Navaratri – The Nine Holy Nights.
A celebration of womanhood.
Durga the fearsome goddess!
Durga the goddess worshipped during Navaratri is dark, tongue protruding, bears the head of one demon in one hand and a hack on the other hand and she stands on the top of a man. She wears a necklace made of skulls! One lion leaning against her right leg and there is a demon with bison-head towards her left leg. It is believed that she is blood-thirsty and like sacrifice of animals!
Nine nights – nine roles.
Standing apart from the usual concept that Indian culture promotes the docile and submissive image of woman, Goddess ‘Durga’ or ‘Kali’ is worshipped as the embodiment of courage and determination. Durga is a woman goddess of many splendors, in fact she represents a mystical woman who can be a goddess, a consort, and at the same time an annihilator. Based on her moods she has nine names like, Kumari, Trimurti, Kalyani, Rohini, Kalika, Chandika, Sambhavi, Durga and Subhadra.
Nine sources of power.
It is explained that Durga is the embodiment of woman-power and these names stated above are only the nine sources of power of which she is made of.
Kumari is playful and innocent form of Durga it is innocent and lovable. Trimurti is the giver of good children. Kalyani is giver of good education and reliable friendships. Rohini keeps a girl away from sinful deeds and thoughts. Kalika is the giver of courage. Chandika is the giver of wealth. Sambhavi assures success in enterprises. Durga is the annihilator of impediments. Subhadra is the giver of cherished objects.
The other side of the trinity.
As per the Indian concepts there is a trinity in gods as Brahma is for creation and Vishnu for preservation and Shiva for destruction. The womanhood also has the trinity as Saraswathy the consort of Brahma (she is the goddess of letters and worshipping her is believed to be useful in gaining knowledge) is to deal with creation and Lakshmi (is the goddess of wealth and worshipping is good for financial security) with Vishnu for preservation and Kali or Durga the wife of Lord Shiva represents the destructive aspects of the universe in tune with her husband Shiva. The personified aspect of universal power is known in different names, in her mild aspect she is Parvati or Uma, but she is known as Kali or Durga.
Myth an asset.
Lord Shiva and his tapas
Lord Shiva has ascetic qualities with him; he occasionally goes in to deep ‘tapas’ (a meditational trance with penance). On one such occasion his penance lasted too long and it began to affect the day to day affairs of the world; as Shiva is a god with many portfolios (he is the god of virility and his absence had a telling effect on men; they too began to develop aversion to sexual life. The Devas (demigods) of heaven thought of rescuing humanity by luring Shiva in to action.
A mission impossible.
They deputed Kamadeva (Indian version for cupid) to invoke sexual urge in Shiva so he may end his penance (Kamadeva has a bow made of a sugar-cane stem and arrows of fragrant flowers; he can shoot flowery arrows in to the breasts of people; those who are struck with this flowery arrow will immediately get bitten by love-bug). But these were valid only on ordinary mortals; to his dismay when the poor cupid realized the fact it was too late!. When the arrow was shot Shiva could sense something wrong and he opened his eyes!
Death of Kamadeva!
When Shiva was woken up from a trance he could see the mischief cupid played and the culprit was caught red handed! In a fury Shiva opened his third eye (Shiva has a hidden third eye on his forehead) and burned cupid in to ashes (it is in the myths that the third eye of Shiva has a power to radiate laser-like rays that can burn anything it comes in to contact). Cupid had to pay with his life for his ignorance.
Death of cupid a very bad news!
The death of Kamadeva (cupid) was not good news to the world and Lord Ganesha was deputed by the inmates of heaven to solve the issue. He retrieved the ashes of the cupid and recreated another one and Shiva; repented of his drastic action invoked life in to the ash-clay idol. But the end product turned out to be not what the makers indented but a ferocious demon by name Bhandasura (the duty of Shiva was destruction and he meddling with creation caused all the chaos!) who went away with intensions akin to demons and he practiced severe penance (tapas) and made Shiva appear before him. As Bhandasura’s maker Shiva could do nothing but to give the boon he required - as no man on earth can kill him.
Birth of a Monster!
With the power of the boon Bhandasura started a killing spree butchering anyone whom he had seen and there was another headache for the mandarins of heaven. As no man could kill the demon the onus of the job had to be shouldered by a woman this was the purpose of the birth of Durga the goddess. She took nine roles one each of the Navaratri nights (nights are the time for demons) and tried to exterminate the demon but success eluded her.
Victorious 10th day!
Durga at last took a different shape of a very enchanting woman and approached Shiva and succeeded in revoking his support to the demon. On the tenth night she set for the head of the demon and fulfilled her mission. (It is said that in her efforts to please Lord Shiva she gained a bonus also as Subramanya the god was born in that association. Navaratris are the nine nights of her struggle with the demon and Vijaya Desami (victorious 10th) is her day of victory.
Navaratri image courtsey: asianculturalcentervt.org
It was said in the beginning that the celebration of Navaratri includes nine nights, the first night begins with the worship of goddess Gauri seated on an elephant this is Gaja Gauri Vrata (worship of goddess seated on elephant), this is done by women for the longevity of their husbands. The ninth day is for Goddess Saraswati - the goddess of knowledge - here the worshipped (Saraswati Puja) objects are books, intended for the betterment of educative skills of students.
Kolu (arrangement of small idols), Bhajans and Keerthans (hymns).
On these nine nights little girls are given special treats like new dress, toys, sweets as per their desire, in fact these all celebrations are for the honor of womanhood and girls stand on the threshold like a half blown flower. During these days all houses set beautiful settings for exhibiting small images of deities, as well as dolls of all hues, it is the duty of virgin girls to set ‘kolu’ (as this settings is called). In the evenings prayers (bhajans, and keertans- both are melodious songs in praise of gods) sung by the family members little girls from the neighbors also join the concert and either a feast or light refreshment of banana and jaggery (coarse dark sugar pellets) are served for the participants.
Welcome to the world of letters!
Initiation to the world of letters is done on Vijaya Desami day, young children are lead to the most literate man of the village and made to sit in his lap, there will be a platter before him the child’s right-hand forefinger is guided to write the letter ‘A’ (first alphabet in its mother tongue). It is believed that the child will gain power from the guru (the initiator) and grow as a bright student.
For the school going ones freedom from home-work.
The Navaratri festivals are also known as Dasahara, and Puja festival, during these period students are free from reading and writing lessons! Their books will be placed very near to the image of Goddess Saraswati. At the end of Navaratri (the tenth day known as Vijaya Desami) students will take bath early morning go to the temple, pray, apply sandal paste on their forehead and come before the place where the books and image of Saraswati is placed squat and take the book, open it and read a page. This is the symbolic opening of the education year that is to start from that day.