A) Historical significance of Navratri
Navratri is a combination of two Sanskrut words, Nava meaning nine and Ratri meaning nights. It is a festival celebrating victory of good over evil.
It is believed that there was a demon king named Mahishasura. He was a staunch worshipper of Lord Bramha. After years of penace, Bramha was finally pleased and granted him a boon. Mad with power, Mahishasura asked for the immortality. However Lord Bramha explained that it will not be possible; everyone who is born must die. Mahishasura after some thinking then said that he should be granted a boon that no man or animal can kill him. He can be killed only by woman. Bramha granted him this boon. Armed with the boon, Mahishasura attacked the Trilok that is Pruthvi (Earth), Narak (Hell) and Swarg (Heaven). He even tried to capture Indralok (the kingdom of Lord Indra). Since he was granted the boon that no one except woman can kill him, even gods were helpless in front of him. The Gods worried that Mahishasura will defeat and conquer the Trilok prayed to Lord Vishnu for help. In order to defeat and kill Mahishasura, Lord Vishnu decided to create a woman form that will fight and kill the demon. The gods then approached Lord Shankar, the god of destruction. He along with Lord Bramha decided to put all their power in the woman, Goddess Durga, believed to be incarnation of Goddess Parvati, created by Lord Vishnu. Durg means fort and Durga means “All that is within the fort”. Accordingly Lord Vishnu created Goddess Durga and she was armed with all their powers by Lord Bramha and Mahesh, another name of Shiv Shankar, the weapons she received and their significance is as follows.
Weapons and their significance
- Trishul: The Trishul was given by Lord Shiv to Goddess Durga. The three sharp ends of it are a symbol of ‘Trigun’ or three properties of every living being on earth. The Triguns are Sattva, Raja and Tama
- Sudarshan Chakra: Shree Krishn gifted Sudarshan Chakra. It symbolises that the world is controlled by the goddess and the universe revolves around the centre of creation.
- Lotus: Lotus is the symbol of Lord Bramha which represents knowledge. Half bloomed lotus is a symbol of the rise of spiritual consciousness in the mind of a human being.
- Bow and Arrow: Bow and Arrow were given by Pawan dev and Surya dev which are a symbol of energy. Bow represents potential energy and Arrow represents kinetic energy. It also symbolises that Ma Durga controls all the sources of energy in the universe.
- Sword: Lord Ganesh gave Sword. It symbolises knowledge and wisdom. It represents the sharpness of wisdom while the shine represents knowledge.
- Vajra: Indra dev gave a gift of Vajra. It is the symbol of soul’s perseverance and strong resolving power. Ma Durga makes her devotees strong with indomitable self-confidence and will power.
- Spear: Agni Dev gifted Spear, a symbol of auspiciousness. It represents fiery power. It knows the difference between right and wrong deeds.
- Snake: Snake, given by Shiv is a symbol of consciousness and energy. It also represents the change from the lower level of consciousness to the higher level.
- Axe: An Axe and Armor has been gifted by Lord Vishwakarma. It is a symbol of fighting evil without worrying about consequences.
Goddess Durga, armed with all these weapons, fought with the demon Mahishasura for fifteen days. During the fierce battle that shook the Trilok, Mahishasura kept on changing his appearance to various animals to deceive Goddess Durga. In the end when Mahishasura took the form of buffalo, Goddess Durga pierced his chest with Trishul and killed him, thus ending Mahishasura’s reign of terror once and for all.
Demon Mahishasura exists even today within each one of us in the form of desires and temptations. Like Mahishasura, the desires and temptations keep changing their form and keep coming back. If we kill one desire, another one appears in its place. These desires and temptations if not controlled and destroyed take control of our life and rule us. Just like Goddess Durga was gifted with various weapons, we are also gifted with various weapons like Mind control, Sense control, Austerity, Purity, forbearance, knowledge, Wisdom and faith in God. In order to ensure that we remain masters of our life, we need to use these weapons to sharpen our intellect so that desires and temptations are kept in control and destroyed. Uncontrolled desires and temptations create hell in our life while exercising control over them results into bliss in our life.
Nine different avatars of Goddess Durga
On each day of Navaratri different avatars of Goddess Durga are worshipped.
- Day one – Ma Shailputri
On the first day, Ma Shailputri is worshipped. According to mythology, the name Shailputri is derived from two words— Shaila which means mountain and Putri meaning daughter. She rides a bull and holds a trident and a lotus flower in her two hands. She is considered as the previous form of Goddess Parvati. She is believed to be the provider of fortune and prosperity.
- Day two – Goddess Bramhacharani
The second day is dedicated to Goddess Brahmacharini. She pursued severe penance to get Lord Shiv as her husband. The unmarried form of hers is worshipped as Goddess Brahmacharini. She carries Jap Mala (string of beads) in one hand and a Kamandal in another hand. She is barefoot adorning a white saree. To please Ma Brahmacharini, devotees offer her white flowers and clothes.
- Day three – Goddess Chandraghanta
Goddess Chandraghanta is worshipped on the third day. She is the married form of Goddess Parvati. She started adorning her forehead with ardha Chandra (half Moon) after her marriage to Shiv and thus came to be known as Goddess Chandraghanta. Her vahan (vehicle) is tigress. She has eight hands and carries in her eight hands chakra, mace, Jap mala, kalasha (pot), lotus flower, bow, and arrow and Kamandal. She is known for fighting against all evil forces in the universe.
- Day four Devi Kushmanda
On the fourth day of Navratri, Devi Kushmanda is worshipped. She is the creator of the universe and controls all energy for new creations. Her vahan is a lioness. She is known as Aadi Mata, the supreme mother behind the creation of this universe. She bestows her devotees with glory, fame and prosperity.
- Day five – Goddess Skandamata
On fifth day, Goddess Skandamata is worshipped. She has four-arms carrying a kamal (lotus) in two hands, holds little Skanda or Kartikay in her lap with one of her right hands and the other hand is in Abhaya Mudra that deflects all fears and everything evil. The name Skandamata is derived from her son Kartikay, who is also known as Skanda. Skandamata in Sanskrut means the mother of Skanda, who is the son of Shiv.
- Day six – Goddess Katyayani
Goddess Katyayani is worshipped on sixth day. She took the form of Katyayani to destroy the Mahishasura. Her vahan is lion and she has ten hands. Sage Katyaayan worshiped Goddess Durga and pleased with the devotion of the sage, Ma Durga took birth as his daughter. Ma Katyayani blesses her devotees to get rid of all their sins and attain material wellbeing.
- Day seven – Goddess Kaalratri
On Saptami, the seventh day, the Kaalratri form of Goddess Durga is worshipped. It is believed that she sacrificed her golden skin colour to kill demons. Kaalratri is the most ferocious form of Goddess Durga. She is depicted with a dark complexion and has four arms. Her right hands are in Abhaya and Varada Mudra and she carries a sword and a hook in her left hands.
- Day eight – Goddess Mahagauri
The eighth day is dedicated to Goddess Mahagauri. The name signifies one who is extremely bright or bright like the moon. She rides a white bull, adorns white clothes only and hence is also known as Shwetambardhara. She blesses her devotees with wealth and wellbeing. She also helps her devotees to attain salvation.
- Day nine – Goddess Siddhidhatri The final day, Navami tithi, Goddess Siddhidhatri is worshipped. Goddess Siddhidatri sits on a lotus flower and her vahan is a lion. She has four hands carrying a Gada in one right hand, Chakra in the other right hand, a lotus flower in the one left hand, and Shankh in the other left hand. She is worshipped by devotees for receiving Siddhi and Nidhi, wisdom and wealth.
B) Celebration of Navaratri in different parts of India
Navratri is celebrated all over India. However each region has unique way of celebrating it.
East and North East India
Durga Pooja’s first day is Mahalaya, which heralds the advent of the goddess. Celebrations and worship begin on Shasthi, the sixth day. Exquisitely crafted and decorated life size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her killing the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and other places. She is shown with various weapons in her hand, riding on a lion. Lion signifies the dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds.
During the three days, the goddess is worshipped in her various forms as Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati. The celebrations end with Vijayadashami (“Tenth Day of Victory” ), when, amid loud chants and drumbeats, sacred images are carried in huge processions to local lakes rivers or sea where they are immersed.
In the state of Gujarat it is celebrated with Garba and Dandiya Raas dance. The word Garba is derived from the word “Garbh” which means the womb. In this, women dance around an earthen pot containing a lamp, symbolising the life within a womb. In the Dandiya dance both women and men participate with small decorative bamboo sticks. The dancers begin with a slow tempo, and go into frenzied movements, in such a manner that each person in a circle not only performs a solo dance with his/her own sticks, but also strikes his/her partner’s dandiyas in a very graceful fashion.
Unlike in other parts of India, In Maharashtra, Navratri celebration is personal and spiritual. They observe a ritual called Ghatasthapana on the first day of Navaratri. A small bed of mud is prepared in a container. In the middle of this, an earthen pot filled with water is placed. This vessel symbolizes Goddess Durga. Grains are sown in the soil around the pot and allowed to sprout. Five stems of jowar are also placed over the pot.
Women worship this pot for nine days by performing various rituals and offering fruits, flowers, leaves etc. in some homes a Kali Pooja is performed on the first two days. On the next three days a Lakshmi Puja and on the last four days a Sarasvati Puja is performed in addition to Ghatasthapana. On the eighth day of the festival (Ashtami), a ‘Yajna’ (a special puja involving fire) is performed to obtain the blessings of Goddess Durga. A Ghat puja is performed on the 9th day. Afterwards, the sprouted plants are pulled from the soil.
In north India, Navratri is celebrated for victory of Shree Ram over demon king Ravan. Ram Leela is held on the nine days of Navratri, and ends on the tenth day when an effigy of Ravan is burnt, signifying victory of good over evil. The most representative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Benares, Vrindavan, Almora, Sattna and Madhubani.
In Andhra Pradesh, the assembly of dolls is referred to as Batukamma Panduga, which is decorated during Navratri. Women also make a flower stack with seasonal flowers, known as Batukamma, which is worshipped for nine days. On the last day of Navratri, the Batukamma is set afloat in a nearby water body.
Karnataka celebrates Navratri as Dasara. The city of Mysuru has a 400-year long tradition of celebrating it. The Mysore Palace is illuminated on all nights and various cultural and religious programmes take place in front of it. On the ninth day of the festival, a procession is carried out from the palace. The main attraction of the procession is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, placed on a huge golden top. Dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses, and camels form a part of this vivid colourful procession.
Navratri is popular as Thiruvallakkavu Festival in Kerala and is one of the much-awaited festivals dedicated to Goddess Durga. In “Gods Own Country”. Three days of Ashtami, Navami & Vijaya Dashmi are celebrated as Saraswati Pooja in which books are worshipped. On Ashtami books are kept for Pooja and on Vijaya Dashmi after performing Saraswati Pooja, books are ceremoniously taken out for reading.
Tamil Nadu celebrates Navratri by worshipping Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi for three days each. The most interesting part of the celebrations is the decoration of the kolu, a 9 step staircase. It is said that each step represents each day of the festival. The stairs are adorned in miniature dolls of gods and goddesses. The miniature dolls of gods, goddesses, animal and people are arranged on the steps where the number of steps should be an odd number and while the dolls of shopkeepers are kept on the bottom most steps, Acharyas and gurus are placed on the middle step, other gods in the top 3 steps and Devi in the topmost step.
Wishing everyone a very happy Navratri!
26 September 2022