Navratri is perhaps the most celebrated Hindu festival all over the country. It is directly derived from the Sanskrit language, where ‘Nav’ means ‘nine’ and ‘ratri’ translates to ‘night’; hence making Navratri a festival spanning over a period of nine nights. Evidently, it is also the longest-running festival that the country witnesses.
With slight changes in traditional rituals, Navratri is celebrated in different forms in every place of India, and even in Indian communities in foreign countries, especially in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and so on.
Even though the legend of Navratri has many versions – some taken from ancient scriptures like Puranas, some are folklore and some others are theories devised by mythologists; still, Navratri primarily signifies the ancient conception of victory of the good and destruction of the evil. Hence the day of Dusshera also marks the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana in Lanka.
But the most popular theme goes somewhat like this:
Demon Mahisashura wreaked havoc in the abode of Gods and Goddesses, and heaven was becoming no better than hell. Defeated, all the Gods approached the three heads of our Universe – Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Maheshwar, the destroyer. Their collective energy summoned the universal core of energy, Shakti or the basic form of Goddess Durga and appealed to her to destroy the demon.
She obliged and in the process, she changed her form nine times into nine different avatars, each with a unique manifestation. The nine divine nights of Navratri each signify one avatar of the Goddess. Here are the nine manifestations which are worshipped each day:
- GODDESS SHAILPUTRI
Shailputri is the first avatar of Goddess Durga. Once again derived from Sanskrit, it means the daughter (Putri) of the mountain (shail). According to Shivpurana, after being born as Sati, in her second birth, Devi Durga was born as the child of the King of the Mountains, Himalayas and was hence known by various names like Uma, Hemavati or Parvati. She is the manifestation to be worshipped on the first night and she rides a bull, carries a trident and a lotus in each of her two hands.
- GODDESS BRAHMACHARINI
The second night is dedicated to Goddess Brahmacharini. This is the meditative form of Durga, where she practices severe penance to achieve Lord Shiva as her consort. Legend says that while in meditation, her body was reduced to a mere skeleton. This avatar is a symbol of austerity, devotion, and virtue. She has a simple white sari-clad look and in her two arms, she carries a rudraksha or a rosary and a sacred Kamandulu. Her worship is believed to be the path of salvation.
- GODDESS CHANDRAGHANTA
The third avatar is Goddess Chandraghanta, who is a fierce and powerful being with ten hands with weapons in them. She is the embodiment of strength and bravery and rides a lion to the battlefield. There is a crescent-shaped moon on her golden bright forehead, and it is lore that the vibrations from her bell brought an end to the lives of many evils; together from which she gets her name.
- GODDESS KUSHMANDA
Goddess Kushmanda is worshipped on the fourth day of the festival. She gets her name from the Sanskrit words ‘Ku’ meaning ‘little’, ‘Ushma’ meaning ‘energy and ‘Anda’ meaning egg. Collectively it means the one who created the cosmic egg in its tiniest form from her intrinsic energy. This manifestation is at the very core of the concept where the origin of every life in the cosmic universe is the ultimate energy of one singular feminine center. This avatar of Durga emanates extreme energy and Goddess Kushmanda is considered as the creator of the entire universe.
- GODDESS SKANDAMATA
In this form, the Goddess is seen in a calm and serene pose with her first-born son on her lap. Here she is seen as the mother of Lord Kartikeya, the Commander the Gods chose to lead their army to battle against the demons in later years. She is four armed and seated on a lotus, but also accompanied by her most recurring and popular vehicle, the lion. Goddess Skandamata is the fifth avatar who is worshipped on the day of Panchami.
- GODDESS KATYAYANI
Goddess Katyayani with four arms, seated on a lion and carrying a sword is the sixth form of Goddess Durga. Mythology has it that once upon a time, a saint called Sage Katyayan desired to have the Mother Goddess as his true-born daughter, and hence went through much penance and austerity for that. It satisfied the Goddess and she kept her word to him by being born as a human in the form of his daughter and got the name Katyayani. She is worshipped on the sixth day of Navaratri.
- GODDESS KAALRATRI
This form of Goddess Durga gets her name from words meaning dark and night. She is the fiercest manifestation of the Goddess, carrying a sword, a trident, and a noose. She breathes flames of fire and similar enraging fieriness emanates from her entire being. She has a dark complexion, as dark as the night and protects her devotees from the annihilation of the evil. She has four arms, rides a donkey and is worshipped on the seventh night.
- GODDESS MAHAGAURI
Goddess Mahagauri is known to be ridden on a white elephant or a bull, carrying a trident and a Damru, a symbol signifying her ties to Lord Shiva. The legend is, when Shiva, satisfied with Parvati’s extreme penance and sacrifices to get him as her consort, paid her the much-desired visit, he washed her broken down shadow of a figure with the holy water of Ganges and she regained her previous beauty and grace. This rejuvenated and reborn form of Durga came to be known as Devi Mahagauri and is worshipped on the Mahashtami of Navratri.
- GODDESS SIDDHIDATRI
Goddess Siddhidatri gets her name from Sanskrit words ‘Siddhi’ meaning ‘accomplishment’ and ‘datri’ meaning ‘giver’. She sits in an enchanting pose of blissfulness on a lotus with a lotus, a mace, a chakra and a book in each of her four hands. Siddhidatri is the manifestation that blesses one and all and ushers knowledge and prosperity over everyone.
After the nine divine nights are over, the Dusshehra or Vijaya Dashami symbolizes the ultimate victory over everything evil and negative. It is said that the rituals performed over the nine days and nine nights brings upon the worshippers the blessings of happiness, prosperity, and wisdom. But in a more practical sense, the celebrations and festivities spread over almost a fortnight give the people of the country a rejuvenation and a new-born spirit for life.
Thus with the submergence ceremony of Devi Durga and her nine avatars culminated in herself, we bid goodbye to her idol, but we hold on to the hope and blessings and wait for a year for the next Navratri to come.