Navratri: Worship of the Divine Mother
Navratri, literally “nine nights,” is a nine-day festival that worships the Divine Mother in all her many forms …
This motherly aspect of God is referred to variously as Durga, which literally means the remover of the miseries of life; Devi, or Goddess; and Shakti, the universal energy or power.
Also sometimes referred to as Durga Puja, Navaratri begins on the new moon and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashwin (Aswayuja), this year commencing on October 8th.
As with many festivals in India, Navratri is significant in multiple ways. On one hand, it represents the period of nine days and nights when the Goddess fought Mahishashura, the buffalo-headed demon, finally destroying him on the tenth day.
It is also said that Lord Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days in the year, and this festival commemorates her visit. As a result, children make an attempt to return home, and families re-unite during this time.
In earlier times, this festival was also associated with the fertility of Mother Earth. Thus, on the first day of the celebration, grains of barley are planted in the puja or ceremony room of the house and are watered daily. On the tenth day, these seedlings are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from God.
The Three Aspects of Devi Worshipped During Navratri
Yoga teaches us that the central purpose of our existence is to recognise our eternal identity with the Supreme Spirit. This state of one-ness, a state of absolute purity and perfection, is inherent within all of us, and our charge as human beings is to grow to realize this Divine state.
In order to achieve this, we must first rid ourselves of our many impurities. Once purified, we next need to acquire lofty virtues and Divine qualities. Only once we have attained these things are we then ready and able to gain true knowledge and understanding.
Symbolically, this journey is aided by the three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy, each of which are worshipped separately throughout Navaratri. The first three days are dedicated to the Goddess Durga, the next three to Goddess Lakshmi, and the final three to Goddess Saraswati.
On the first three days, Durga is invoked to help us conquer the lower animal qualities within us. As the supreme power and force, Durga represents the destructive aspect of the Mother who annihilates all impurities, vices, and imperfections. These first three days mark the first stage, or the elimination of impurities, along with a discerned effort to root out the negative tendencies in the mind.
The Goddess of good fortune, Lakshmi aids in acquiring higher transcendental qualities and a lofty, spiritual personality. As Swami Sivananda said, “The devotee has to earn immense spiritual wealth to enable him to pay the price for the rare gem of divine wisdom.” The perfect symbol of purity, Lakshmi bestows upon her devotees boundless divine wealth and is the centre of worship throughout these next three days.
Once purified and bestowed with divine qualities, the spiritual aspirant is capable of attaining wisdom. As the symbol of learning and divine knowledge, Saraswathi bestows upon her devotees knowledge of the Supreme and realization of the Divine Self.
This structure of worship throughout Navratri is a profound representation of the stages of evolution through which we all must pass. One stage naturally leads to the next. As Swami Sivananda also points out,
The Final Triumph
Navratri is celebrated as the ultimate conquest of good over evil. The festivities culminate on the tenth day, called Vijayadashmi (or Dussehra).
In Northern India, effigies of the Demon Ravana are burned – a custom whose origin can be traced back to the Ramayana. According to this great Indian epic, Rama prayed to the nine different aspects of Devi to accumulate enough power to be able to defeat Ravana.
This final day of Navratri can also be seen as the victory of the soul that has attained liberation while still in this material world, through the grace of the Mother Goddess.
About the Author:
Yogacharya is the director of International Yogalayam, www.discover-yoga-online.com