India these last few days is alive with auspicious pujas and its the nights are vibrant with lights, music, and life! Navratri, the festival which is celebrated with such pomp and zest in India, is the festival that venerates various forms or avatars of the divine feminism which is the representation of positive celestial energy.
Sharada Navratri, a nine-day long festival (Nav = Nine and Ratri = Nights), of which each day is dedicated to the worship of different forms of Shakti (the primordial feminine principle), is celebrated in the bright half of the Hindu calendar month Ashvin, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October.
This festival often ends with the Dussehra (also called Vijayadashami or Ayudhapuja) on the 10th day which celebrates the victory of good over evil. In some parts of India, Dussehra is considered a focal point of the festival, making it effectively span 10 days instead of 9.
While the pattern might vary with difference in beliefs, the first three of the nine days focus on aspects of the goddess Durga (a warrior incarnation of Shakti), the second three on the goddess Lakshmi (the bestower of spiritual, materialistic wellbeing and prosperity), and the final three on the goddess Sarasvati (the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and art). The 10th day marks the victory of the Goddess over the demon Mahishasura which symbolizes the destruction of the evil tendencies of the mind. The different forms of Shakti that are worshipped are as follows:
First Day – Shailputri
वन्दे वाञ्छितलाभाय चन्द्रार्ध कृतशेखराम् ।
वृषारूढाम् शूलधराम् शैलपुत्रीम् यशस्विनीम् ॥
Shailaputri literally means the daughter (putri) of the mountains (shaila). Variously known as Sati, Parvati or Hemavati, the daughter of Hemavata – the king of the Himalayas, she is the first to be worshipped among the Navadurgas. This daughter of the Himalayas is the absolute form of Mother Nature and is the companion of Lord Shiva.
She is the Goddess of the root chakra, the Muladhara Chakra and from here we start our Yogasadhana or the spiritual journey. 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.
Second Day – Brahmacharini
देवी प्रसीदतु मयि ब्रह्मचारिण्यनुत्तमा॥
The word Brahmacharini stems from two Sanskrit roots which mean the Absolute Reality (Brahman) and the feminine form of the word Charya which means the devout moving within, or going after. The word Brahmacharini in Vedic texts means a female who pursues the sacred knowledge.
The embodiment of Shakti in this form represents the relentless resolve of a woman in achieving her desires. This Durga with great powers and divine grace holds a rosary in her right hand and a water utensil in her left hand. She is a blissful maiden and endows happiness, peace, prosperity, and grace upon all devotees who worship her.
Third Day – Chandraghanta
प्रसादं तनुते मह्यं चन्द्रघण्टेति विश्रुता॥
The goddess ‘Chandraghanta’, the one who has a ‘Chandra’ or half-moon in her forehead in the shape of a ‘ghanta’ or bell, is the symbolic representation of beauty and bravery.
Chandraghanta is seen riding a roaring lion or a tiger who represents the malevolence in her serenity. She is the charming goddess that can be fierce when provoked. She has ten hands, three eyes and holds weapons in her hands. She is the beauty that Shiva fell in love with, an apostle of bravery and great strength, the one who fights in the battle against demons!
Fourth Day – Kushmanda
सुरासम्पूर्णकलशं रुधिराप्लुतमेव च।
दधाना हस्तपद्माभ्यां कूष्माण्डा शुभदास्तु मे॥
Goddess ‘Kushmanda’, the creator of the entire Universe is said to have produced the Cosmic egg, bringing light to the universe. Kushmanda (‘Ku’ = little; ‘ushma’ = ‘warmth’; ‘anda’ = ‘the cosmic egg’) has the power and strength to live in the core of the Sun. Her luminosity gives the Sun its brightness. She is said to give directions to the Sun God.
The universe was no more than a void full of darkness until her light spreads in all directions like rays from the sun. Often she is depicted as having eight or ten hands. She holds weapons, glitter, rosary, etc., in her hands, and she rides a lion.
As the Creator, she is credited with the creation of the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh) and the Feminine Trinity of Mahasaraswati, Mahalaxmi, and Mahakali. Shiva and Shakti (in her Kushmanda manifestation) then created this universe together, by merging with each other into the half-and-half form of “Ardhanarishvara”.
Fifth Day – Skand Mata
सिंहासनगता नित्यं पद्माश्रितकरद्वया।
शुभदास्तु सदा देवी स्कन्दमाता यशस्विनी॥
The fifth day or Panchami is dedicated to the Goddess ‘Skand Mata’, the mother of the chief warrior of the Gods army, Skanda.
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 hand is in “varad hasta” (boon giving) and in left lower hand which is raised holds a lotus. She has a bright complexion and often depicted as seated on a lotus.
Her worship is ultimately conducive to salvation. She is regularly known as “The Goddess of Fire”. This motherly form of the Divine embodies compassion and love.
Sixth Day – Katyayani
कात्यायनी शुभं दध्यादेवी दानवघातिनि।।
According to ancient legends, “Katyayani” was the daughter of Katyayana Rishi, born in the Katya lineage originating from Vishwamitra. She is the Goddess of Vengence and Victory. In Shaktism, she is associated with the fierce forms of Shakti which eventually led to slaying the demon, Mahishasura. Skanda Purana mentions her to be created out of the spontaneous anger of the Gods.
Known as the warrior goddess, she is considered as one of the most violent forms of Shakti. In this avatar, Kātyāyanī rides a lion and has four hands. In Hindu traditions like Yoga and Tantra, she is ascribed to the sixth Ajna Chakra or the Third eye chakra and her blessings are invoked by concentrating on this point.
Seventh Day – Kaalratri
एकवेणी जपाकर्णपूरा नग्ना खरास्थिता
लंंबोष्टी कर्णिकाकर्णी तैलाभ्यक्तशरीरिणी।
वर्धनमूर्धध्वजा कृष्णा कालरात्रिर्भयंकरी।।
Kalaratri is one of the many destructive forms of the Shakti. Invoking Goddess Kaalratri evokes the devouring quality of Kala (time) and the all-consuming nature of Ratri (night). She has a dark complexion, disheveled hair, and a fearlessness posture. A necklace of flashing lightning adorns her neck. She has three eyes that shine bright and terrible flames emanate from her breath. She has bountiful hair and four hands, two clutching a cleaver and a torch, while the remaining two are in the varad hasta (mudra of “giving”) abhaya hasta (mudra of “protecting”). So she is also known as ‘Shubhamkari’ – one who does good things.
She is believed to be the destroyer of all demon entities, ghosts, spirits, and negative energies, who flee upon knowing of her arrival. A reference in the Mahabharata appropriately depicts Goddess Kaalratri as representing and personifying the horrors of war, laying its unpleasantness bare.
Kaalratri is also associated with the crown chakra (also known as the Sahasrara chakra), thereby giving the invoker, siddhis and niddhis (particularly, knowledge, power and wealth).
Eighth Day – Maha Gauri
श्वेते वृषे समारुढा श्वेताम्बरधरा शुचिः।
महागौरी शुभं दघान्महादेवप्रमोददा॥
The eighth day is dedicated to the Mata Rani or ‘Maha Gauri’ representing calmness and exhibits wisdom.
Her power is unfailing. Maha Gauri is intelligent, peaceful and calm. The name Mahagauri means extremely white and she is depicted wearing white clothes, has four arms, and rides on a bull. Her right hand is in the abhaya mudra and her right lower hand holds a trident. The left upper hand holds a ‘damaru’ (a small double-sided drum) and the lower one is in the varad mudra. She is the embodiment of purity, innocence, brilliance, and knowledge.
Ninth Day – Siddhidatri
सेव्यमाना सदा भूयात् सिद्धिदा सिद्धिदायिनी॥
Siddhidatri is the ninth form of Shakti. The name is derived from two Sanskrit words “Siddhi” which means supernatural power or meditative ability, and “Dhatri” which means giver.
Siddhidatri has supernatural healing powers. Siddhidhatri has four hands holding a discus, conch shell, trident, and mace, sitting on a fully bloomed lotus or a lion. It is mentioned in the ‘Devi Bhagvata Purana’ that Lord Shiva worshipped her and was blessed with all Siddhis (supernatural powers).
The “Divine Feminism” has always been an intrinsic part of Indian philosophy. The tantra tradition highlights the union of Shiva, the male principle with that of Shakti, the female principle. While the masculinity symbolises stability and static forces, the feminist aspect of the divine represents the dynamic and kinetic forces. Shakti is the energy which mobilises the entire universe into being.
Navratri celebrates all the aspects of life and nature. On this auspicious occasion, May the Shakti empower you with all the best things in life!
सर्वमङ्गलमाङ्गल्ये शिवे सर्वार्थसाधिके ।
शरण्ये त्र्यम्बके गौरि नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ॥
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