The Legend of Navrathri
The Hindu festival of Navratri is a nine day celebration and worship of Shakthi or Devi. During this period nine forms of the female Shakti or Devi form is worshiped. There are many legends about Navratri.
Markandeya Purana , one of the 18 Mahapuranas of Hinduism, regales the slaying of Mahishasura or Mahisha by Durga and it is referred as Devi Mahatmya , usually recited during Navratri or Durga Puja. This part is from chapters 81 to 93. . It symbolized the victory of good over evil. Mahishasura the demon was born as a union of Rambha and a she buffalo (Mahishi) and consequently was a half man and half buffalo. The mighty demon was rendered more powerful as a result of a boon from God Agni, according to which he could only be killed by a woman. He managed to wreak havoc in heaven by chasing away all Gods from there. All the Gods then approached lord Vishnu and lord Shiva who were aware that only a woman could kill Mahishasura.
They decided to create a Goddess out of the collective powers or ‘Tejas’ of all the God’s and so was born a Goddess who combined in herself all that was mighty and powerful in each God. She was armed by a trident from Shiva, Chakra from Vishnu, a Lion from Himalayas and bows and arrows from Vayu. The Goddess filled with combined power and anger of all the Gods was fierce to behold and her very sight scared the demons. When the goddess was seen by Mahishasura, he fell in love with her and sought to marry her. The goddess promised to marry him, if he defeated her in the battle. A terrible combat ensued and continued for nine days. Finally, Durga assumed the terrifying form of Chandika and pinned Mahishasura down with her foot and pierced his neck with her spear and she cut his head off with her sword.
The Victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura is celebrated as Navarthri.
It is also believed that Sri Rama had prayed Devi for nine nights to accumulate enough power to kill Ravana . On the tenth day he killed Ravana , which is celebrated as Vijaya Dasami or the tenth day of Victory. This was continued as custom by Kshathriyas . After four months of long monsson when military activity was not possible, it was considered as a good time to start afresh on one’s conquests. For nine days kings prayed Devi in nine different forms with their ammunition and arms surrendered to Devi. Tenth day with the blessings of Devi they start their war preparations.
The nine forms of Devi worshipped during Navrathri are
Durga Shailputri (Daughter of Mountain)
Shailaputri literally means the daughter (putri) of the mountains (shaila). Variously known as Sati Bhavani, Parvati or Hemavati, the daughter of Hemavana – the king of the Himalayas, she is the first among Navadurgas. Her worship takes place on the first day of Navaratri – the nine divine nights. The embodiment of the power of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, she rides a bull and carries a trident and a lotus in her two hands.
Bharmacharini means one who practices devout austerity. She enlightens us in the magnificent embodiment of Durga with great powers and divine grace. She holds a rosary in her right hand and a water utensil in her left hand. She is blissful and endows happiness, peace, prosperity and grace upon all devotees who worship her. Filled with bliss and happiness, she is the way to emancipation – Moksha.
The name of third Shakti is Chandraghanta. There is a half-circular moon in her forehead. She is charmful and bright. She is Golden color. She has three eyes and ten hands holding with ten types of swords – etc. weapons and arrows etc. She is seated on Lion and ready for going in war to fight. She is unprecedented image of bravery. The frightful sound of her bell terrifies all the villains, demons and danavas.
Name of fourth Durga is Kushmanda. The Shakti creates egg, ie. Universe by mere laughing .She resides in solar systems. She shines brightly in all the ten directions like Sun. She has eight hands. Seven types of weapons are shining in her seven hands. Rosary is in her right hand. She seems brilliant riding on Lion. She likes the offerings of “Kumhde.” Therefore her name “Kushmanda” has become famous.
The fifth aspect of the Mother Durga is known as ‘Skanda Mata’ – the mother of Skanda or Lord Kartikeya, who was chosen by gods as their commander in chief in the war against the demons. She is worshipped on the fifth day of Navaratri. She is accompanied by the Lord Skanda in his infant form. Skanda Mata has four arms and three eyes, holds the infant Skanda in her right upper arm and a lotus in her right hand which is slightly raised upwards. The left arm is in pose to grant boons with grace and in left lower hand which is raised also holds a lotus. She has a bright complexion and often depicted as seated on a lotus.
Sixth Durga is Katyayani. The son of “Kat” as “Katya”. Rishi Katyayan born in this “Katya” lineage. Katyayan had observed penance with a desire to get paramba as his daughter. As a result she took birth as a daughter of Katyayan. Therefore her name is “Katyayani” . She has three eyes and eight hands. These are eight types of weapons missiles in her seven hands. Her vehicle is Lion.
Seventh Durga is Kalratri. She is black like night. Durga hairs are unlocked. She has put on necklaces shining like lightening. She has three eyes which are round like universe. Her eyes are bright. Thousands of flames of fire come out while respiring from nose. She rides on Shava (dead body). There is sharp sword in her right hand. Her lower hand is in blessing mood. The burning torch (mashal) is in her left hand and her lower left hand is in fearless style, by which she makes her devotees fearless. Being auspicious she is called “Shubhamkari.”
The Eighth Durga is “Maha Gauri.” She is as white as a conch, moon and Jasmine. She is of eight years old. Her clothes and ornaments are white and clean. She has three eyes. She rides on bull She has four hands. The above left hand is in “Fearless – Mudra” and lower left hand holds “Trishul.” The above right hand has tambourine and lower right hand is in blessing style. She is calm and peaceful and exists in peaceful style. It is said that when the body of Gauri became dirty due to dust and earth while observing penance, Shiva makes it clean with the waters of Gangas. Then her body became bright like lightening. Therefore, she is known as “Maha Gauri” .
Siddhidatri is the ninth form of Goddess. She is worshipped on the ninth day of Navaratri. Siddhidatri has supernatural healing powers. She has four arms and she is always in a blissful happy enchanting pose. She rides on the lion as her vehicle. She blesses all Gods, saints, yogis, tantrics and all devotees as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess. In ‘Devi Bhagvata Purana’ it is mentioned that Lord Shiva worshipped her and was blessed with all Siddhis (supernatural powers). By her blessings his half body became female and other half body male in the avatar of Ardhnarishvara.
Navrathri now a days is celebrated for its mythological significance in varying forms by different communities. For example the Gurkha community sacrifices a buffalo symbolic of killing Mahishasura by Durga. In Bengal it is celebrated as Durga Puja. The celebration lasts for five days starting from Maha Shashti (the sixth day) and ends with Bijoya dashami (the tenth day). The first day of the celebration starts with Bodhon on Maha-Shashti, which is like welcoming Goddess Durga and ends with immersing the idols in the nearby rivers, lakes and seas on the evening of Dashami. However, it is considered to immerse the idols in the sacred waters of the River Ganges. According to mythology Goddess Durga descends to the Earth on Shashthi and returns to her abode on Dashmi.
In Gujarat Navarathri is celebrated with dance and songs. The Garba of Gujarat is the most popular women’s folk dance of Gujarat. During Navratri, a pot is ceremoniously placed attractive designs are made on the pot and a light is placed inside. Village girls bearing pots (garbis) on their heads go from door to door and dance around the respective house.
The leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus, the beat being produced clapping hands or striking sticks in unison. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap.
The Garba is indeed a ceremony in which everyone can take part irrespective of caste or social position. The dances are accompanied by drums (dholak) and the vocal women. The songs of the Garba are often history and melodious and have been handed down through generations. The origins of the seem to be a tribal dance revolving around a hunt; later it was transformed into an agricultural ritual dedicated to the goddess Ambika. Today it is a social dance at all levels of society. In essence, it continues to be a fertility dance.
In Tamil Nadu, the first three days of the festival are dedicated to Lakshmi, the next three to Durga and the last three to Sarasvati. The nine-day celebration is compartmentalized in certain parts of the country, dedicating three days each to a trinity of goddesses: to Durga the goddess of valour, to Lakshmi the goddess of wealth and to Sarasvati the goddess of knowledge.
The one thing that remains constant in most parts of the country is that daytime is exclusively for prayers, fasting, and solemnity while the nights are spent in joy and revelry. Men, women, and children, who have fasted during the day, have a light repast of fruit or other non-cereals at night before going out to enjoy the festive season.
In Punjab, people organize Jagrans to sing devotional songs all night in praise of the Mother Goddess. Solemnity and piety mark these nine days as even those Punjabis who do not keep a fast, stop eating non-vegetarian and impure food items like onion and garlic.
Another part of the Navratri celebrations is the Ramlila. In places like Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, almost every locality has its own group of actors re-enacting episodes from the life of Lord Rama. This is probably because, the day after Navratri, i.e. on the tenth day of Ashvin called the Vijaya Dashami, it is said that Lord Rama killed Ravana and other demons to rid the earth of evil.