SALUTATIONS to the Divine Mother, Durga, who exists in all beings in the form of intelligence, mercy, beauty, who is the consort of Lord Shiva, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe.

Navaratri is celebrated four times a year. They are Ashada Navaratri,
the Sharada Navaratri, the Maha Navaratri and the Vasantha Navaratri.

The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother. They are indicated respectively by the Rama-Navaratri in Chaitra (April-May) and the Durga Navaratri in Aswayuja (September-October). The bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change on account of the changes in Nature. Sri Rama is worshipped during Ramnavmi, and Mother Durga during Navaratri.

A similar analogy is presented in the devi bhagavatam. Devi bhagavatam also talks in detail on how one should observe fasts, and how one should meditate/work on these days.

Navaratri (in September-October) is a festival celebrated with eclat in homes and temples alike. According to ancients, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati signify valor, wealth and learning, respectively, just as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva stand for creation, preservation and annihilation.

Navaratri is ideal for worshipping the Mother in her three roles. There is a Vasantha Navaratri, on the nine days starting from sukla paksha prathama in Chithirai month in spring, when Uma is worshipped. What is commonly called Navaratri is the nine-day festival starting from prathama in sukla paksha of Purattasi (September-October). According to the chandra mana measure, these are the nine days from prathama to navami in the aswija sukla paksha. This is the popular autumnal festival Sharada Navaratri when Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped.

There is a belief that the first three days are for worship of Durga and the breeding of courage and valor in the world; the next three for worship of Lakshmi for universal prosperity; and the last three for worship of Saraswati for growth of learning.

Devi Bhagavatam has it that a special feature of Navaratri is doing puja to virgins between the age two and ten as embodiments of Kumari, Thiru, Kalyani, Rohini, Kalika, Chandika, Sambavi, Durga and Subhadra, offering them food and clothes and jewelry. This is a festival that places emphasis on worship of Shakti. Many fashion a large Durga idol out of clay, offer puja to the idol on the three days starting with Durgashtami during Navaratri, and, taking out the idol in a procession, immerse it in the sea on Vijaya Dasami. This is the observance in the northern parts of India. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra, beautiful clay figurines of gods and goddesses are worshipped during Navaratri, viewing art as Divinity. This is the bommai kolu of the south.

Bhavishyad Puranam lays down one way of observance of Navaratri. Young maiden should be offered combs and other such articles on prathama; fragrant hair oil on dwithiya; mirror and kumkum on truthiya; kohl on chaturthi; sandal, turmeric and other cosmetics on panchami. On sashti Durga should be worshipped under a bilva tree, with bilva leaves. On saptami, the goddess should be invoked in a kalasam and worshipped. Ashtami, the eighth day of the festival, is Durgashtami. Navami is for worship of Ugra Chandi. The puja on the final three nights – saptami, ashtami and navami – is Saraswati puja.

Traditionally, puja is done on the nine days as follows: 1 – Kalasa sthapanam; 2 – Devata puja; 3 – Sapta sati puja; 4 – Akhanda deepa; 5 – Mala bandana; 6 – Upavasa during daytime; 7 – Suvasani puja; 8 – Kumari puja; and 9 – Stotra mantra homam. We can each worship the Mother according to our capacity.

following are the regular features during the celebrations:

1. A special ritualistic worship of the Mother is conducted daily, which includes the recitation of the Durga Saptashati.

2. Laksharchana for the Mother in the temple, with recitation of the Sri Lalita Sahasranama, is also conducted.

3. All are exhorted to do the maximum number of Japa of the Navarna Mantra, Aim hreem kleem chaamundaayai vichche, or the Mantra of their own tutelary Deity.

4. An elaborately decorated altar is set up for the evening Satsangs, with the picture of Mother Durga for the first three days, Mother Lakshmi for the next three days, and Mother Saraswathi for the last three days. Many sacred verses from the scriptures are recited and many Kirtans are sung. The Durga Saptashati or the Devi Mahatmya is recited and explained in discourses. The function concludes with the formal floral worship and Arati. Sometimes scenes from the Devi Mahatmya are also enacted.

5. Earnest spiritual aspirants fast with milk and fruits only on all the nine days, or at least once in each of the three three-day periods.
6. Besides the books representing Saraswathi, all instruments and implements like typewriters, printing machinery, etc., are also worshipped on the ninth day.

7. On the Vijaya Dasami day, all aspirants en masse are given initiation into various Mantras according to their tutelary Deities. Deserving aspirants are initiated into the holy order of Sannyas. Initiation in the study of the alphabets is given to young children, and to the old children also! New students commence their lessons in music, etc. During the morning Satsang the books which were worshipped on the ninth day are again worshipped and a chapter from each of the principal scriptures like the Gita, Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Ramayana, and Srimad Bhagavatam is recited.

8. On the Vijaya Dasami day, there is Kanya Puja also. Nine girls below the age of ten are worshipped as the embodiment of the Divine Mother. They are fed sumptuously and, amongst other things, presented with new clothes.
9. On this last day a grand havan is conducted in the temple, with recitation of the Durga Saptashati and other verses in praise of the Divine Mother.

However, Navaratri is not only significant for spiritual aspirants; it has a message for those who lead a worldly life as well. Grahsthas should invoke Durga’s help to surmount obstacles, pray to Lakshmi to bestow peace and prosperity, and contemplate upon Saraswati in order to gain knowledge. These three ingredients are just as necessary for a full and complete worldly life. In reality, when we pray like this, we are but invoking the Shakti that is within ourselves.

Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are not different entities, but different facets of the singular Divinity.

Some of the spiritual practices associated with Navaratri include fruit and milk fasts, japa (mantra chanting), chanting of hymns dedicated to Devi in Her different forms, prayer, meditation and recitation of sacred texts including the Devi Mahatmya, Sri Lalita Sahasranama and the Durga Saptashati.

Saraswati Puja and Ayudha Puja

The ninth day is also the day of the Ayudha Puja. The Ayudha Puja is a worship of whatever implements one may use in one’s livelihood. On the preceding evening, it is traditional to place these implements on an altar to the Divine. If one can make a conscious effort to see the divine in the tools and objects one uses each day, it will help one to see one’s work as an offering to God. It will also help one to maintain constant remembrance of the divine. (In India it is customary for one to prostrate before the tools one will use before starting one’s work each day; this is an expression of gratitude to God for helping one to fulfil one’s duties.)

Children traditionally place their study books and writing implements on the altar. On this day, no work or study is done, that one might spend the day in contemplation of the Divine.

Vijaya Dashami and Vidyarambham

The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashami. Devotees perform a Saraswati Puja (ceremonial worship) to invoke the blessings of Saraswati. Some devotees also perform pujas dedicated to Durga to mark Her victory over the demon, Mahishasura. Every endeavor started on this day is guaranteed success, according to elders. On this basis, the young are given aksharabhyasam (instruction in alphabet) on this day. And new works are launched.

In the Virata parva of Mahabharata, Pandavas had to live incognito in ajnata vasam for a year. During that period, Arjuna cached away his weapons in a vanni tree in a Kali temple. On dasami thithi after Navaratri, when the incognito duration was over, Arjuna who was also known as Vijaya retrieved his hidden arms and began practicing with them; and went on to triumph in the Mahabharata war. This day is therefore traditionally marked for starting arms training. Vijaya Dasami is a special festival in Mysore. At some places, as the decorated utsava idol is taken out in procession from temples, there is an observance in which arrows are shot. Elsewhere, in what is called makara nonbu, there are observances like pinnal kolattam. In north India, this day is called Dussehra.

Navaratri highlights the principles elucidated by the Ramayana. This is hinted at in the other name by which Vijaya Dashami is known in India, Dussehra. “Dussehra” is derived from “Dasha-hara,” which means “victory over the ten-faced one.” This ten-faced being (“Dashamukha”) is none other than Ravana, Lord Rama’s adversary. His ten heads symbolise the ten senses (five of perception and five of action). Ravana’s manifest extrovertedness stands in contrast to Dasharatha, Lord Rama’s father, whose name can be taken to mean “one who has controlled his ten senses.” That he is father to a Divine Incarnation suggests that only when one is able to subdue all ten senses can one realise the divinity within.

Dassera festival is also known as Durgotsav and during the ten days, the many splendoured goddess Durga is worshipped in one of her many forms differently in different regions. With religious rituals and chantings of mantras followed by “KATHA” or story-telling told by Pandits who by reading passages from religious texts awaken religious fervour in the minds of the listeners.

It is believed that Goddess Durga manifested herself to relieve and protect the good from the evil. The evil form is demon Mahishasura. This festival commemorates the victory of the goddess Durga (an incarnation of Parvati, consort of Shiva) over the demon Mahisasura. It is also celebrated as a remembrance of the victory of Lord Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) over Ravana, the king of Lanka who had abducted Sita, wife of Rama.

Ravana abducts Sita, keeps her captive in his house. His efforts to violate her chastity are all in vain. Rama with the help of King Bali and his vanar sena succeeds in getting his wife back.

The war lasts for ten days and on the tenth day Rama kills the ten-headed demon Ravana. This day is called Vijaydashmi or Dassera. It is one of the most important festivals in India.

Throughout the country, effigies of Ravana, his son Meghnath and brother Kumbhakaran are stuffed with crackers and set to fire. People rejoice as the effigies are reduced to ashes. Symbolically this means the victory of ‘good´ over ‘evil´.

As per our great epic Mahabharat, Pandavas after wandering in the forest for 12 years, hung their weapons on a Shami tree before entering the court of king Virat to spend the last one year in disguise. After the completion of that year on Vijayadashmi the day of Dassera they brought down the weapons from the Shami tree and declared their true identity. Since that day the exchange of Shami leaves on Dassera day became symbols of good, will and victory.

The founder of the Hindu Swarajya Chatrapati Shivaji before any military expedition always invoked the blessings of Durga in the form of his goddess Bhawani. The Sikh guru Gobind Singh introduced the worship of Durga into his cult of the sword.

This festival has immense mythological significance. As per Ramayan, Ram did “chandi-puja and invoked the blessings of Durga to kill Ravana, the ten-headed king of Lanka who had abducted Seeta and had charmed life. Durga divulged the secret to Ram how he could kill Ravana. Then after vanquishing him, Ram with Seeta and Laxman returned victorious to his kingdom of Ayodhya.

Durga Puja hinges around Mahalaya day, a week before the actual celebrations begin. It was on this day that Durga was assigned the task of eliminating evil. So the familiar pose of Durga unleashing her wrath on an outpowered assura.

Shakti wields the power of ten hands in the sole form of Durga. Each hand carries a deadly weapon of destruction bestowed on her by the various gods of Hindu mythology, on the occasion of her battle with evil.

The kamandal is said to be received from Brahma, the chakra from Vishnu, the trishul from Shiva, the Vajra (lightning) from Indra, the kuthar from Vishwakarma, the Kaladanda (mace) from Yamraj, the nag from Vasuki, the kharga and dhal (shield) from Surya and the Dhanuswar (bow and arrow) from Vayu. There has also been a tradition of offering 108 lotuses during the daily puja, which goes on for five days ending with the immersion of Dassera.

Dassera day is considered a most auspicious day. It is a time-honoured belief that if any new venture is started on this day, it is bound to be successful. Hence, all the undertakings be it laying-in of foundation of a new building, opening of a new commercial establishment or even initiating a child into the world of learning- are started on this day. Also on this day implements of agriculture, manufacturer’s machines, the intellectuals pens, the household articles, the children’s school books are placed before the idol of Durga and worshipped.

Let us, therefore, examine in detail the spiritual significance of Navaratri.

The central purpose of existence is to recognise your eternal identity with the supreme Spirit. It is to grow into the image of the Divine. The supreme One embodies the highest perfection. It is spotless purity. To recognise your identity with That, to attain union with That, is verily to grow into the very likeness of the Divine. The aspirant, therefore, as his initial step, has to get rid of all the countless impurities, and the demoniacal elements that have come to cling to him in his embodied state. Then he has to acquire lofty virtues and auspicious, divine qualities. Thus purified, knowledge flashes upon him like the brilliant rays of the sun upon the crystal waters of a perfectly calm lake.

This process demands a resolute will, determined effort, and arduous struggle. In other words, strength and infinite power are the prime necessity. Thus it is the Divine Mother who has to operate through the aspirant.

Let us now consider how, on the first three days, the Mother is adored as supreme power and force, as Durga the Terrible. You pray to Mother Durga to destroy all your impurities, your vices, your defects. She is to fight with and annihilate the baser animal qualities in the spiritual aspirant, the lower, diabolical nature in him. Also, She is the power that protects your spiritual practice from its many dangers and pitfalls. Thus the first three days, which mark the first stage or the destruction of impurity and determined effort and struggle to root out the evil tendencies in your mind, are set apart for the worship of the destructive aspect of the Mother.

Once you have accomplished your task on the negative side, that of breaking down the impure propensities and old vicious habits, the next step is to build up a sublime spiritual personality, to acquire positive qualities in place of the eliminated demoniacal qualities. The divine qualities that Lord Krishna enumerates in the Gita, have to be acquired. The aspirant must cultivate and develop all the auspicious qualities. He has to earn immense spiritual wealth to enable him to pay the price for the rare gem of divine wisdom. If this development of the opposite qualities is not undertaken in right earnest, the old demoniacal nature will raise its head again and again. Hence, this stage is as important in an aspirant’s career as the previous one. The essential difference is: the former is a ruthless, determined annihilation of the filthy egoistic lower self; the latter is an orderly, steady, calm and serene effort to develop purity. This pleasanter side of the aspirant’s Sadhana is depicted by the worship of Mother Lakshmi. She bestows on Her devotees the inexhaustible divine wealth or Deivi Sampath. Lakshmi is the wealth-giving aspect of God. She is purity itself. Thus the worship of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set of three days.

Once the aspirant succeeds in routing out the evil propensities, and develops Sattwic or pure, divine qualities, he becomes competent to attain wisdom. He is now ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom. He is fit to receive divine knowledge. At this stage comes the devout worship of Mother Saraswathi, who is divine knowledge personified, the embodiment of knowledge of the Absolute. The sound of Her celestial veena awakens the notes of the sublime utterances of the Upanishads which reveal the Truth, and the sacred monosyllable, Om. She bestows the knowledge of the supreme, mystic sound and then gives full knowledge of the Self as represented by Her pure, dazzling snow-white apparel. Therefore, to propitiate Saraswathi, the giver of knowledge, is the third stage.

The tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the triumphant ovation of the soul at having attained liberation while living in this world, through the descent of knowledge by the Grace of Goddess Saraswathi. The soul rests in his own Supreme Self or Satchidananda Brahman. This day celebrates the victory, the achievement of the goal. The banner of victory flies aloft. Lo! I am He! I am He!

This arrangement also has a special significance in the aspirant’s spiritual evolution. It marks the indispensable stages of evolution through which everyone has to pass. One naturally leads to the other; to short-circuit this would inevitably result in a miserable failure. Nowadays many ignorant seekers aim straight at the cultivation of knowledge without the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of the divine qualities. They then complain that they are not progressing on the path. How can they? Knowledge will not descend until the impurities have been washed out, and purity is developed. How can the pure plant grow in impure soil?

Therefore adhere to this arrangement; your efforts will be crowned with sure success. This is your path. As you destroy one evil quality, develop the virtue opposite to it. By this process you will soon bring yourself up to that perfection which will culminate in identity with the Self which is your goal. Then all knowledge will be yours: you will be omniscient, omnipotent and you will feel your omnipresence. You will see your Self in all. You will have achieved eternal victory over the wheel of births and deaths, over the demon of worldliness. No more pain, no more misery, no more birth, no more death! Victory, victory be yours!

Glory to the Divine Mother! Let Her take you, step by step to the top of the spiritual ladder and unite you with the Lord!