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THE SPIRITUAL SINGNIFICANCE OF NAVARATRI:
Values of the Indian culture and the subject matter of the Vedas in terms of the Navaratri festival:
Navaratri is the greatest Hindu festival in which God is adored as Mother. Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasised to such an extent the motherhood of God. One's relationship with one's mother is the dearest and the sweetest of all human relations. Shakti is the omnipotent power of the Lord, or the Cosmic Energy.
Navaratri is observed twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra and then in Aswayuja. The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother. They are indicated respectively by the Rama-Navaratri in Chaitra (April-May) and the Durga Navaratri in Aswayuja (September-October) from the Shukla Paksha Pratipada (the next of the New moon day of Bhadrapada) to the Dashami or the tenth day of Ashwin. This is the most auspicious festival in the Dakshinaayana or in the Southern hemisphere motion of the Sun. The bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change on account of the changes in Nature. Sri Rama is worshipped during Ramnavmi, and Mother Durga during Navaratri.
Navaratri means nine nights (Nava= nine, ratri = night). The first nine days constitute the Navaratri festival. At Navaratri the Goddess is worshipped in Her various forms as Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Though the Goddess is one, She is represented and worshipped in three different aspects. On the first three nights of the festival, Durga is worshipped. Lakshmi is worshipped on the next three nights, and then Saraswati on the last three nights. the following day, the tenth day of the festival, is called "Vijayaadashmi", "Vijaya" means "victory", the victory over our own minds that can come only when we have worshiped these three: Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.
To gain noble virtues, all evil tendencies in the mind must be destroyed. This destruction is represented by Goddess Durga. Durga is "durgati harihi": She who removes our evil tendencies. This is why She is called "Mahisasura Mardini", the destroyer of Mahisasura (demon), "mahisa" meaning "buffalo". The Divine Mother is represented as having ten different weapons in Her hands. She sits on a lion.
The buffalo stands for "tamoguna", the quality of laziness, darkness, ignorance, and inertia inside of every person. Durga Devi's killing of the Mahisa demon is the symbolic destruction of the "tamoguna" within the heart. In the Durga Devi Havana (sacrifice), the Divine Power within is invoked to destroy animalistic tendencies.
Navaratri is celebrated at the night in order to communicate to the participants: "You have lived long enough in the sleepy ignorance of tamoguna". It is time to get up now. Please, wake up!
The mind must be pure, concentrated, and single pointed to understand the knowledge, which is obtained through worship of Lakshmi Devi.
Goddess Lakshmi represents material wealth. The real wealth is the practice of inner wealth of spiritual values through which ones minds becomes pure. Without the self discipline or self control in the life or without the values of love, kindness, respect and sincerity, the material money is of no value and it itself becomes a problem.
In the mantras of the Taittiriya Upanishad, the 'rishis' first asked to have all the noble virtues fully developed in them. Having gained the noble virtues, only thereafter they asked to bring wealth to them because it was their belief that in the absence of right values and good qualities, all our money will be washed.
Our wealth of virtues is our true Lakshmi. Its importance is shown by the fact that Adi Shankaracharya, in Vivekachudaamani, describes the sat sampati or six forms of wealth:
1. Calmness of mind
2. Self control
3. Self withdrawal
6. Single pointed.
These virtues are important because the goal is to get victory over the mind and it comes only when the mind is prepared, and this mental preparation is the symbolism of the Lakshmi Puja.
The victory over the mind can be gained through knowledge, understanding and Goddess Saraswati represents this real supreme spiritual knowledge, the knowledge of the Self.
Lord Krishna Himself says in Bhagvat Gita: "The knowledge of the Self is the Knowledge", and He adds, "It is My vibhuti, My glory." Without the knowledge of own Self, the knowledge is not considered as complete and full.
The mind becomes purer, calmer, quieter, more cheerful, and greater understanding is gained by worshipping the Goddess and to express this happiness Raas dance, which is the dance of joy—the joy of realization is also performed during Navaratri.
Thus, the theme of the entire Vedas is reflected in the Navaratri festival: Goddess Durga is invoked first to remove impurities and negativities from the mind. Goddess Lakshmi is invoked to cultivate the noble values. Finally, Goddess Saraswati is invoked for gaining the highest knowledge of the Self. This is the significance of the three sets of three nights and when all these three are gained subjectively then there is Vijayaadashmi, the day of true victory!
PURPOSE BEHIND CELEBRATION
1. The basic purpose behind this festival is to worship feminine principle of the Universe in the form of the divine mother to remind the teachings of the Taitareeya Upanishad, "Matru Devo Bhava." Essence of the Navaratri celebration at social level is to remind and respect all the women, who are the guardians of the family, culture, and national integrity, to take lead in times of crisis to guide the humanity towards the path of social justice, righteousness, equality, love, and divinity.
2. Dushera coincide with the period of rest and leisure of the farmers after their strenuous hard work in their farms and fields, hence they invoke blessings of Durga in order to have a rich harvest in the next coming season. In India harvest season begins at this time and as mother earth is the source of all food, the Mother Goddess is invoked to start afresh the new harvest season and to reactivate the vigor and fertility of the soil by doing religious performances and rituals which invoke cosmic forces for the rejuvenation of the soil.
3. On the day of Dushera, statues of the Goddess Durga are submerged in the river waters. These statues are made with the clay and the pooja is performed with turmeric and other pooja items, which are powerful disinfectants and are mixed in the river waters. This makes water useful for the farmers and yields better crops.
4. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Hindawi (Hindu) Swarajya used to always worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga in the form of Goddess Bhawaani before any military expedition. Goddess Bhawaani had blessed Shivaji Maharaj with her own sword called "Bhawaani Talwar".
One of the 3 ½ Muhurtas (Most Auspicious Days):
o 1st Muhurta is Gudhi Padva (Chaitra shukla pratipada), o 2nd Muhurta is Akshaya Trutiya (Vaishakh shukla trutiya) o 3rd Muhurta is Dasara/Vijaya Dashami (Ashwin shukla dashami) o 4th Muhurta Padva in Diwali (Kartik shukla pratipada) is considered as half Muhurta.
As per Hindu Religion, Dushera is considered as one of the 3 ½ auspicious days (Shubha Muhurta). It is proven over years that any new venture started on this day is bound to be successful. Hence in most parts of India Dushera is selected for starting a new businesses, construction activities (house, building, hospital), taking possession of new house, buying new vehicle, buying gold, booking the first order for the business etc.
NAVARATRI IN RELATION TO THE NINE BODILY OPENINGS
As per Indian Vedic Astrology nine planets are (1) Ravi (Sun), (2) Chandra (Moon), (3) Mangal/Bhaum (Mars), (4) Budha (Mercury), (5) Guru/Bruhaspati (Jupiter), (6) Shukra (Venus), (7) Shani (Saturn), (8) Rahu (North Node) & (9) Ketu (South Node).
Human body has nine openings (1) 2 for seeing - Chakshu (Eyes), (2) 2 for hearing - Karna (Ears), (3) 2 for breathing - Nasika (Nostrils), (4) 1 for speech & eating – Mouth, (5) 1 for Malotsarjan - Anus & (6) 1 for Mutrotsarjan – urinary opening.
If the planets favor and all the openings of the human body are kept under proper control, the human life is bound to be a great success.
Navaratri means "nine nights", which we must use to seek blessings from the nine planets and control our openings. In the worship of the goddesses during Navaratri, one of the planets should be worshipped and one of the openings should be cleaned each day, not externally but with heart, mind and soul focused. Bodily actions are ephemeral. The body derives its value from the spirit within. Hence it should be regarded as a sacred temple.
Navaratri festival is observed ten days, out of which nine for cleansing one's self of all impurities, in order to experience the divinity within and the last day is dedicated to "worship of weapons" (Aayudha Pooja). The weapons to be worshipped are the divine powers and virtues within. When the divine is worshipped in this way, one is bound to progress spiritually.
DIFFERENT REASONS OF CELEBRATING NAVARATRI
The Durga Puja is celebrated in various parts of India in different styles. But the one basic aim of this celebration is to propitiate Shakti, the Goddess in Her aspect as Power, to bestow upon man all wealth, auspiciousness, prosperity, knowledge (both sacred and secular), and all other potent powers. Whatever be the particular or special request that everyone may put before the Goddess, whatever boon may be asked of Her, the one thing behind all these is propitiation, worship and linking oneself with Her. Everyone is blessed with Her loving mercy and is protected by Her. It is held in commemoration of the victory of Durga over Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon. In Bengal Her image is worshipped for nine days and then cast into water. Processions with Her image are taken out along the streets of villages and cities.
In Bengal, Durga Puja is a great festival. All who live away from home return during the Puja days. Mothers reunite with their sons and daughters, and wives with their husbands.
The potter shows his skill in making images, the painter in drawing pictures, the songster in playing on his instrument, and the priest in reciting the sacred books. The Bengalis save money throughout the year only to spend everything during the Puja days. Cloth is freely distributed to the Brahmins.
The woman of Bengal welcomes the Goddess with a mother's love and sends away the image on the last day, with every ceremony associated with a daughter's departure to her husband's home and with motherly tears in her eyes. This signifies the parting of Durga from Her beloved mother.
In most of the northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Hariyana etc…) and some parts of Maharashtra Dushera is celebrated more in honor of Rama. Dussera can also be interpreted as "Dasa-Hara", which means the cutting of the ten heads of Ravana.During these ten days many plays and dramas based on the epic of Ramayana are performed. These are called Ramlila.
In Mysore - Karanataka, decorated elephants lead a colorful procession through the streets of the city during Navaratri.
In Gujarat, Garba dance is performed around a pot containing a lamp. The word "Garbha" by which the pot as well as the dance is known, is etymologically close to the word Garbha, meaning womb. In this context the lamp in the pot, symbolically represents life within a womb. Another prevalent practice is of sowing legumes, cereals and other seeds on the first day of this festival in a pot, which is watered for nine days at the end of which the seeds sprout. This pot is worshipped throughout the nine days.
When Mysore was still a princely state, celebrations on this day included a grand procession of the Maharaja (King) of Mysore in a Golden Ambari (elephant mounted throne) to Banni Mantap (a playground) where he would symbolically cut a fully grown shami tree With the integration of the princely states into the Union of India, the Maharaja is now replaced by the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari in the Golden Ambari.
Legend of the Shami Tree in relation to Navaratri
There is another and little-known legend associated with this festival, the one associated with the Mahabharata. The Pandavas underwent a period of exile, 12 years of living in the forest followed by a year of exile incognito. Disguise being indispensable during the latter period, the Pandavas found it necessary to lay aside, for the length of that year, the many divine and distinctive weapons that they possessed. These they hid in a 'Shami' tree in the vicinity* of their chosen place of incognito residence. At the end of a year, they returned to the spot, found their weaponry intact, and worshipped in thanksgiving both the Shami tree and the Goddess Durga, presiding deity of strength and victory.
Meanwhile, the Kauravas, suspecting the residence of the Pandavas there had invaded that area. Upon finishing their devotions, the Pandavas fought the battle, and won the contest. The day that all these events occurred has since been known as "Vijayadashami." In recognition of the endeavors of the Pandavas, even to this day, people exchange Shami leaves and wish each other victory in their own ventures and efforts. The following shloka is used, sometimes, to signify this:
shamI shamayate paapam shamI shaTruvinaashinI | arjunasya dhanurdhaari raamsya priyadasrshinI ||
(Shami, the remover of all sins, the destroyer of all enemies bore witness to Arjuna taking his bow and Lord Rama coming back to his near and dear ones.) – Arjuna's Gandeeva bow was one among them. – It is said that the Shami tree chosen by the Pandavas stood inside a cremation ground. It was chosen to make detection difficult. The Pandavas wrapped their weapons in a white cloth and concealed them on that Shami tree making the weapons look like a dead body.