“Navaratri” is a Sanskrit term, literally meaning – nine nights. It is a Hindu festival celebrated for 9 nights and ten days to with reverence to Hindu Goddess Durga, and commonly called “Durga Puja”. Falling near the autumn equinox (September-October) it is one of the most celebrated Navratri festivals and is also called “Sharad Navaratri” or “Maha Navratri”.
Navratri is celebrated throughout the Indian subcontinent, though different cultures celebrate it differently. The festival celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura; concluding on the day of Dussehra festivities.
The festival of Sharad Navratri began on Sunday 29th September 2019 as a nine day long reverence to Goddess Durga and will concludes with Durga Visarjan (idol immersion) on the day of Vijayadashmi (Dussehra) on Tuesday, 8th October 2019.
Each day of Navratri is devoted to one of the nine incarnations of Goddess Durga, namely- Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skand mata, Katyani, Kalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhiratri.
Devotees observed fast on the first day of Sharad Navratri and performed worship of one of the nine forms of Goddess Durga – Shailaputri.
The atmosphere in almost every Hindu household has turned religiously pious with most of the people doing regular Goddess worships and abstaining from consumption of liquor and meat.
When is Sharad Navaratri Celebrated
There are four seasonal Navratris celebrated as per the Hindu calendar in the months of Chaitra (March-April), Aashadh (June-July), Ashwin (September-October) and Magha (January-February). The most significant Navratri is Sharad Navratri, falling in the Lunar month of Ashwin. It is called Sharad Navratri as it falls in Sharad Ritu (Fall season). The first day of Sharad Navratri is called Pratipada and its last day corresponds with the Dussehra festival. The second most celebrated Navratri is Chaitra Navratri, falling in the month of Chaitra (Mar-Apr).
Like many other Hindu festival Navratri is also closely related to the position of Sun, Moon and stars. The time to perform the rituals is astronomically determined.
History of Navratri
It is difficult to ascertain the exact date or era during which the custom of Navratri celebrations began. The feminine aspect of divine natural forces is mentioned in the oldest books on planet – the Vedas, dating back to 6000 BCE. There are mentions of ancient sages worshipping Goddesses like – Usha and Saraswati.
The earliest references to a divine mother fighting evil were made in the Puranas, composed during 400 to 1000 BCE. The first and most significant ancient text which indicates the celebration of Navratri is “Durga Saptashati” also called Chandi Path. It was practiced widely in India during 3rd century BCE. The scholars and Gupta kings edited the text around 4th century, making it more popular.
There are various myths and legends associated with Navratri Festival. One of the most famous one revolves around Goddess Durga and an evil king Mahishasura. Another legend has Mahishasura as an Aryan king and Goddess Durga as another queen.
1) Goddess Durga and Evil Demon Mahishasura
Legends have it that Mahishasura was an evil king with the head of a buffalo. However, he was an ardent devotee of Lord Brahma and after years of worship and penance was offered a wish by the latter. Mahishasura asked for immortality. He asked for a wish that he could never be killed by a man or an animal on the face of earth. Somehow, he thought that he was too powerful to be killed by a woman and didn’t need any wish regarding it. Thus, Lord Brahma granted a boon to Mahishasura that he could not be killed on earth by a man or an animal, but a woman would be able to kill him.
Getting the boon of immortality, Mahishasura headed on, to conquer the three worlds – heaven, earth and hell. He also tried to capture Indraloka – the kingdom of Lord Indra. Thus a battle ensued between Mahishasura and other Gods led by Indra. However, Mahishasura emerged victorious given to the immortality boon.
Dejected with the defeat, Gods asked Lord Vishnu to intervene. After assessing the situation Lord Vishnu decided to create a woman to slain Mahishasura. Since, Lord Shiva is the God of destruction he was also consulted. Thus, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva combined all their powers and created Goddess Durga.
Durga is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi and is revered as “Mahashakti”- the supreme power. The battle between Mahishasura and Goddess Durga lasted for fifteen days, during which Mahishasura took forms of various animals to escape her. However, on the concluding day when he took the shape of a buffalo, he was cornered by Durga who killed him with her trident. The day Mahishasura was killed by Durga is called “Mahalaya” and marks the first day of Navratri celebrations.
2) Aryan King Mahishasura and Queen Durga
Another legend states that Mahishasura was a powerful Aryan king, whose people worshipped buffalos. The king was so powerful that he captured the whole kingdom of Aryabarta, defeating many kings. A queen appeared to rule the northern parts of Aryabarta. The defeated kings started pleading alliance with the queen. Subsequently their collective army grew in numbers and strength.
When Mahishasura came to know about the Queen’s growing strength he sends a messenger, offering her to become his consort. Thinking that a woman could not harm him, Mahishasura kept on sending messengers; though, every time the queen declined his offer. In the mean time queen’s army grew in number and strength and finally an attack on the buffalo king was planned.
Inferior in strength and number, Mahishasura’s army was defeated and he was killed by the queen by her spear. The queen is believed to have fed dead Mahishasura to his pet lion. With the passage of time the queen took the form of Adi Shakti and revered as Goddess Durga.
How is Navaratri Celebrated
Navratri is a major Hindu festival which is celebrated throughout India as well as places outside India. The ways to celebrate Navratri however differs with the cultures and beliefs of people. Some places the warrior form of Durga is worshipped while in others, her more peaceful forms like Lakshmi and Saraswati are revered.
Navratri is celebrated with much fervor and devotion on the Eastern state of West Bengal. During Navratri thousands of marquees (Hindi – pandals) are erected on every street, square and locality. Inside the pandaals a stage is erected on which the bust of Goddess Durga is placed, following full religious rituals. The most common depiction is Goddess Durga mounted on a Lion, holding a trident in hand, the other end of which is pierced into Mahishasura’s chest, who is lying on her feet.
Navratri begins with Mahalaya, which is the first day of festival. People prepare for nine days long fast and veneration of Goddess, starting from Mahalaya. Those who fast abstain from eating rice, wheat, common salt and usually consume fruits, nuts and milk products.
The sixth day of Navratri called Sashthi is the most significant as it marks the inauguration of festivities and Goddess Durga is welcomed on this day. It is on Sashthi that the pandals are open for general public to worship and venerate Goddess Durga. For the next three days – Saptami (7th), Ashthami (8th) and Navami (9th), various forms of Goddess Durga along with Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha are worshipped.
People visit to various pandals with family and friends, to get a glimpse of their most revered Goddess – Durga the Mahashakti (Supreme power). On the last day of Dashmi (10th) a huge procession is take out to a nearby or distant specifically created artificial pond.
Another event coinciding with Durga Puja in northern India is Ramleela. Ramleela is a kind of re enactment of life incidents of Lord Rama, from his birth to his return to Ayodhya after exile. The last day of Ramleela coincides with Dashmi (10th) day of Durga puja and it is believed that on this very day Rama had Killed Ravana.
In some eastern states and Rajput communities of Rajasthan, a ritual of animal sacrifice is followed. Usually the animal is goat and the sacrifice is believed to stimulate the violent side of Durga to fight against Mahishasura.
Navratri is celebrated by the migrated Hindu population in, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Trinidad and UK and at all the places around the world, with significant Hindu Diaspora.
Significance of Navratri
Sharad Navratri is most significant Hindu festival lasting for nine nights and ten days. It has cultural, spiritual and religious significances. It signifies the victory of righteousness over immorality or good over evil. The display of festivities, gives a chance to people from other faiths, to understand and respect Hindu culture, rituals and beliefs.
The death of a powerful demon Mahishasura at the hands of a woman –Goddess Durga, signifies the strength a woman could have and that if her conscience is stimulated, she can deal with the most powerful evil forces of the universe.
Nine Days of Navaratri
Every day of Navratri also has its own significance and is dedicated to a separate incarnation of the Goddess and its veneration. All the nine days of Navratri and their significance are given below-
Day 1: Shailaputri (Arya)
The first day of Navratri is called Pratipada and is dedicated to the veneration of Shailaputri; one of the manifestations of Goddess Durga. Shailaputri means daughter of the mountain; an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi. Thus Shailaputri is worshipped as a consort of Shiva and is depicted riding a bull, with a trident (trishul) n her right hand and a lotus in her left. Shailaputri manifests action and vigor; hence the color of the day is red.
Day 2: Brahmacharini
The second day is devoted to the veneration of Goddess Brahmacharini. Brahmacharini means a devoted female student, who resides in an ashram of gurukul with her teacher and other students. Goddess Brahmacharini is another incarnation of Parvathi, which the latter adopted to undergo the penance in order to achieve her goal of Shiva as husband.
Day 3: Chandraghanta
The third day is dedicated to the veneration of another incarnation of Goddess Durga, known as Chandraghanta, meaning shaped like a bell. She is depicted as possessing a third eye which is always open and she is always ready to fight the demons. She rewards her devotees with her grace and strength.
Day 4: Kushmanda
Kushmanda is another incarnation of Durga credited with creating the world with her smile. The word is formed by combining – “Ku” means little, “Kush” means warmth and “Anda” means cosmic egg. She is believed to bestow her devotees with wealth and strength.
Day 5: Skandmata
Skandmata means mother of Skanda; latter is another name of Kartikeya – son of Goddess Parvathi and Lord Shiva. Skandmata has four armed and is depicted riding a lion, carrying lotus in her hand and one hand postured to giving blessing and holding lord Skanda (Kartikeya) in her lap. She is also seated on a Lotus. She is believed to reward her devotees with salvation and prosperity.
Day 6: Katyayani
Katyayani is incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, daughter of a sage Katyayana and is one of the most violent forms of Goddess Durga. Katyayani has four hands and is depicted riding a lion. At some places Goddess Katyayani is worshipped by young girls to get husbands like Lord Krishna.
Day 7: Kalaratri
Kalaratri is the most ferocious form of Goddess Durga and an incarnation of Parvathi. It is believed that Goddess Parvathi has removed her fair skin to kill the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha. Goddess Kalaratri is shown wearing a white sari and fiery eyes, her body turned black. She is believed to protect her devotees from harm.
Day 8: Mahagauri
Mahagauri is depicted riding a bull and is also called Shwetaambardhara, because of her extremely fair complexion. She represents intelligence and peace and blesses her devotees with purity, removing their sins and calming their lives.
Day 9: Sidhidatri
Goddess Sidhidatri is depicted sitting on a lotus and is believed to bestow his devotees of all types of Siddhis (paranormal powers). She has four arms and holds a lotus, Sudarshan Chakra, mace (gada) and Shankha (conch shell) in each of her hands.