Navarathri meaning (nine nights) is a nine night-ten day festival dedicated to the various forms of Goddess Durga. Celebrated on a grand scale in parts of India and Nepal, Navarathri is one of the ritual highlights on the Hindu calendar. Devotees of the Mother typically fast, pray and house dolls of the Goddess in their homes. Large parades and festivals featuring beautiful larger-than-life sculptures of Her are paraded through the streets, flanked by throngs of devotees. It’s a beautiful, colourful and festive time!
There are several different Navarathri phases throughout the year, however, the (current) cycle held in the month of September/October is usually the biggest, grandest one of them all. Generally speaking, using the Vedic Calendar, the major Navaratri period begins the day after the New Moon in Virgo (Kanya ‘Virgin’ Raasi/Sign). (The Western calculation would view that as the New Moon in Libra just past). We call this the start of the month of Ashwin (in some Hindu calendars- there are various, and they don’t all align). The Tamils for instance, consider this the 9th day of the month of Protasi (Purataasi Maasam)
We’ve just begun celebrating Navarathri today (September 25th 2014), which will continue for nine nights and culminate on the 10th day (October 4th 2014)
On each day, a different aspect of the Goddess is venerated, each with Her own sacred symbolism, form and purpose. On the 10th day we celebrate Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra (or Dasara) – on this day, all forms of the Goddess Unite as one. Twenty days from Vijayadashami, Hindus will celebrate Deepavali/Diwali. This corresponds with the night before the New Moon in Libra (Vedic Calendar) and falls on October 23rd, this year.
I interpret the energy of Virgo as the Rising Woman, the Self-Sufficient Priestess Nurturing Herself and Others. The celebration of Goddess during the Virgo New Moon is a powerful and logical association to make. As we (all) align ourselves to Her vibrations, through fasting, prayer and ritual we set powerful intentions for the next astrological cycle ahead – with the Full Moon in Pisces, six months from now (as per the Vedic calendar). Virgo is to Shakti as Pisces is to Shiva – in my understanding of the Two.
The celebration of Navarathri at this time paves the way to Deepavali/Diwali, the Festival of Lights (October 23rd 2014) – which I will write on, closer to the date.
Each day of Navaratri corresponds to a different aspect of The Goddess. There are multiple ways of conceptualizing these Nine Aspects, so there isn’t ‘One’ Narrative that defines the process. Also, the festival is celebrated differently across the various regions of India 🙂
My preferred interpretation of it is to break it down into three segments:
Days 1-3 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Durga in her form of Mother/Warrior – Nurturer/Protector. (September 25-27 2014)
Days 4-6 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Laxmi. She brings Grace, Abundance, Comfort, Harmony and Peace to the world in Material Form and in that sense shares many attributes with Goddess Venus. (September 28-30 2014)
Days 7-9 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Saraswati. She brings Knowledge and Wisdom and is more associated with the Intellect and the Mind. (October 1-3 2014)
Day 10 is conceptualized in different ways (more details shared on October 4th!). It is said, that through the entire Navarathri period, the Goddess is engaged in battle with a fierce demon known as Mahishasura (the ‘Buffalo Demon’). On Vijayadachami – literally meaning victory (vijaya) on the tenth day of the lunar month (dachami), she combines her 9 forms, and energies, into One and gains the strength to defeat him. This is why Goddess Durga is also known as Mahishasuramardini. You can hear a wonderful rendition of the Mahishasura mardini Strotam here:
In this conceptualization, I interpret the duration of the 9 days to correspond to the natural progression of the human chakra system. We begin with issues of tribal connection and survival in the first three days (defending the self from enemies and nurturing one’s family/tribe). We move on towards a wider understanding of material concerns, and a desire for comfort, attachment and pleasure in its many forms. We finally learn the wisdom of detachment and explore the higher faculties of Mind.
— till we finally transcend that too — on the 10th day – Vijayadashami – The gifts of each chakra are combined, and the lessons of each integrated. We are finally able to overcome our perceived obstacles. This ‘victory’ is normally depicted as The Mother slaying the Buffalo Demon Mashisura, her eight arms poised at the climax of battle. Another narrative suggests that it was on this day that the gifts of the male gods combined to form the powerful goddess Durga – whom some accounts suggest as the Virgin.
(For those interested you might want to read my take on ‘Reclaiming the Virgin’ to get the fullest implications of using that term – and the astrological energy of Virgo associated with this 9 night, 10 day festival. http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5i )
Personally, I resonate more with this interpretation of how the Mother ‘defeats’ Mahishasura: that it is not through battle/death, but through her sheer Loving, Powerful Presence for nothing untoward can exist in such Purity. I listened to this interpretation some time ago and will share the link with you when I chance upon it again. It took a while for it to sink it, but when it did – I couldn’t look at the narrative in quite the same way.
Putting it all together, I view these 9 days of prayer as a Pathway to Transcendence, within Material Form. The Rise of Virgo (Goddess / Priest/ess / Divine Feminine) as She Comes into Her Own Power – which includes of course, the same aspect of energy in men.
As we embody the Mother’s Love in Material Form, connecting all parts of our Being …. We learn that her Lessons of Strength and Power come .. at the end of the Day, through the Highest, Deepest, vibration of Cosmic Love.
Blessings to All. And Happy Navarathri.
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
You can find out a lot more about this festival online. Astrological and spiritual interpretations are my own. unless otherwise stated.
Image Information: “Durga Puja celebration” by Dipankan001 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Durga_Puja_celebration.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Durga_Puja_celebration.jpg