Introduction to Navratri Hindu Festival – September 2017
Navratri is a celebration of the divine mother/goddess within the traditions of Hinduism. It consists of nine days (or nights, ratri) of goddess worship, usually held twice per year.
The festival includes puja (prayer ceremony), fasting from foods, and other activities such as chanting, singing and playing music. Traditions do vary by geography, family groups, or the individual. Anyone can partake in the festival and perform puja for the Goddesses Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Each a different manifestation of God as Divine Mother.
Who is the Divine Mother?
She is Shakti, she is mighty. Within Hinduism, the aspect of Divine Mother is well developed, although it can also be found in so many different religions around the world.
According to Hindu thought, “The Divine Self or God has two aspects: Mother-aspect and Father-aspect. Truth, knowledge, power, infinity, justice, abstraction, sublimity, and suzerainty are qualities applied to the Father-aspect, while beauty, bliss, love, energy, luminosity, compassion, proximity, eternity and grace are the qualities of the Mother-aspect.” p. 11 Worship of God As Mother -Swami Jyotirmayananda
Everything and each person possess both motherly and fatherly qualities. Those within the spiritual discipline of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma, meaning Eternal Truth) are seeking to attain enlightenment (moksha). When this happens both the Mother and Father aspects merge and the duality is no longer present, they are freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. The goal to reach Moksha also means to leave ignorance behind. Therefore gaining full awareness. This spiritual path is represented each day with the sunrise. Theses phases of darkness, dawn, and sunrise are also represented in Navratri. Each Goddess plays her part.
Divine Mother in Navratri
The Divine Mother has many different forms and manifestations according to the needs of the spiritual aspirant. “The same Mother puts on different veils during the different conditions in the evolution of the soul to aid its Godward movements. How compassionate, how motherly!” p. 14 Worship of God As Mother -Swami Jyotirmayananda
In Navratri, we meditate on Her representations through Goddesses: Durga or Maha Kali, Shri Lakshmi, and Maha Saraswati. The three are focused on in this order, each for three days, representing three stages of the spiritual growth.
First Three Days: The Goddess of Destruction
Kali is the female version of the word Kala, directly translating to: Black. Kali and Durga are different incarnations of the same Goddess. Durga rides a mighty lion while Kali is often depicted with skulls and severed limbs. They are so terrible and fierce, you may wonder why someone would worship this? Let me explain…
Kali/Durga actually represent the destruction of ignorance and ego. Breaking out of the darkness or lack-of-awareness. This is an important first stage in spiritual growth. This darkness is a description of Maya Shakti – the great cosmic illusion. We are all living in this Maya/illusion through our various incarnations, acting our Karmas. The ignorance and the illusion are part of that process. Maha Kali and Durga serve to destroy the ignorance that no longer serves us. We tend to hold tight onto our egos, right? No wonder it’s often painful when Kali comes to break it down. The purpose of it is to allow us to grow, to get on to the next step within our spiritual path.
Hindus pray to Divine Mother in this manifestation for several reasons (more on Kali worship). The next stage is moving away from darkness: the metaphorical dawn and prayer to Shri Lakshmi the goddess of prosperity. After dawn is the sunrise, She who is the giver of knowledge (and creativity) in the form of Saraswati. This is why in Navratri we celebrate these three goddesses consecutively.
Navratri devotees pray, meditate, and perform puja ceremonies to the Divine Mother, an aspect of God present within all of us. She appears in different manifestations depending on the spiritual aspirant’s needs along their path. In the nine days (or nights) of this festival first Maha Kali or Durga is worshiped, followed by Lakshmi, and Saraswati. The metaphor of these three stages is the darkness (Kali), the dawn (Lakshmi) and the sunrise (Saraswati). This is a path from ignorance to awareness, or from darkness to light.