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The Hindu calendar is full of festivals; Navaratri among them is the longest. In addition to the nine nights as its name implies, there is an additional tenth day Vijaya Dasami!
We have heard the statement: that Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion. Festivals like Navaratri reinforce the strength of such declarations. A festival initially attracts us through the color, gaiety, music and dance associated with it. As we grow older, we start understanding the significance of the festival and turn our mind inwards.
The attractive aspects are plenty in the case of Navaratri: colorful dolls representing all aspects of God's creation are bought, dressed up and displayed proudly on nine decorated steps. We worship this sample of creation and the power behind it all by singing songs in praise of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. We invite friends and family to come and share in this celebration and feed them with sweets and shundal and presents!
Slowly, we begin to grasp the significance of Navaratri and the symbolism behind the festival. The power behind creation is Shakthi in its three aspects: Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. This power, we are assured by the Rishis-- the Seers, resides in each one of us. We have to invoke this Shakthi to assist us in reaching our ultimate goal which is realization of Oneness with the Divine Self in us.
Navaratri aptly starts on the first day after Amavasya, the New Moon day. The moon was steadily waning and reached its last stage of losing all the luster from the bright Sun. In Hindu mythology, the unsteady mind with its varying moods and modes is represented by the waxing/ waning moon. In the ideal state, the mind must be always illumined by Divine Knowledge represented by the Sun. But due to ignorance, we manage to cast upon it the dark shadow of our selfish ego which is bent upon fulfilling its worldly selfish desires. As a result, we progressively descend into the depths of spiritual darkness comparable to the full moon steadily declining over the fortnight into Amavasya or New-moon. Hope still exists because the Sun of knowledge continues to shine in the deep recesses of our hearts. We have only to know this, make a determination and reach it with great effort, overcoming the obstacles in the way caused by our misdirected ego.Durga Mata
This determination and effort is indicated by the commencement of the navaratri celebration starting with the worship of Durga, invoking her Shakthi for the removal of the obstacles in our spiritual path; these obstacles were responsible for our decline into the lack-lustre new-moon mind-set. Mythology tells us that Durga is the One who destroyed the powerful demon Mahishasura (Mahisha = Bull; asura = demon, our undisciplined self).. The Bull is characterized by great inertia and also great rage a very apt model for our own ego. (Remember the bull in the china shop!) All our spiritual practices are hindered by inertia; we start, but soon stop, like the immobile Bull on the street blocking all traffic. No wonder we make very little progress. We are also swayed by extreme passions like the enraged Bull which then charges wildly. The slaying of this demon by Mahishasuramardhini (another name for Durga) symbolizes the taming of this ego-bull and putting it to productive use in the service of God. Observe how the same Bull under the total control of its master Shiva becomes Nandi whom we worship Nandi always faces the Lord and is eternally in His service. The Durga Shakthi, if invoked through prayer, will help us to yoke our ego and plow the spiritual field for us.Sri Lakshmi
The next three days are devoted to the worship of Lakshmi. The yoked ego is now ready for Karma Yoga which ensures a dynamic life filled with selfless activity. This helps to cleanse the mind of selfish desires. Any action needs resources and Lakshmi is the provider of every resource needed by us. When you need courage, Dhairya Lakshmi provides it for you; Valor by Virya Lakshmi; material resources by Dhaanya Lakshmi and Dhana Lakshmi and so on: that is why Lakshmi in eight forms known as Ashta Lakshmi is worshipped. Whereas all the resources needed for Karma are provided by Lakshmi, we need Vidya (knowledge) and Viveka (power of discrimination) to use these resources in the right manner.
To make an intelligent choice, we need a well-informed mind: the education needed for this is given by Saraswathi whose Shakthi we invoke in the final three days of Navaratri. You may have seen in paintings of Saraswathi a peacock rapturously listening to the music played on the Veena by the Goddess. When we pray to Saraswathi, she plucks our heartstrings from which divine music issues forth. Our ego, tamed and trained by the power of Durga and Lakshmi then starts listening to the dictates of the pure Intellect and the divine music of OM. The Bull has been transformed into Nandi, ready to serve our spiritual purpose. Nothing then prevents us from proceeding further in the path of Self-Realization and reaching the ultimate goal of Sat Chith Anand.(Reality-Consciousness-Bliss)
We are aware of the power of the untamed ego and how it can take us along the wrong path. Who would not therefore, celebrate ultimate victory in this battle and taming it for spiritual use? At the conclusion of nine days of prayer and meditation, we celebrate our spiritual victory on Vijayadasami day. (Vijaya = Victory; dasami = tenth day). On this day, students rededicate themselves to their study through formal recitations from their books and paying their respects to their Guru; professionals rededicate themselves to their work symbolically by worshipping the tools of their trade. Mentally, every devotee renews the determination to work towards the spiritual goal of Sat Chit Ananda.
Whatever our age, we are all students trying to learn Truth, Reality in various ways. The Navaratri celebrations every year help us to invoke the divine power which resides in everyone of us and through the Grace of Shakthi, to proceed further on the path of self-realization with faith and renewed vigor to the ultimate goal of Sat Chit Ananda.
In Bengal the festival is known as Durga Puja and is the most important one for the people and is an occasion for family reunion. The image of the Goddess is worshipped in the home and in public places where community worship is organized. This is an occasion for the potter to display his skill in making images and other artists in decoration, music. Worship is offered for nine days; the tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the triumph of the soul at attaining liberation through descent of knowledge by the Grace of the Divine Mother. The image is taken in a procession and immersed in the sea or a lake.
In South India, the festival is celebrated as a colorful exhibition of dolls arranged on ascending steps; families and friends are invited to come and join in the celebration, sing and worship. The ninth day is Saraswathi Puja day when the Goddess of learning is worshipped. On the tenth day, Vijaya Dasami is celebrated when new students get enrolled and new projects are commenced, after offering worship to the Goddess; old students continue their studies, invoking the Goddess' Blessings and and renewing their contact with their revered Gurus..
In Gujarat, the most common form of public celebration is the performance of the popular folk-dance Garba. Ladies wear ethnic Chania Choli and Males wear Dhoti-Kurta and dance through the Night. The participants move round in a circle around a mandvi (garbo), a structure to hold earthen lamps and to house the image or idol of mother goddess. Pandals are erected over these madvis and decorated with date palm leaves, flowers and electric light. As the dancers whirl around the pot, a singer and a drummer provide the musical accompaniment. Another popular Gujarati dance during Navaratri is the dandia-ras or stick dance, in which men and women join the dance circle, holding small colorful, polished sticks or dandias. As they whirl to the intoxicating rhythm of the dance, they strike the dandias together creating rhythmic beats, adding to the joyous atmosphere. The costumes worn for the dances are traditional and alive with color.
Navaratri also 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, the king of Lanka and Lord Rama's adversary. His ten heads symbolise the ten senses (five of perception and five of action). Ravana's manifest extroverted-ness stands in contrast to Dasha-ratha, 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.
In the northern states of India, the Dussehra festival celebrates the home-coming of Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana, after his victory over the ten-headed Ravana, the king of Lanka. In vast open spaces, Ram-leela folk-plays with music and impromptu dialogues re-telling the story of the life of Rama are enacted late into the night. Songs are sung in praise of Rama and people throng in thousands to witness this traditional theatre. Larger-than- life figures of Ravana and other demons are burnt on cold dark nights with fire-works lighting up the sky.
Dussehra is also reminiscent of the end of the exile and banishment of the Pandava princes in the Mahabharata and their return with their weapons to reclaim their kingdom. In memory of this epic story, people in Maharashtra worship the implements of their professions, distribute the leaves of the Shami tree as gold and express their goodwill.
All over India, this ten-day period is observed as a festival of thanks-giving and celebrated in diverse, colorful ways to celebrate the glory of Devi, the Shakthi Goddess who guides and helps us to gain victory over the forces of evil - the unbridled sensory deviations. The diverse ways in which the festival is celebrated is characteristic of the Indian way of life.
Satya Sai Baba's instruction on the observance of Navaratri:
Navarathri festival is observed
by contemplating on God for ten days,
do during these ten days of the Navarathri
Scene from the Veda Purusha Jnana Yajna held
during Dasara, October 1988
In the human body, the Divine flows through all the limbs as the divine essence (rasa) and sustains them. This divine principle is called the Embodiment of Divine Sweetness (Rasaswaroopini, or Angirasa). These divine principles that permeate and sustain the physical body should also be worshipped as mother goddesses. Then there are the great sages (maharishis), who investigated matters relating to good and evil, right and wrong, what elevates man or degrades him, and, as a result of their labors and penance, gave to mankind the great scriptures, indicating the spiritual and mundane paths and how humanity could redeem its existence. These sages have also to be revered as divine mothers.
The cow, the earth, the presiding deities for the body, the sages, and the guru are all worthy of worship as the embodiments of the divine Motherhood. Although these five appear in different forms and names, they have one thing in common with the mother. They play a protective and sustaining maternal role for mankind and hence should be revered and worshipped as divine mothers.
Conversely, the mother of every child displays in relation to the child the attributes of these five entities. The mother nourishes the child, provides the necessaries for its growth, teaches the child what it should know and what it should avoid, and leads it on the path of righteousness.
The life of a man who cannot respect and love such a venerable mother is utterly useless. Recognizing one's mother as the very embodiment of all divine forces, one must show reverence to her and treat her with love. This is the true message that this nine-night festival (the Navaratri) gives us. The supreme Shakti manifests herself in the form of Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Durga grants to us energy --physical, mental, and spiritual. Lakshmi bestows on us wealth of many kinds --not just money but intellectual wealth, the wealth of character, and others. Even health is a kind of wealth. She grants untold riches to us. And Saraswati bestows intelligence, the capacity for intellectual inquiry, and the power of discrimination on us. The Navaratri festival is celebrated in order to proclaim the power of the goddesses to the world. One's own mother is the combination of all these divine beings. She provides us with energy, wealth, and intelligence. She constantly desires our advancement in life. So she represents all the three goddesses that we worship during the Navaratri festival.
Divine Discourse: 14 October 1988
The term Devi represents the divine power that has taken the passionate (raajasic) form to suppress the forces of evil and protect the serene (satvic) qualities. When the forces of injustice, immorality, and untruth have grown to monstrous proportions and are indulging in a death-dance, when selfishness and self-interest are rampant, when men have lost all sense of kindness and compassion, the Aathmic principle assumes the form of Sakthi, takes on the passionate (raajasic) quality, and seeks to destroy the evil elements. This is the inner meaning of the Dasara festival.
When the divine Goddess is in dreadful rage to destroy the wicked elements, she assumes a fearful form. To pacify the dreaded Goddess, her feminine children offer worship to Her with sacred red powder (kumkum). Seeing the blood-red kumkum at her feet, the Goddess feels assured that the wicked have been vanquished and assumes her benign form. The inner meaning of the worship of Devi with red kumkum is that thereby the Goddess is appeased.
During the ten days of the Dasara, the demons (rakshasas), in the form of wicked qualities, have been routed. Rakshasas do not mean demonic beings. The bad qualities in men are the demons. Arrogance is a demon. Bad thoughts are demons. Ravana is depicted as the king of Rakshasas. He is said to have ten heads, but he was not born with ten heads. Who is this Ravana, and what are his ten heads? Lust (kama), anger (krodha), delusion (moha), greed (lobha), pride (mada), envy (maatsarya), the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), will (chitta),and ego (ahamkara) --these constitute the ten heads. Ravana is one who has these ten qualities.
Each one can decide for himself whether he is a Ravana or a Rama, according to his qualities. Rama is the destroyer of bad qualities. When engaged in this act of destruction of bad qualities, He manifests His passionate quality (raajo-guna). But His passionate quality is associated with His serene (saatvic) quality. Even in cutting off Ravana's ten heads, Rama showed His love. This was the only way Ravana could be redeemed.
When the Lord metes out a punishment, it may appear harsh. But what appears externally as passionate (raajasic) is in reality serene (saatvic). In a hailstorm, along with rain there will be hailstones. But both the rain and hailstones contain water. Likewise, there is serene quality even in the Lord's passionate actions. Similarly there may be passionate quality even in slothful (thaamasic) actions. These depend on the time, place, and circumstances in which the Lord acts. Butter can be split with a finger. But a powerful hammer is needed to break a piece of iron. The Lord deals with serene persons in a serene way. He applies the passionate weapon against passionate persons.
People worship the Lord as Roudraakaara, attributing dreaded forms and qualities to the Divine. This is not proper. The Divine has only one attribute: the embodiment of love. It has been said, "Love is God. Love pervades the Cosmos." Hence, one should not view the world from a worldly point of view. It should be viewed through the eyes of love.
Embodiments of Divine Love! All the festivals of Indians (Bharatiyas) have been designed to promote divine love among the people. It is to confer such love on the people that the Lord incarnates on earth. He Himself demonstrates how love should be expressed. He showers His love and teaches everyone how to love. Hence, experience this love and joy in your life and live in peace.
Divine Discourse: 18 October 1991
Indians (Bharatiyas) have been celebrating the Navaratri festival from ancient times as a mode of worship of Devi, the Divine as mother. They worship Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati during those nine days. Who are these three? These three forms have fascinated man. Their esoteric significance is represented by three potencies (shakthis): karma, devotion (upaasana) and spiritual wisdom (jnaana).
The significance of Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati has to be rightly understood. The three represent three kinds of potencies in man: will power (ichchaa shakthi), the power of purposeful action (kriya shakthi), and the power of discernment (jnaana shakthi).
Saraswati is manifest in man as the power of speech (vaak). Durga is present in the form of dynamism. Lakshmi is manifest in the form of will power. The body indicates purposeful action (kriya shakthi). The mind is the repository of will power (ichchaa shakthi). The Aathma is the power of discernment (jnaana shakthi). Purposeful action comes from the body, which is material. The power that activates the inert body and makes it vibrant is will power. The power that induces the vibrations of will power is the power of discernment (jnaana shakthi), which causes radiation of energy. These three potencies are represented by the mantra, Om Bhur Bhuvah Suvaha. Bhur represents the earth (bhuloka). Bhuvah represents the life force, conscience in man. Suvaha represents the power of radiation. All three are present in man. Thus, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati dwell in the human heart.
Men are prone to exhibit passionate (raajasic) qualities like anger and hatred. They are the menacing manifestations of Durga. The extolling of the Divine in song and poetry and the pleasing vibrations produced by them indicate the power of Saraswathi. The pure qualities that arise in man, such as compassion, love, forbearance, and sympathy, are derived from Lakshmi.
When people worship Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi externally in pictures or icons, they are giving physical forms to the subtle potencies that are within them. The unfortunate predicament of man today is that he is not recognizing the powers within him and developing respect for them. He goes after the external, attracted by the physical forms. The relationship between the material and the subtle has to be understood. The remedy for man's life is contained within himself. But man seeks remedies from outside.
What should do during these ten days of the Navarathri festival? Convert your will power (ichchaa shakthi) into a yearning for God. Convert purposeful action (kriya shakthi) into a force for doing Divine actions. Convert your power of discernment (jnaana shakthi) into the Divine Itself.
Divine Discourse: 9 October 1994
Navarathri means "nine nights". What does the nine signify? There are nine planets (grahas), according to astrology. The human body has nine openings. If a deep inquiry is made, it will be found that mankind is dependent on the planets. Although astrologers speak about nine planets, in reality, only two "planets" matter: attachment (raaga) and hatred (dwesha).
In the worship of the deities during Navarathri, one of them should be worshipped each day, not externally but with one's heart and soul. Bodily actions are ephemeral. The body derives its value from the spirit within. Hence it should be regarded as a sacred temple. During the Navarathri festival, for the purpose of eradicating one's demonic tendencies, the deities were worshipped with sacred powder (kumkum). The red powder is a symbol of blood. The meaning of this worship is that one offers one's blood to the Lord and receives in return the gift of peace from the Lord.
Therefore, the Navarathri festival is observed by contemplating on God for ten days, cleansing one's self of all impurities, in order to experience the divinity within. The penultimate day of the festival is dedicated to what is termed "worship of weapons (aayudha puja). The weapons to be worshipped are the divine powers in man. When the divine is worshipped in this way, one is bound to progress spiritually.