Navratri is one of the largest festivals celebrated in India each autumn. The exact date of the festival is determined by the lunar calendar, and this year falls on September 25th through October 3rd. Navratri literally means “nine nights.” In this festival, we celebrate and honor our Shakti, that Divine form of manifest energy and power within each and every one of us. Traditional Hindu mythology depicts Shakti in the form of deities or goddesses; this is to help us gain greater understanding of different aspects of the Divine resting within ourselves. The three deities honored during Navratri are Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.
The first three days of this nine-day festival are dedicated to Durga. She is a powerful goddess, depicted wearing a red sari, sitting on a tiger, and holding a different weapon in each of her eight arms. The story goes that in order to conquer the great demon Mahishasura, the three great Gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva combined their individual powers to create the manifest form of Durga. Needless to say, the great demon was conquered by Durga! In this story, Mahishasura represents all of the demons that lie within us; our anger, jealousy, ego, hatred, lust. Fortunately, we also have all of the weapons of Durga within us. Her weapons include forgiveness, love and devotion, the power to discriminate vices from virtues, performing our dharma/duties, happiness, courage, our character and values, and detachment. So, we spend the first three days of Navratri honoring Durga, this powerful force within us that carries these weapons of destruction. We awaken Durga within ourselves so that we may use these weapons to destroy the negative habits and thought patterns that are obstacles on our spiritual path.
Once we have eliminated our vices, we have created the space to honor Goddess Lakshmi during the next three days of Navratri. She is considered to be the goddess of wealth and prosperity, love and beauty. Yes, she is the one who takes care of our material needs, but she also provides us with spiritual wealth by helping us to cultivate our positive qualities. She is often depicted as sitting on a lotus flower. The lotus flower floats, completely unaffected by the muddy water below. Similarly, we invoke Lakshmi to blossom the positive qualities of love and beauty within our hearts so that we may be spiritually prosperous and remain unaffected by negative vices.
Now that Durga has eliminated our negative vices and Lakshmi has made us prosperous, we are ready to gain knowledge from Goddess Saraswati. The final three days of Navratri are in celebration of Sarswati, the goddess of art, music, and knowledge. She is depicted in a white sari, symbolizing purity. She has four arms, carrying spiritual scriptures in one, a lotus flower in the second, and holding a musical string instrument with her other two hands. She is often associated with a flowing river, representing free-flowing wisdom, knowledge, creativity and consciousness.
To better understand these aspects of Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati, it may be helpful to consider the process of harvesting a garden. We first need to pick out all of the weeds from our plot of land; Durga helps us to do this by eliminating our vices. Then, we need to plant the seeds; Lakshmi helps us by planting the seeds of our virtues. Finally, we need to nourish the seeds and the land by watering them regularly; the free flowing water of Saraswati blesses us with this spiritual wisdom. These nine days of Navratri give us the opportunity to honor this garden within us; to honor the incredible powers that each of these deities represent, recognizing that these powers reside within each and every one of us.
Honor and embrace your Shakti!
*Note: Navratri is celebrated twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Exact dates vary by year, based on the lunar calendar