Navratri means- Nav = nine ; Ratri = nights. Nine nights of worshiping Shakti also known as Mother Durga.
Wish You All A Happy Vikram Samvat 2072, celebrated as Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Baisakhi in Punjab, Cheti Chand in Sindh , Naba Barsha in Bengal and Goru Bihu in Assam.
WHEN IS NAVRATRI CELEBRATED?
Navratri is celebrated twice a year once in the month of March/April known as Chaitra Navratri and second in September/ October referred to as Sharad Navratri. Both the navratris are celebrated in the honor of the Hindu deity Mother Durga. Navratri festival sacred to Mother Goddess is observed as a festival of worship,dance and music and is celebrated over a period of nine nights. Both the Navratris are celebrated at the juncture of seasonal changes. Chaitra Navratri (March/April) just before the beginning of summer and Sharad Navratri (September/October) just before the onset of winter.
WHY IS NAVRATRI CELEBRATED?
LEGEND 1 – Killing of Mahishasura – This festival commemorates the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon, Mahishasur. According to Hindu mythology Durga manifested herself to relieve and protect the gods from the demon ‘Mahisasura’ who had driven them out of the heaven and set out to maintain his evil dominion there. As per the legend there once lived a buffalo headed mighty demon named Mahishasura.
He worshiped Lord Shiva and had acquired immense power. After obtaining these powers he became evil and started killing innocent people. He made a vast army and wanted to capture all the worlds. His vast army carrying weapons of iron; rode on elephants and charioteers and marched towards the kingdom of gods. Later, Mahishasura usurped the throne of heaven, his victory was complete, and all the gods were driven out from the heaven.
Scared and defeated they pleaded to the Hindu trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), “Lord, we have been thrown out from heaven, from our home. How can it be that heaven is filled with evil- mined demons. How can such a place even be called heaven? Help us get our homes back.”
On hearing their plea the trinity united their powers to help everyone. The face of Lord Vishnu flushed with anger and a brilliant light flooded forth. Soon, the faces of Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma burned with the same dazzling luminescence. The gods watched in wonder as great flames issued forth in all directions.
The fires illuminated all the three worlds: heaven, earth, and the nether-world in the form of a penetrating light. And from this “TEJ” (means illuminating light) Ma Durga or Maa Shakti was born. At a single point, the energy of all these fires combined and became Shakti, in the form of a young woman. Her face was from the light of Shiva. Her ten arms were from Lord Vishnu. Her legs were from Lord Brahma.
All the devtas praised her and contributed their share of energy to form the various limbs of the goddess and armed her with the best of ornaments and deadly weapons – thus Durga represented an awesome combination of supreme beauty and fearsome power.
Lord Krishna gave her a chakara (celestial weapon); Varuna, the sea, gave her a conch; God of fire gave her a missile; Vayu gave her arrows.The king of gods, Indra, gave her a thunder-bolt; from the god of death Durga received a rod.
Durga received many other precious and magical treasures – gifts of jewels, new clothing, and a garland of immortal lotus.God of mountains, Himavat gave her jewels and a magnificent lion to ride into battle.
Now equipped with fearsome weapons from all the gods and dressed in golden armor and jewels she sat gracefully on that lion and sets off on her journey to conqueror Mahishasura. The thunderous roar of the lion shook the three worlds.
Adorned with all the powers Durga entered the battlefield and fought the war with Mahishasura for full nine days.Durga was attacked by many demon commanders, who were all killed immediately, and without mercy. All the demons were destroyed in this great battle as with her divine sword she killed them all.
Mahishasura, king of the demons was shocked and enraged by the disastrous events on the battlefield. He reverted to his own form, a buffalo, and charged towards the battlefield. He ran wildly at Durga’s divine soldiers killing many, biting others and thrashing them with his long, whip-like tail. Durga’s lion, angered by the presence of the demon-buffalo, attacked him. Durga jumped on Mahishasura pushing him to the ground with her left leg.
She grasped his head in one hand, pierced him with her sharp spear held in another, and she beheaded him. Durga fought Mahishasura for full nine days and on the tenth day Mahishasura was killed. At last he fell dead, and the gods returned to their heaven, along with the sages of the earth, they sang praises in the name of Goddess Durga.
Henceforth, and to this day, Goddess Durga is worshiped by all the human beings on earth.
LEGEND 2- Killing of Shumbh- Nishumbh. Shumbh and Nishumbh were two demons who had received boons from Lord Brahma according to which no deity, demon or man could kill them. They became so powerful that their atrocities made the gods leave their seats of power and flee for life.With no solution in sight all the gods got together and prayed to the supreme power to save them.
The supreme power (Aadi Shakti) appeared in the form of Durga and took upon herself and vowed to annihilate the demons. When she reached the battlefield Nishumbh attacked the goddess with a huge army. Shumbh attacked from the other side. In a fierce battle, Goddess broke the sword and the shield of Nishumbh. She then attacked him with her arrows and Nishumbh got injured and fell unconscious.
When Shumbh saw Nishumbh, injured and unconscious, he ran towards Goddess to kill her. Both fought a fierce battle. Finally, Goddess killed Shumbh and Nishumbh by piercing her trident in their heart.
LEGEND 3- Story of Sati. According to another legend of Hindu Mythology, Uma was the daughter of Himalayan King Daksha. She was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and wished to marry him and therefore prayed and worshiped him. Finally her prayers were answered and she got married to Lord Shiva, against the wishes of her father. One day Uma heard that her father was organizing a yagya/yagna and she wanted to be a part of that yagya/yagna. She expressed her wish to lord Shiva and he refused to accompany her as he knew King Daksha didn’t like him.
Against his husband’s wish Uma went to her fathers place. Everyone except her father met Uma warmly and inquired about her well being. King Daksha neither greeted her nor asked about her well being rather he insulted Lord Shiva in front of everyone. This infuriated Uma and unable to withstand her husband’s insult Uma ended her life by jumping in the burning fire of that yagya/yagna .
Seeing this everyone was petrified and after this incident Uma was known as SATI. She took another birth as PARVATI and was married to Lord Shiva. It is believed that every year during Navratri’s nine days Sati aslo known as Uma or Parvati visits her parents place and stay there for nine days and these nine days are celebrated as Navratri.
LEGEND4- Story of Shree Ram – Another popular legend behind Navratri is that Lord Shree Ram wanted to free his wife Sita, who was help captive by Lanka King Ravan. Lord Shree Ram worshiped and prayed to all the nine forms of Maa Durga for nine days to attain power and strength. Later Shree Ram killed Ravan and this day is celebrated as Vijaya Dashmi or Dusshera which falls in autumn every year in Sharad Navratri.
HOW IS NAVRATRI CELEBRATED?
During the nine days period Maa Durga is worshiped with devotion, fasting and strict vegetarian living is adopted. During these nine days devotees of Durga fast and pray for health and prosperity. They also perform the ‘devi-sthaapna’ in their homes wherein they invite the Goddess and perform ‘pooja-path’ for nine days without consuming any food. It is an occasion for vibrant festivities throughout the country. Each day has a religious significance for the devotees.
In West Bengal- Navratri is celebrated as ‘Durga-pooja’ which is the most important festival in that part of India. Celebrations of Durga-pooja in Bengal are similar to celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra. Idols of Goddess Durga are worshiped for nine days in beautifully decorated ‘pandaals’.It is a public festival. On the tenth day,the ‘Visarjan’ or immersion of idols in sea waters is performed.
In North – Navratri is a period of fasting and many people observe fasts for full nine days. On the eighth day or Ashtami, devotees break their fasts by calling young girls to their home and these girls are treated as goddess herself. People ceremonially wash their feet, worship them and then offer food to the “girls” giving them the traditional ‘puri’, ‘ halwa’ and chana’ to eat; and gift them with bangles and the red ‘chunnis’ to wear. In spring, during the Chaitra Navratri, the ninth day is known as Ramnavami.
In traditional North Indian households, a pot of wheat, known as ‘khetri’ is kept in homes and worshiped during these nine days. On the first day of Navratras, a pot filled with soil is kept in front of the goddess and grains of wheat or barley are sowed in it. This pot is then watered and worshiped for the next nine days. By the end of the nine days these seedlings sprout and grow upto a height of 4-5 inches. It symbolizes prosperity and abundance and is associated with harvesting. On the ninth day after the puja this pot is submerged in water.
In various parts of India,’Ram-Leela’ is performed during Navratri. Ram-Leela is a stage enaction of Ramayana,the story of Lord Rama and Mother Sita. In autumn, during Sharad Navratri the last day of Navratri,i.e.,tenth day, is observed as ‘Dassera‘ or ‘Vijayadashmi‘.On this day, Lord Rama had killed the demon Ravana and to mark the victory of good over evil effigies of Ravana are burnt all over India.
IN GUJARAT – Garba & dandiya Raas is performed in Navratris. Beautifully decorated ‘mandaps’are set up for playing garba & dandiya by various cultural socities,housing commitees & youth social groups.Young men-women wear colorful traditional dresses ‘dhoti-kurta’ by men and ‘lehenga- choli’ by girls and play Garba with great enthusiasm. Women-folk dance in a circle, singing ‘Garbas’ or traditional songs.’Dandiya-Raas’ is played with wooden sticks or ‘dandiyas’. The origin of the Rasa is traced back to the legends connected with the life of Lord Krishna.
NINE FORMS OF DURGA AND THEIR LEGENDS
Nine different manifestations of Durga are worshiped over the nine days period. These nine forms of Maa Durga are –
1. First Durga Shakti is – Shailputri (Daughter of Mountain) – According to Hindu Mythology, Uma was the daughter of Himalayan King Daksha. She was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and wished to marry him and therefore prayed and worshiped him. Finally her prayers were answered and she got married to Lord Shiva, against the wishes of her father.
One day Uma heard that her father was organizing a yagya/yagna and she wanted to be a part of that yagya/yagna. She expressed her wish to lord Shiva and he refused to accompany her as he knew King Daksha didn’t like him. Against his husband’s wish Uma went to her fathers place. Everyone except her father met Uma warmly and inquired about her well being.
King Daksha neither greeted her nor asked about her well being rather he insulted Lord Shiva in front of everyone. This infuriated Uma and unable to withstand her husband’s insult Uma ended her life by jumping in the burning fire of that yagya/yagna .Seeing this everyone was petrified and after this incident Uma was known as SATI or BHAVANI. She took another birth as PARVATI and was married to Lord Shiva.
2. Second Durga Shakti is – Brahmacharini– This form of Durga is very beautiful. She is the one carrying rosary in one hand and the Kamandal in her left hand. Bharmacharini means one who practices deep meditation. As per the legend when Uma/Sati was born as PARVATI (daughter of Himvan and Meneka); one day Naradji predicted that she will be married to Lord Shambhu (Lord Shiva). He also mentioned that she as Uma was Lord Shiva’s wife in her past life. Parvati was excited to hear this and she said everything to her mother and started praying to Lord Shiva. Her deep meditation (tapas) or Tap earned her this name Tapacharnini or Bramhacharini.
3. Third Durga Shakti is – Chandraghanta – This form of Durga is very charming, peaceful and luminous. On her forehead she has a half circular moon in the form of a bell and that’s why she is known as Chandra(moon) Ghanta (bell). She has ten hands which carries all kinds of weapons and arrows and she is an image of bravery. She rides a lion and is always positioned to fight the evils.
4. Fourth form of Durga is – Kushmanda – She has eight hands holding Chakra (celestial weapon), Kamandal(small pot filled with water), Lotus-flower, gada (mace), Dhanush and baan (bow and arrow), Japmala (rosary) and a Kalash (pot). Her beauty is boundless and like sun she illuminates and remove darkness from earth. Like sun her aura shines brightly in all the ten directions.
5. Fifth Shakti is – Skandamata– Maa Parvati as daughter of Himalaya, after observing deep meditation got married to Shiva. She is a mother of a brave son ‘Kartikeya’ also named as ‘Skanda’. He was chosen by gods to fight against the demons. Being mother to Skanda; Durga in this form is known as Skandamata. Skanda is seated in her lap and she is holding a lotus in both her hands.
6. Sixth Shakti is – Katyayani – According to Hindu Mythology, long time ago there was a renowned sage called ‘Maharashi Kat’, he had a son named ‘Katyayan’. Rishi Katyayan was a great devotee of Maa Durga. He performed deep meditation and penance to please her.
Maa Durga was pleased with his devotion and asked for his wish. He asked Goddess to take birth as his daughter. Maa Durga granted him his wish and was born as his daughter and thus she was known as ‘Katyayani”.
7. Seventh Shakti is – Kalratri– She has a dark complexion, her eyes are bright, wears a shinning and glittering necklace and she has un-matted hair. As per the legend it is believed that no one could kill the demon Rakht-beej. It was Maa Kalratri who demolished the agony of Rakht-beej. During a war with Durga, it is believed that every drop of his blood that fell on earth resulted in a clone of other billions of Rakht-beej which also joined the battle. Maa Durga then assumes the form of Kali and goes out to destroy Rakhtbeej. She is also known as ‘Shubhamkari’ – one who does good.
8. Eighth Shakti is – Maha Gauri– In this form Maa Durga is fair and white as a conch therefore she is revered with name ‘Gauri’ meaning white as a Jasmine. As per the legend it is believed that because of Parvati’s long and hard meditation to Lord Shiva in the deep forest of Himalayas, she had turned dark complexion due to dust.
Lord Shiva accepted her devotion and when she was cleaned with water from the holy river Ganga, her body turned completely GAUR (white) and thus came to be known as Mahagauri. She wears white clothes and rides a bull carrying a ‘damaru (a small drum) in one hand and ‘trishul’ (a trident) in another. In this form she looks gleaming like a pearl and very peaceful.
9. Ninth Shakti is – Siddhidatri- As per ‘Devipuran’ it is believed that the Supreme God Shiva got all the eight* Siddhis by worshiping Maha Shakti. And because of this and with Maa Durga’s gratitude the body of Lord Shiva became half body of Shiv and half body of Goddess and therefore he is also referred to as ‘Ardh-narishvar’- half man half woman.
Maa Siddhidatri has four arms each holding Gada (mace), Chakra (celestial weapon), Shankh (conch) and lotus flower. Maa Durga in this form is worshiped by all Gods, Rishis-Munis, Yogis, sages and devotees for attaining the best religious asset.
*There are eight Siddhis they are- Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Iisitva & Vasitva.
Books referred – Durga Stuti by Chaman And Navdurga by Geeta press.