The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother. The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar.
Dasaharara, meaning ‘ten days’, becomes dasara in popular parlance. The Navaratri festival or ‘nine day festival’ becomes ‘ten days festival’ with the addition of the last day, Vijaya-dasami which is its culmination. On all these ten days, Mother Mahisasura-mardini (Durga) is worshipped with fervour and devotion.
Traditions of Navaratri
There are five Navaratris devoted to the worship of Shakti (Parvati or Durga). Out of these only three are being celebrated now.
1. Sharada Navaratri – This is the Navaratri, which is celebrated during Sharad Ritu (beginning of winter) (Sept-Oct). This is also called Maha Navaratri. Sharada became Sharad in some places. This celebrates the slaying of Mahishasura by Durga. The festival is observed in most parts of India – especially in the East.
2. Vasant Navaratri – This is celebrated during Vasant Ritu (beginning of summer) (March- April). This Navaratri is celebrated in North India. Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu observes Navaratri during this period.
3. Ashada Navaratri – This Navaratri is particularly important for all Upasakas of Varahi- Celebrated in July-August. This is called Guhya Navaratri in Himachal Pradesh. Varahi is one of the seven Matrikas of Devi Mahatmya!
Sharad NavaratriCommences on the first and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of the lunar month Aswayuja/Asvina. ‘The Navaratri festival has to be celebrated during the bright fortnight of the month of Asvina, in the order of pratipada, etc, until the navami ends,’ says the Dhaumya-vacana.
Vasantha NavaratriThis is celebrated during Vasantha Ruthu (beginning of summer) (March- April). This is also known as Chaitra navaratri as it falls during the lunar month of Chithra.
Forms of Shakti
“The nine forms of Durga”, Installation in BenaresNine forms of Shakti are worshipped during the Navaratris. The Devis worshipped depend on the tradition of the region.
Durga, the inaccessible one
Amba or Jagadamba, Mother of the universe
Annapurna, The one who bestows grains (an) in plenty (purna)
Sarvamangala, The one who gives joy (mangal) to all (sarva)
Chandika or Chandi
The Navratri commences on the first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin. The festival is celebrated for nine nights once every year during the beginning of October, although as the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar, the festival may be held for a day more or a day less.
Navaratri is celebrated in different ways throughout India. In North India, all three Navratris are celebrated with much fervor by fasting on all nine days and worshipping the Goddess Parvati in her different forms. The Chaitra Navratri culmintes in Ram Navami and the Sharad Navratri culminates in Durga Puja and Dussehra. The Dussehra of Kulu in Himachal Pradesh is particularly famous in the North.
The last four days of Sharad Navratri take on a particularly dramatic form in the state of West Bengal in East India where they are celebrated as Durga Puja. This is the biggest festival of the year in this state. Exquisitely crafted and decorated life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up in temples and other places. These idols are then worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day.
During Navratri, some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. A period of introspection and purification, Navratri is traditionally an auspicious and religious time for starting new ventures.
During this vowed religious observance, a pot is installed (ghatasthapana) at a sanctified place at home. A lamp is kept lit in the pot for nine days. The pot symbolizes the universe. The uninterrupted lit lamp is the medium through which we worship the effulgent Adishakti, i.e. Sree Durgadevi. During Navratri, the principle of Sree Durgadevi is more active in the atmosphere.
Navratri is celebrated in a large number of Indian communities. The mother goddess is said to appear in 9 forms, and each one is worshipped for a day. These nine forms signify various traits that the goddess influences us with. The Devi Mahatmya and other texts invoking the Goddess who vanquished demons are cited.