Navaratras: Nine days of festivity and fasting

“Sarva mangala mangalye shive sarvaartha saadhike Sharanye trayambake Gauri Narayani namosthute” (Meaning of the mantra: To auspiciousness of all auspiciousness, to the Good, to the accomplisher of all objectives, to the Source of Refuge; tryambake; to the Goddess who is Rays of Light; Exposer of consciousness; We bow to you again and again. We worship you.) Ma sherawaliOne of the most auspicious and widely celebrated festivals in India, Navratri or Navratra or nine nights reminds us to rededicate our lives to the great spirit of Mother Goddess Durga. Navratri, Navratra in North India, is a nine day holy festival, which is celebrated to propitiate Goddess of Shakti or Divine Mother. The common norm is to keep fast on all the nine days of the festival. Devotees also visit temples dedicated to goddess all over India. The festival is observed very enthusiastically in the state of Gujarat where all nine nights of Navratras are spent in vibrant Garba and Rasa dance. In West Bengal Durga Puja is the most important festival and is celebrated with gaiety and enthusiasm. There are some important mantras to invoke the Goddess. During the Nine-day-long festival, chanting of these mantras gives us maximum benefits. Ya devi sarva bhutesu, shanti rupena sansitha Ya devi sarva bhutesu, shakti rupena sansthita Ya devi sarva bhutesu, matra rupena sansthita Namastasyai, namastasyai, namastasyai, namo namaha! (The goddess who is omnipresent as the personification of universal mother The goddess who is omnipresent as the embodiment of power The goddess who is omnipresent as the symbol of peace I bow to her, I bow to her, I bow to her again & again.) durgaAnother mantra to Goddess Durga: Yaa Devi Sarva Bhooteshu Buddhi Roopena Samsthita Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha (Meaning: OH Goddess (Devi) who resides everywhere in all living beings as intelligence and beauty I salute to you. Take my salutations again and again.) Namoh devyai mahadevyai shivayai satatam namah Namah prakrutyai bhadraayai niyataah pranataahsma taam Jagdamb Vichitramatra Kim Paripoorna Karunaasti Chenmayi I Aparadha Parampara Param Na Hi Mata Samupekshate Sutam II (O mother of the world Jagdamba, you are the one who looks after her children. Your love and kindness towards me is no surprise O mother goddess. Being a mother you forget all our sins and correct us without abandoning your children) Navratras mark the onset of festive season in India. The festival is followed by Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Life is full of devotion and trust. People take this opportunity to rededicate their life for the cause of sacrifice and humanity. According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga is the Mother Goddess or Shakti, the divine female energy. Legends say that Lord Brahma granted a boon to Mahishasur who was king of the demons. Armed with the prowess of the boon, Mahishasur wrought havoc in the universe, and no one could defeat him or kill him. He became so relentless that he didn’t even spare the god and started terrorizing the Gods (Devtas) as well. Long time back, a demon (Asura) named Rambha was the King of the Asuras. One day he saw a beautiful she-buffalo, and was immediately fallen in her love. The son born of this union was Mahishasura. After Rambha, Mahisha became the King of the Asuras. Mahisha was very powerful and after a rigorous penance, he could satisfy Lord Brahma. He wanted immortality which was turned down by the Brahma. durga-puja5330Mahishasura said, “Since it is not possible for me to be immortal, may I not die at the hands of Men. May I not die at the hands of my foes, the Devas. May I not die at the hands of the great Trinity. If death has to approach me, may it approach me only through a woman since woman is weak, woman is powerless. How can a woman kill all powerful Mahisha? If you grant me this boon, I shall be as good as immortal.” The Lord said, “O best among the Asuras. You shall become all powerful among men and Gods. You shall lead a long life, but it shall come to an end, through the means of a woman. There is no escaping fate. You shall not die, except at the hands of a woman.” Armed with the boon He one day reached Heaven to kill Indra (King of Gods). Totally helpless, Indra asked Lord Brahma to help him. Lord Brahma was enraged at such blatant misuse of his boon and the power associated with that boon, he along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahesh, released their energies and combined these shaktis (powers) and out of the combined energies of all the gods was born a magnificent Goddess with many arms. This form of Shakti was called “Durga”. Goddess Durga armed rode on a Lion (Singh) and fought a fierce and a bloody battle with the Mahishasur. The legends further say that for nine days and nights, Goddess Durga fought a fierce battle with Mahishasur. In order to deceive the goddess, Mahishasur changed his form many times. On the tenth day, Goddess ultimately overpowered him and trapped the demon and killed him and the world heaved a sigh of relief. Her victory symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. During these nine days, the devotees are totally the propitiation of the Mother Goddess or Shakti . Hinduism is the only religion the world which has emphasized to such an extent the motherhood of God. During the Navratri festival, every night is dedicated to one form of Goddess Durga. Thus Navratri corresponds to worship of different forms of Goddess Durga. Maa Shailputri: The daughter of Parvatraj Himalaya (King of the Mountain Himalaya). She married Lord Shiva and is known as mother of Lord Ganesha (The Remover of obstacles) and Kartikeya (The God of War). Maa Brahmachaarin: She gives the message of pure love to the world. Maa Chandraghanta: She establishes Justice. She wears the crescent moon on her head. Maa Kushmaanda: She provides the basic necessities, and every day sustenance to the world. Skand Maa: She gives the gift of differentiation & discrimination of right from wrong to the world. Maa Kaatyayini: She persistently & relentlessly battles against the evil and deceitful & devious entities. Maa Kaalratri: She killed Raktabeeja (A demon who had the power to produce a demon from every drop of blood that fell from his body. Goddess & Divine Mother eventually licked the blood before it could reach the ground and hence conquered & over powered him). Maa Chaamunda: She killed two demons–Chanda and Munda and restored tranquility & order in the world. Maa MahaGauri: She also liberated the world from the evil forces. Mata Sidhidaarti: She is a treasure house of Mystic Powers (Yantra Tantra) and Knowledge (Gyaan). The nine days are also divided and devoted to the Trinity of Gods worshipped in a female form. First three days are dedicated to Maa Durga (Goddess of valour, power and energy). The next three days, Maa Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity) is invoked and the last three days for Maa Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge, Learning and Art). Rituals during the nine days: Rituals for first three days: During the first three days of Navratri Maa Durga is worshiped in its manifestations as Kumari, Parvati and Kali. These three forms represent three different nature or classes of woman – as a young virgin girl, as a wife and mother and as an old mature woman respectively. On the first day of Navratri, barley seeds are sown in a small pot in the Puja (worship) room. On the tenth day when these seeds grow into small shoots these are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from god and are received as Prasad. Rituals for Fourth – Sixth Days of Navratras: During these three days, Mother Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshiped. This is done to rekindle divine qualities in a devotee’s mind. Prayers, kirtans and Jagratns are organized in various temples. On the fifth day which is known as Lalita Panchami, it is traditional, to gather and display all literature available in the house, light a lamp or ‘diya’ to invoke Saraswati Maa, the Goddess of knowledge and art. Rituals for Seventh – Eighth Days of Navratras: On the seventh and eighth day, Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge, Learning and Art) is worshiped. It is believed that worshiping Maa Saraswati enhances the spiritual knowledge of a devotee and makes a person free of all bonds of the life. This in turn will free a devotee from all earthly bondages. On the eighth day of this colourful festival, Yagna or Homam (holy fire) is performed. Pure Desi Ghee (clarified pure butter), kheer (rice pudding) and sesame seeds form the holy offering to Goddess Durga Maa (Divine Mother). The eight day is also known as ashtami. Rituals of the Ninth or Mahanavami Day: The festival of Navratri culminates on Mahanavami, the most important day of the festival, when ‘Kanya Pujan’ is performed in Hindu households. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshiped. Their feet are washed and then they are offered new clothes as gifts by the worshiper. They are also treated with a Prasad of Puri, Black Chanas (Chhole) and Halwa, small token of money, red bangles and red scarf. On this day these girls usually move from house to house and enjoy and relish this special treat. This ritual is performed in most parts of the country. During the Navratri days, people eat pure vegetarian food. Some people eat food without any form of cereal and some fast for all the eight days. People also visit the world famous holy shrine of Maa Vaishnodevi, located on Trikoot Mountain near Jammu during this period. Lunches and Dinners are also organized in temples and community places which are known as bhandaras. In Gujrat and West Bengal, Navratras are celebrated with great pomp and show. In West Bengal during Navratras, Goddess Durga is worshipped. The pujas are held over a five day period, which is viewed as the home coming of the married daughter, Durga, to her father, Parvatraj Himalaya’s (Mountain King Himalaya) home. Durga Puja is considered to be the most important festival of the Bengali people. During these days, Bengali people buy new clothes, exchange sweets and most of the new purchases are made.

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