My earliest memories of Navratri are of dark nights, good food and folk songs being sung in my Grandma’s crackly but sweet voice. I must have been about five and would sit on her lap quietly gazing at the lamp that burned continuously for nine days.
As I grew older, I came to realise that there was more to our own family tradition of Navaratri. I started to understand why my Dad slept on the floor and spent hours in prayer. Why we had so many visitors on the ninth day and such sadness when it was all over. And in years to come, I saw that not only was everyone’s experience so diverse, but that Navaratri is a festival of introspection and celebration alike.
In many ways, this ‘growing up’ is what Navratri really is – moving from the shallow to the deep. As we grow, we see the same things in a new light and this very understanding is what differentiates us as infants, children or adults.
The nine nights equate to the nine months of gestation in the womb where our mothers nurtured us from being a bunch of cells to a complete human. These days are symbolic of striving and achieving – many mystics see this world itself as a “garbha”, or womb, of Ma in which we grow and develop. And in time, the Sun of knowledge rises and breaks dawn over our being. We are born and awakened.
This same word “garbha” gives us “garba”, where we dance around a pot or vessel which signifies Ma’s universal womb. Placed inside is moong, which represent fertility (since they sprout so quickly!) and a lamp. It is a reminder that we, Her children, are always playing, singing and dancing in Her lap. It shows us that there is no end to Her lila, that everything is cyclical and ever changing. It puts Ma at the very centre of our world.
Of course, the tales of Sri Rama defeating Ravana and Sri Durga slaying the demon Mahisasura underpin the nine nights and tenth day of victory. It is, as always a reminder of good conquering evil. More importantly, the battle rages for nine nights because no victory is possible without dedicated effort, and every triumph is earned through struggle.
The nine nights themselves are divided further: the first three are dedicated to Mahakali who, through Her fearsome form, devours all obstacles and shackles. The next three are devoted to Mahalakshmi, who bestows us with prosperity and virtue now that we have overcome our vices. And finally we pray to Mahasarasvati in the final three days to bless us with the knowledge to achieve our desired ends. This pattern is the sacred mantra of success in all walks of life: identify your weaknesses, cultivate valuable resources and then gain or apply the knowledge needed.
Attainment of our goals, ambitions, moksha – whatever you wish to apply this to – is represented by Vijaya Dashami. The achievement and triumph always comes on the tenth day after the nine nights because the figure ten represents totality. We rate things out of ten for their quality, not out of other numbers like six. Our number system, the decimal system, is based on tens. Ten is the number of wholeness, and shows that our growth and striving is over.
As a festival, Navratri reminds us to grow, to struggle and achieve, to deepen our understanding. What I see now is still based upon what I saw as a child. But over the years I’ve come to know Navaratri to be all those things and more. These nights are of thinking and introspecting as much as they are of dancing and joy.
May we be guided by Durga, who resides as intelligence and brilliance in us all!
Jai Durga! Shubh Navaratri! #Navaratri2015
Your Learning Team