Significance of Navarathri
Navarathri is one of those few festivals celebrated throughout India in many states in many forms. In the south, in Tamil Nadu, Navarathri is celebrated with golu, where idols of goddesses and other dolls of significance are setup in steps and worshipped for nine nights. In Karnataka, this period is celebrated as Dasara festival commonly called Mysore Dasara.
In Kerala, Vijayadasami is considered auspicious and tens of thousands of children are introduced to reading and writing on this day. In Telangana, Bathukamma festival is celebrated for a period of 9 days during this time.
In Gujarat and parts of Maharastra, especially Mumbai, Navarathri is celebrated with Garba and Dandiya – Raas dance. In West Bengal, Navarathri is celebrated as Durga Puja.
The most common Navarathri story said to children is the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by Mata Durga, The Mahishasura Mardhini. It is a celebration of the victory of the good over the evil. Like many of you, this was the story I heard in my childhood told and retold by my grandparents and other elders. This was the story I read in several books on Navarathri. I loved to hear this story. It had a great moral that good will always win over the evil and that truth will always triumph. However, my mind did not quite settle down. I grew up with this story, but with several questions unanswered in my mind. Was there really a raakshasha called Mahishasura? Did Maata Sakthi really penance for 9 nights to kill him? Did this really happen? As I grew up I put my questions to sleep, until recently things started falling in place. I am truly grateful to my dear Master for bestowing this amazing knowledge on me.
I consolidated the knowledge gathered over a period of time, elaborated as needed and simplified as much as I could to help everyone understand.
In order for us to understand this high knowledge, we first need to understand tatvas like Shiva and Sakthi. We also need to understand about the energy centers in our body called the chakras.
What is Shiva tatva or who is Shiva?
When you say ‘not this, not this, not this’ and discard everything, what remains that is Shiva tatva. Confusing isn’t it? Let me make it simple.
We know that we are not the body, not the mind, not the memory, not the ego, not the emotions .. we are the soul or the atma, otherwise called the consciousness. The consciousness is Shiva. That’s what is Shiva tatva.
Atma only is Shiva. It is the masculine principle. Shiva is the meditative aspect of the entire universe. He pervades the entire universe. He has no form, but is in every form. Shiva is peace, infinity, beauty and the non-dual one. Shiva is eternal. This higher consciousness that is pure is the same consciousness that is present in every living being in this creation. Yes, it is the same consciousness that is in us.
Picture speaks louder than words right? So, we, human beings gave a form to this higher consciousness, Shiva. Snakes are alert all the time. The snake around Shiva’s neck denotes alertness. This is to indicate the liveliness in the consciousness.
The entire universe is within Shiva. The moon on the forehead and the river on the head indicate that. The Trident held in his hand indicates the 3 states – waking, dreaming and sleeping states of the consciousness and this is held by the 4th state of the consciousness which is Shiva tatva.
Damaru or the small drum called udukkai in Tamil, held in his hand represents sound that is part of the universe. Sound travels in the space of energy. That space, the medium that allows sound and light to travel through it is Shiva tatva.
Shiva is the lord of dissolution. Anything that dissolves, goes into space. This is Shiva tatva.
Now that we know what is Shiva tatva, lets see what is Sakthi. As the name indicates, Sakthi is the activating power and energy. It is female principle. It is nature. It is the primordial cause of the material world. From this Sakthi evolve all other elements. The body, mind, emotions, thoughts, ego are all interrelated parts of Sakthi. She is the material cause of the universe.
Sakthi is not conscious in itself. It is latent. Sakthi and its manifestation exists to provide experience to the soul or consciousness so that the consciousness can gain mastery over the external factors and come to an understanding of the true nature.
Shiva and Sakthi cannot exist without each other in this earthly world. Until Sakthi or energy is impregnated with consciousness, Sakthi is ignorant, distorted and blind. Energy alone cannot produce anything. Shiva or consciousness gives Sakthi the direction. Vice versa, Shiva or consciousness without Sakthi or energy is dormant and cannot do anything on its own. It needs energy. In Tamil there is a very famous saying in the movie Thiruvilaiyaadal ‘சக்தி இல்லையேல் சிவன் இல்லை .. சிவன் இல்லையேல் சக்தி இல்லை’. This means there is no Sakthi without Shiva and no Shiva without Sakthi.
Now, lets take a look at the energy centers or the so called chakras.
We all know the gross body, the body which we can touch and feel. The subtle body is the other body that we cannot see, that which carries our mind, our impressions (karma .. ha ha ha). Then, there is the causal body which is the consciousness, atma or the soul.
In the sleeping state, when we sleep, the physical body is at rest. In the dreaming state, the subtle body is active and that is why we get dreams (dreams from the impressions in the mind). In deep sleep, both the physical and subtle bodies go to sleep but the causal body is still awake and aware.
For this topic, we will consider only the subtle body for now. The prana or life force energy flows through the subtle body through channels called naadiis. These energy channels or naadiis have energy points at various locations called the chakras. The one energy as it flows through the various chakras manifests in different forms. There are several chakras in our body, but 7 chakras are the most important.
1. Muladhaara or Basic Chakra – this chakra is at the base of the spine. If the prana is high, the energy here manifests as enthusiasm and if the prana is low, the energy here manifests as inertia.
2. Swadisthana or Sex Chakra – the same energy from the Basic chakra flows through this chakra. It is 4 inches above the base of the spine. Energy manifests here as lust or creativity.
3. Manipura or Naval Chakra – this is in the naval area. The energy manifests here as greed and jealousy or generosity and joy. That is why all these emotions are depicted with the tummy. Lord Ganesha is depicted with a big tummy to indicate generosity. It is the same with laughing Buddha and Santa Claus.
4. Anahata or Heart Chakra – This is located in the center of the chest. Energy here manifests as love, hatred or fear. Only one of these emotions exist at a given time. For example, when there is love, there is no fear or hatred.
5. Vishuddha or Throat chakra – Energy here manifests as grief or gratitude. We have seen that both during grief and gratitude our throat chokes.
6. Ajna or Third Eye chakra – Energy here manifests as anger or alertness.
7. Sahasrara or Crown Chakra – Energy here manifests as sheer bliss.
Now that we have an idea of the different chakras and the emotions associated to these, lets move on to connecting all that we saw above.
As we saw earlier, the Sakthi or energy is not conscious without Shiva. This unconscious latent energy called the Kudalini is dormant at the base of the spine (Muladaara or Basic Chakra)
On the other hand, Shiva or the consciousness is at the crown of the head (Sahasrara or Crown Chakra).
If the person is low in prana or life force energy, then as we saw above, the energy shows in the Basic chakra as inertia. This inertia prohibits the Sakthi energy to rise up and unite with the Shiva or consciousness in the crown or Sahasrara chakra.
When the Sakthi arises and united with Shiva, that is called liberation or nirvana or enlightenment. There is no more duality, only absolute oneness .. the two merging into one. Once this is achieved, then there is nothing else but bliss and unconditional love. This is what all the souls are longing for aren’t they .
Now, how can this oneness be achieved? The only way is to increase the prana or life force, to fight against and eliminate the inertia that prohibits Sakthi from uniting with Shiva. This prana can be increased through several ways like prayer, silence and meditation. Sometimes forgetting oneself in singing and dancing is also a basic form of meditation.
Navarathri is this time of the year when we celebrate the prana, perform prayers and meditate to increase the prana which only can destroy inertia called the Mahishasura. The inertia is the Raakshasha that Sakthi energy fights against to unite with the consciousness called Shiva. This is what Navarathri is all about.
Now the Navarathri story that we kept hearing time and again all makes sense right?
Still few other questions kept lingering.
Why is this celebrated in the night?
Night or rathri is when we go to sleep to get rest. Sleep rejuvenates, so we wake up fresh the next day. Rejuvenation increases the life force energy.
Why 9 nights?
Our life is governed by the 3 gunas – tamas, rajas and satvic. However, we seldom recognize them. When the prana is low, we are dominated by tamas (tamo guna). Tamas qualities include dullness, darkness or negativity and inertia.
Rajas or (rajo guna) has the qualities of distraction, turbulence and active.
Satvic (sattva guna) has the qualities of stability, harmony and virtue. It is light in nature and luminous.
The first 3 days of Navarathri are attributed to tamo guna, when we worship Goddess Durga to eliminate the dullness. The next 3 days are attributed to Rajo guna, when we pray and meditate to streamline our energy. This is when we worship Goddess Lakshmi to streamline the flow of wealth. The last 3 days are attributed to Goddess Saraswathi, the Goddess of wisdom that leads to enlightenment. The essence of this knowledge is honored by celebrating the tenth day as Vijayadasami.
Why during this time of the year?
Navarathri festival is celebrated during autumn, when the trees shed the old leaves in order to get new ones in spring. Animals get ready to hibernate to rejuvenate fresh in spring. This is the time of the year for us to get rid of the inertia and increase the prana to lead towards liberation which is the ultimate goal of the soul.
Hence Sakthi or female principle is celebrated during this period of nine nights as Navarathri. The Sakthi which fights the inertia called the Mahishasura is worshipped and celebrated as Navarathri.
Happy Navarathri to everyone!!