Among the popular festivals celebrated in India, Navaratri is
among the longest.
Like the other festivals of India, Navaratri is rich in meaning.
At one level, Navaratri signifies the progress of a spiritual aspirant.
During this spiritual journey, the aspirant has to pass three stages
personified by Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Then, he or she enters
into the realm of the infinite, wherein one realises one's Self.
Navaratri, which literally means 'nine nights,' dedicates three
days each to worshipping the Divine in the forms of Durga, Lakshmi
and Saraswati. The tenth day, though, is the most important; it
is known as Vijayadashami, the 'tenth day of victory.'
The reason behind the worshipping of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati
lies rooted in the philosophy that the attributeless absolute can
only be known through the world of attributesthe journey is
from the known to the unknown. Hence it is said that Shiva, who
symbolises pure consciousness, can only be known through Shakti,
who represents divine energy. That is why people worship Shakti,
also known as Devi, in Her various manifestations.
Inner Meaning of Navaratri Worship
The different stages of spiritual progress are reflected in the
sequence of celebrations during Navaratri. During the first three
days, Durga is worshipped. She personifies that aspect of shakti
which destroys our negative tendencies. The process of trying to
control our senses is akin to a war for the mind which resists
all attempts at control. So the stories in the Puranas symbolically
depict Devi in the form of Durga as waging war and destroying the
However, getting temporary relief from the clutches of vasanas
does not guarantee permanent liberation from them. The seeds of
the vasanas will remain within in latent form. Therefore, we should
supplant them with positive qualities. The Bhagavad Gita refers
to these qualities as daivi-sampat, literally "Divine wealth." Correspondingly,
we worship Lakshmi during the next three days. Lakshmi is not just
the giver of gross wealth or prosperity; She is the Mother who
gives according to the needs of Her children.
Only one endowed with daivi-sampat is fit to receive the knowledge
of the Supreme. Accordingly, the last three days of Navaratri are
dedicated to worshipping Saraswati, the embodiment of Knowledge.
She is depicted as wearing a pure-white sari, which symbolises
the illumination of the Supreme Truth.
The tenth day is Vijaya Dashami, or the festival of victory, symbolising
the moment when Truth dawns within.
Thus, the significance of each stage of worship has clear parallels
in the different stages of sadhana (spiritual practices): first,
negative tendencies need to be controlled; second, virtues need
to be ingrained; third, after gaining the necessary mental purity,
spiritual knowledge needs to be acquired. Only then will the sadhak
(spiritual aspirant) attain spiritual illumination. It is significant
that Vijaya Dashami is considered auspicious for mantra initiation;
advanced spiritual aspirants are also initiated into Sannyasa (vow
of renunciation) on this day.
Significance of Navaratri for Householders
However, Navaratri is not only significant for spiritual aspirants;
it has a message for those who lead a worldly life as well. They
should invoke Durga's help to surmount obstacles, pray to Lakshmi
to bestow peace and prosperity, and contemplate upon Saraswati in
order to gain knowledge. These three ingredients are just as necessary
for a full and complete worldly life. In reality, when we pray like
this, we are but invoking the Shakti that is within ourselves.
Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are not different entities, but different
facets of the singular Divinity.
Some of the spiritual practices associated with Navaratri include
fruit and milk fasts, japa (mantra chanting), chanting of hymns
dedicated to Devi in Her different forms, prayer, meditation and
recitation of sacred texts including the Devi Mahatmya, Sri Lalita
Sahasranama and the Durga Saptashati.
The ninth day is also the day of the Ayudha Puja. The Ayudha Puja
is a worship of whatever implements one may use in one's livelihood.
On the preceding evening, it is traditional to place these implements
on an altar to the Divine. If one can make a conscious effort to
see the divine in the tools and objects one uses each day, it will
help one to see one's work as an offering to God. It will also help
one to maintain constant remembrance of the divine. (In India it
is customary for one to prostrate before the tools one will use
before starting one's work each day; this is an expression of gratitude
to God for helping one to fulfil one's duties.)
Children traditionally place their study books and writing implements
on the altar. On this day, no work or study is done, that one might
spend the day in contemplation of the Divine.
Saraswati Puja and Vidyarambham
The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashami. Devotees perform a Saraswati
Puja (ceremonial worship) to invoke the blessings of Saraswati.
Some devotees also perform pujas dedicated to Durga to mark Her
victory over the demon, Mahishasura.
At another level, Navaratri also highlights the principles elucidated
by the Ramayana. This is hinted at in the other name by which
Vijayadashami is known in India, Dussehra. Click
here for more.