Navratri: Nine Powerful Manifestations Of Goddess Durga
“I bow to Thee Gouri Naryani,
Who art the cause of the welfare of the world.
Who art good, who grants every wish, in whom
One takes refuge.
Who art three -eyed,
You are the nectar of immortality.
O eternal and imperishable One,
You are the embodiment of the threefold mantra,
The AUM sound.
From Devi Mahatmyam
Since ancient times the number 9 has been considered sacred and auspicious. Keeping in mind the divine connotation of this number Rishi Vyas created nine Puranaas. It takes nine months of gestation period for the birth common to all human beings. The nine moods or bhavas or emotions find artistic expression in classical dance and music. It is said that all legendary epics or kavya possess the Navarasaas which is why they have a universal appeal to this day. We have the Navagrahas the nine celestial planets which are said to play a major role in deciding the destiny of man. The term Navratna or nine gems was a term applied to a group of nine extraordinary people in emperor Akbar’s court. Nava also means new. Sages and rishis attached special spiritual significance to number 9 hence we have the Navratri—the nine nights dedicated to the Mother Goddess Durga.
It is believed that Sati, an avatar of Goddess Durga, comes from Mount Kailas to stay with her parents for nine days every year. This calls for celebration hence we have the Navratri festival. After fighting with Mahishasura the buffalo-headed demon for nine days Goddess Durga defeats him on the 10th day. Navratri is celebrated to honour Durga’a victory over the demon. Symbolically speaking Durga defeating the demon signifies the victory of good over evil. Another popular legend says Lord Rama who wanted to free his wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana worshipped Goddess Durga in nine forms for nine days to kill Ravana and rescue Sita.
There are nine powerful manifestations of Goddess Durga hence she is called Nav Durga. In her first manifestation the Goddess is ShailaputrI—the daughter of the mountains. In this form she is also known as Parvati, Bhavani, Hemavati—daughter of the king of Himalayas. In this avatar she rides a bull and is the embodiment of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. In the second form the Goddess is Bramacharni—one who practices devout austerity. She holds a rosary in her right hand and a water utensil on the left. In this form the Goddess bestows her devotees with moksha or salvation. The third manifestation of Goddess Durga is Chandraghanta—here she is the apostle of bravery, she can fight demons. She has a half moon on her forehead. In the fourth form the Goddess is Kushmanda—the creator of universe. The universe in the beginning was dark and void and it was Kushmanda who spread light in all directions. As Skanda Mata—the fifth form of Durga—the Goddess is represented as the mother of Lord Kartikeya. She has four arms, three eyes and holds a lotus on her right hand. She holds Lord Skanda, who was chosen by the Gods as their commander to wage war against the demons, in her arms. In the sixth form Durga is Katyayani. It is said that the renowned Sage Kata prayed to have the Goddess as his daughter. So Goddess Durga was born as Katyayani to Sage Kata. The seventh avatar of Goddess Durga is Kaal Ratri or Kali. In this manifestation the Goddess has a dark, fearless posture hence she is called Kali. She holds a sparkling sword in her right hand and she is the protector for her devotees. The eighth form of Durga is Maha Gauri. In this form the Goddess is intelligent, peaceful and calm. She wears white clothes and rides on a bull. The last and the ninth form of the Goddess is Mata Siddhidatri. In this avatar the Devi has supernatural healing powers. She blesses all gods, saints, yogis and tantrics.
In the first three days of Navaratri—the Goddess is represented as a spiritual force called Parvati or Kali. During the first three days Durga is worshipped as Kumari—signifying the girl child. The most important ritual here is the, “Kumari worship” where a small girl is seen as the embodiment of the Goddess. The next three days Durga is the giver of wealth—she is Lakshmi. She has power of bestowing abundant material wealth and prosperity on her devotees.
The last three days are spent in worshipping Durga as the Goddess of wisdom in the form of Saraswati. During Saraswati Puja on the ninth day musical instruments and books are kept in front of the Goddess and worshipped for knowledge.
The seminal inference here is that to have an all-round success in life one needs valour which one can get from Kali, wealth which one can get from Lakshmi and wisdom which one get from Saraswati.
Navratri is celebrated by different communities in different ways. Gujaratis set up garbas—clay matkas which symbolise Goddess Durga. Garba means womb in this context the lamp in the pot or matka represents life within the womb. Men and women dance in pairs with small decorative bamboo sticks called dandias round the garba. The dance is in complete rhythm it starts off with slow movements and later goes into frenzied movements.
During Navaratri in South India it is customary to display Golu or Kolu which is an exhibition of various dolls and figures in odd numbers 7, 9 or 11. The dolls represent Gods and Goddesses and mythology. One of my earliest memories is of displaying the Dasa Avataram—the ten forms of Vishnu when we kept Golu at home in Chennai. Ladies who came home to see the Golu would be given haldi kumkum, betel nuts and leaves and prasad.
In eastern India—Bengal—Navratri is celebrated through public ceremonies of, sarbojanim puja or community worship. Huge decorative temporary structures called pandals are constructed to house grand pujas followed by mass feeding and cultural events. On the 10th day the earthen statues of Goddess Durga are immersed in the sea. Bengali ladies give an emotional farewell to their Mother Goddess. It is said that no matter how busy our President Parnab Mukerjee is he never misses the Durga Puja in his ancestral village in Bengal.
In Chembur—a central suburb in Mumbai where I stay—the Sri Subramania Samaj Temple conducts the Navachandi Mahayajnam on all the nine days of Navratri. Ten priests are especially called to Mumbai for this puja from Tamil Nadu and they sit round the kalasha reciting 700 slokas or mantras. The object of performing the Navchandi Mahayajnam, says the secretary of the temple, is asking the Mother Goddess to bestow peace, prosperity and protection for the entire universe. Mr PS Subramanium the simple, soft spoken secretary of the Subramania Samaj Temple, who has dedicated 40 years of his life in serving the temple speaks of the charity work which the temple does. The Subramania Samaj Temple provides medical and educational aid to the needy. Mr Subramanium proudly tells me that when scholarships were given Muslim students were sitting in the front row. He says Subramania Samaj Temple sees only merit and names Nadar John—a Christian, Sheikh Muskaan a Muslim from Saraswati Vidyalaya and Aisha Noorjehan another Muslim student who got scholarships from the temple. “Durga is the universal mother, she embraces all, so why should the temple discriminate between Hindu, Muslim and Christian students,” asks Mr Subramanium.
By Indira Satyanarayan