The festival of Navaratri is a glorious time of the year, filled with joy, celebration, and also with great lessons for our lives. Navaratri means “nine nights.”
This festival occurs twice a year, at the change from winter to summer in the Spring, and again at the change from summer to winter in the Autumn. The Autumn festival is celebrated from the first day to the ninth day of the bright half of Ashvina/Aswayuja (September-October), while the Spring Festival is celebrated in Chaitra (April – May). The two Navaratri celebrations are known as Rama-Navaratri in Chaitra and Durga Navaratri in Ashvina. The celebration of Navaratri is in honor of the great Mother Goddess. The festival lasts for nine days, signifying the nine glorious aspects of the Divine Mother.
There are different pujas and ceremonies performed on each of the nine days, most notably is fasting on the eighth day and then the immersion of Goddess Durga’s image in holy rivers on Dusshera, which falls on the day right after Navratri ends (the 10th day).
Indian tradition is one of the few traditions in which the Feminine aspect of the divine is worshipped with as much reverence as the Masculine aspect.
Throughout India you will see thousands of temples dedicated to various manifestations of the Divine Mother. You will find hundreds of thousands of people who are “Shakti worshippers.”
Shakti is the energy of the Lord. Without the divine Shakti, even God is powerless. The creative aspect (Lord Brahma), the sustaining aspect (Lord Vishnu) and the destructive aspect (Lord Shiva) all have their respective Shaktis who provide the cosmic energy and omnipotent power needed for these great feats.
Additionally, everything for which we pray – knowledge, prosperity, love – these are all manifest in the Divine Feminine. Goddess Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge. Maha Laxmi is the Goddess of prosperity. This shows that without the Divine Mother, our prayers would be in vain, and our wishes would go unanswered.
So, Navaratri is the time of worship of the Divine Mother. Beautiful pujas, havans and aartis are performed for Her. Through singing Her glories we pray that She will purify our lives and bring us health, happiness, peace and prosperity.
Navratri is celebrated as the time that Goddess Durga (Shakti) conquered the evil demon, Mahishasura, thereby saving the world from his vicious tyranny. It is said that Mahishasura was reigning terror over the world and none of the gods was able to destroy him. Thus, they all approached Goddess Durga, Shakti, together and gave Her their weapons. Thus armed with Divine Shakti and the most powerful weapons, She conquered the demon and ended his tyranny after fighting for nine straight nights. On the tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, the demon was slaughtered.
This victory, and other beautiful stories associated with Goddess Durga, are celebrated with great fervor throughout different parts of India. Shakti puja is performed in elaborate and lavish ways.
The nine days of the festival also represent the three stages through which one passes on the spiritual path. During the first three days, the Mother is worshipped in her powerful, destructive, terrifying aspect. Many people, when beginning the spiritual path, have an inherent fear of God; therefore this first phase of Navaratri represents the first stage of a spiritual path. During these three days, the devotee prays to the Mother to use Her destructive power to destroy his imperfections and his faults. He prays for Her to make him pure enough to receive the divine energy. Additionally, this terrifying aspect of the Divine is the one who protects the new spiritual seeker on his path. Thus, the first three days of Navratri are devoted to annihilating the negative tendencies of our minds and hearts.
The second three days of Navaratri are days in which the Mother is worshipped in Her prosperity-bestowing form. Once the negative tendencies have been annihilated, one is ready to begin developing a positive, spiritual personality. These are the days that positive attributes replace the negative attributes which were removed. These days are the worship of Maha Lakshmi, the bestower of prosperity. On the spiritual path, after people overcome the fear of God, they frequently pray for material wealth or external prosperity. They pray for success in their ventures and for the removal of obstructions in their path. The prosperity Maha Laxmi bestows is not merely material prosperity, but it is also all of the qualities which a sincere spiritual seeker craves – calmness, peace, equanimity, compassion, love.
During the last three days, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped as the bestower of true wisdom and understanding. Once the devotee has been purified by Goddess Durga and has had his vices annihilated, and once he has had the spiritual wealth of inner peace, calmness, compassion and love bestowed upon him by Maha Laxmi, then he is ready to receive the true light of understanding. This wisdom can not come unless the devotee has passed through the first two stages. Just as one would not pour divine nectar into an unclean, broken and impure cup, one can similarly not expect to have divine wisdom granted unless the vessel has been purified and made divine.
Frequently on the spiritual path, seekers wish to attain divine knowledge without first purifying themselves and attaining positive qualities. This is impossible, however. The true light of Divine Wisdom can only be bestowed once the seeker has annihilated his negative tendencies and begun to develop a positive, spiritual attitude.
Therefore, Navarati should be a time of not only celebrating Goddess Durga’s triumph over the evil demon, but rather it should also be a time of praying to Goddess Durga to remove the evil from within us, not only the evil in the external world. We must pray to her to annihilate our inner enemies – our ego, our greed, our anger – just as she vanquished the evil demon. These traits inside us are just as powerful, just as insidious, and just as deadly as any of the asuras or Rakshasas.
Let us note also that Goddess Durga wears red, which symbolizes divine action. The Goddess is never idle. She is always busy in the destruction of evil in the world. As we vow to remove the evil from our own hearts and our own lives, we must be just as vigilant, just as active and just as conscientious. We must never become complacent; for anger, greed, ego, and lust are always present, always lurking, and always ready to make home in welcoming hearts.