Navaratri: A Prologue
Navaratri is nine days Hindu festival celebrated in September-October every year. It has various facets and people observe this celebration for various reasons.
There are actually four Navaratri’s in a year depending on four seasons. They are as follows:
- Sharada Navaratri: This is the most famous amongst all the four Navaratri’s celebrated in autumn (Ashwin) after the monsoon. It is related to harvest.
- Vasanta Navaratri: It is the second Navaratri celebrated in spring season (Vasanta). It is a post-winter festival falls in March-April. It is also related to harvesting.
- Magha Navaratri: This Navaratri is not so famous and celebrated in the winter season in January-February (Magha). The fifth day of this festival is generally celebrated as Vasant Panchami or Saraswati Puja. In some parts of India, the Hindu god of love, Kama is preached.
- Ashada Navaratri: It is celebrated in Monsoon (Ashadha) falls in June–July.
Whatever the reasons may be, Navaratri is one of the greatest among all the Hindu festivals especially Sharada Navaratri. This Navaratri has two major facets. The first one is known as “Akala Bodhona”. This is due to the untimely invocation of Mother Goddess by Lord Rama to defeat the demon king Ravana. This is mainly depicted in the Ramayana, written by Krittibasa so it is mainly observed by Bengali community. This fact is not present in the original text of Ramayana written by Adi Kavi (Primordial Poet) Valmiki. The other facet of this festival is to celebrate the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, Good triumphed over bad. So on the tenth day (after the completion of nine days festival), people of North India and scarcely on the other parts of India, celebrates Dussehra which signifies the defeat of evil forces.
Now when we have gained some knowledge about the Navaratri’s and its related mythological aspects, we can now ask an obvious question.
Why is it “Ratri” or night? Couldn’t it be a day as all battles are fought on days and not night? Also harvesting too is done in the daytime.
The answer to this question is not simple. Navaratri also constitutes of nine figures or forms of Mother Goddess or more specifically Goddess Durga.
It actually initiated from the text of Sri Chandi which is a subset of Markandeya Purana. It is also known as Durga sapta sati as there are seven hundred verses (sapta = seven and sati = hundred). Rishi Medhas, by telling the significance of preaching Goddess Durga, ultimately succeeded in convincing King Surath and Vaishya Samadhi for invoking Goddess Durga and eventually they got their fortunes back.
In “Chandi”, Mother Goddess manifested in three primary forms for vanquishing evil forces. In the first instance, Goddess Mahakali appeared to destroy the twin evil forces of “Chanda” and “Munda”. Second came Goddess Mahalakshmi, who killed the other twin known as “Shumbha” and “Nishumbha”. Lastly appeared Goddess Mahasaraswati, who ultimately killed or transformed the evil, arrogant and egoistic Demon (characteristics of a buffalo) Mahisasura.
Durga Puja is the combination of these three forms which ends on the juncture of Ashtami and Navami (the last day of Navaratri) known as “Sandhi” puja.
Apart from the three forms, there are other facets of Mother Goddess. They are revered during the Navaratri.
The names are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Maha Gauri and Shiddhidatri.
Each name has a definite meaning and a story of its own*.
The question continues…
But again, why they all appear in a night or “Ratri”?
Ratri has another meaning other than night. Even if we dwell in broad daylight blindfolded, it’s a night for us. But this is something related to our physicality. This “ratri” is inside our mind and intellect. Many times we see that a person despite having a high qualification behaves in a very rough and crude way in some specific situations. This means that the knowledge gathered by him fails to guide his intellect to behave is a proper or soothing way. These moments are night time for this person as the light of knowledge has set beyond the horizon of intellect.
Similarly, we are passing through a nighttime within our mind and intellect though physically we can see the daylight.
These feminine Goddesses are the raw form of energies which emerges from the “Brahman” and design this three-dimensional holographic universe we live in.
This illusory world appears to be real to us and we fall a prey in the hands of anger (Chanda and Munda), lust (Shumbha and Nishumbha), confusion (Dhumra Lochana), unending desires (Rakta Beeja), ego and pride (Mahisasura) and so on.
These asura’s or evil forces are nothing but our inner negative emotions and passions which keeps us tied to this delusion and hinders our progress towards higher truth.
Durga Puja is actually an inner process (yoga) which has definite and organized allegorical external features (Vahiranga sadhana), which we celebrate as puja and perform rites.
We can move through space. For example, we can go left or right, top or bottom and front or back but we cannot do that with time. We are only at present, we cannot traverse to past or future. So we are actually prisoners of time.
Darkness to light
“Kaal” means time and “ratri” is ignorance. As we are the prisoners of time and deluded with an untrue world, we are metaphorically under the rule of “Kaalaratri”.
कालरात्रि महारात्रि मोहरात्री च दारुणा
This dark night or “Kaalaratri” is a long night intertwined with illusion and difficult to cross.
Durga Puja is a plead, a try, a ray of hope and a roadmap to overpower “Kaalaratri” also imagined as “Dark moonless night” to attain a victory or “Vijaya” over the darkness and reach the goal of ultimate knowledge symbolically a full moon “Laksmi puja” known as “Kojagori” (a wakeful state of intellect).
Navaratri is also depicted as our body which is having nine doors. The tenth door which is on the top of our head lead to enlightenment. So we celebrate Navaratri to move upwards and finally pass the tenth (Vijaya Dashami) door leading to salvation or Samadhi (Nirvana).
Let us all pray to the divine energy residing within us to guide us through this dark, deceitful and illusory night of human life and lead us all to “Oneness” and liberation.
* I shall discuss these in my future article. [Author’s note]