traffic on the 7th, 8th, 9th day so that people can walk around and see the idols. Patna gets some very artistic ones every year and the work of the artisans is to be marvelled at. On a normal day one may not feel like walking down the streets of Patna but during 'navratra' one can walk kilometres without feeling any pain or tiredness. such is the spirit of this festival. Though I never liked walking around the town to view the idols, my cousin next door was an enthusiast. I remember her going with her parents very early in the morning to see the idols and sometimes they would return late. My brother would take me out when we went shopping for fruits and sweets for my mother who keeps a fast on 'Mahaashtami'.
Right from day 7 till the final day mothers spend a lot of time in the kitchen making savories of all kinds. I remember waiting impatiently for the gulab jamuns and dahi badas that my mom made, not to forget the parathas stuffed with chana daal. One of my maternal aunts made coconut ladoos jsut for me. The wait for relatives, the visit to relatives and devouring sweets from evening till late night are things to relish during Durga Puja, It's a time to forget fad diets and enemities; it's a time to enjoy and bask in the glory of God Durga.