Navarathri (meaning `nine nights’ ) is an annual Hindu Festival that takes place in late Autumn. I wrote the following feature article in Issue#2 of Gaian Times eco-magazine last year (Sept’11). Here’s the full article again.. reproduced to mark this special Hindu festival.. -Mani
Navarathri celebrates and worships three of the many aspects of the Hindu goddess `Shakthi’, which means quite simply `Power’. She is the power and energy that permeates and moves the planets, stars, moon and all the worlds within and without. Navarathri means, `nine’ (nava) `nights’ (rathri) in Tamil language of the Indian continent. The dates are determined according to the lunar calendar. It begins on the new ( Libran) moon, often at the end of September and continues for nine nights and ten days. It is a period of purification and introspection, as well as spiritual depth. Devotees seek the divine gifts of protection, health, wealth and wisdom from the Goddesses. Navarathri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures for many Hindus.
Kolu – the stepped altar
This an altar construction of 3 or more steps, either specially created with wood, or in most households formed by placing varying sizes of boxes. A cloth is covered over them, and the whole steps then highly decorated with ritual and artistic implements – such as statues of deities, lights, small lamps, small plants and other items of special religious significance. It is a display of divinity and beauty. This `Kolu’ is kept in the altar room for the duration of the `Navarthri’ and special prayers (poojas) are conducted infront of it every night for the worship of the triple deities Durga, Lakshmin & Saraswathi. Names have power and important, especially when they are used to invoke energies and qualities, and as such the deity names of these should be properly pronounce as `Do-r-ga’, `Luck-sh-me’ and `Sa-ras-wha-thee’.
This is where the goddess Durga is worshipped. She is power and the spiritual force or energy that animates all of life. In a more darker aspect, she is also known as Kali, a naked Goddess of sheer ferocity who destroys our impurities. In the western world, people seem to treat Kali as a force they can just call upon, refer to and such. However a devote Hindu would take extreme preparations prior to working with Kali-energy, keeping body & mind pure, fasting or only eating vegetabls and fruits, meditating, vanquishing all personal thoughts of ill- before een beginning any sort of Kali `pooja’ (prayer). Kali is often shown with 10 or more heads, having 20 or more arms, each carrying tools and weapons, wearing a garland of severed demon-heads, with blood dripping from her mouth, and riding a Lion. In these aspects, she is seen to have similarities with the Egyptian lion-headed war Goddess Sakhmet, who was also supposed to have drunk the blood of many she had slain.
The divine force Shakthi is seen as giver of wealth and love, in her Goddess form Lakshmi. She is the consort of the protector God Vishnu, and is often seen seated on a red lotus flower, flanked by elephants in the same pond, showering her with gold. Gold coins are also seen emanating from Lakshmi’s hands. Symbolically, it is best to have an imagery where the coins coming from her hands fall and collect in a plate at her feet. Thus wealth is said to be held, rather than just disappear. Lakshmi originated from the froth of the divine sea that was churned by Demons (Ashuras) and Devas (souls who inhabit Heaven) when they used a mountain and a giant serpent as churner, in search of the elixiar of life. Many weapons were said to have spring from the sea which various deities procured, and Vishnu (protector God) married Lakshmi. In this respect, Lakshmi has close similatrities with the western deity Venus / Aphrodite.
The final 3 nights of worship and adoration belong to Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom, arts and education. She is seen dressed in white, seated upon a white lotus, with a peacock or Swan as her vehicle, and holding a musical instrument `Veena’ (similar to the Indian `Sitar’). She is the wife and consort of the creator God Brahma. Ninth night is dedicated to `Saraswathi pooja’ (prayer for Saraswathi).
Hinduism has many hundreds of deities, and so many of them are aspects or incarnations of one another. But Durga, Lakshi & Saraswathi are worshiped as a divine trinity of feminine energies, when devotees seek the blessings of power, protection, wealth and wisdom. Navarathri is dedicated to the worship of these deities.
10th Day: Vijayathasami & Weapons Pooja.
The 10th day is the day of victory, and culmination of all the prayers and festivities. Such deeply significant religious festivities have variations of purpose and underlying mythology, as India is a vast land with many religious sects (even within Hinduism – which is a collective name, and not a specific one).
Myth of Ramayana: As such, some celebrate the return of mythical Hero Rama (crown Prince) who was exiled with his wife Sita into the forest for 14 years, by some trickery of his step-mother. In his time in the forest, Rama’s wife Sita is abducted by a demon (Ravanan) and taken to an island and kept in prison. Rama gathers an army of forest beings – monkeys, apes, wild boars and even squirrels, constricts a mighty bridge to travel to the island of Lanka (now known as Sri Lanka) to wage war, defeat the demon and rescue his wife from her prison. By this time the 14 years have passed (supposed terms of the exile) and Rama returns to his father’s Kingdon, and takes up his rightful place on the throne. `Vijayathasami’ (great tenth day) symbolises this day of Victory and return to power.
Either on the ninth night or 10th day (morning) a special prayer / pooja called `Ayutha Pooja’ (Prayer for weapons) is conducted. This is when tools of the trade for all those of a household – pens, books, pencils, cheque books, house keys, financial ledgers, as well as the mote traditional items of agricultural equipments, machinery are symbolically decorated, placed on the foot of the stepped altar and worshipped. The idea is to seek the blessings of the Goddess Shakthi upon those tools of trade and life. Then those are taken and used. Many teachers/Schools in India / Sri Lanka (southern Indian nations) start teaching Kindergarten children on that day- first by taking them to the temple, and having the priest guide their fingers in writing the alphabets on a plate of rice grains!
This is a Tamil / sanskri name meaning Prayer. Hindu formal poojas in temples and homes take on highly ritualistic procedures. The statues / idols or pictures of Hindu deities –kept on the Altar (some simple tables, others highly elaborate) are decorated with fabric, fresh flowers and garlands, and flanked by oil lamps and incense sticks. During Pooja, a small bell is continuously rung to dispel any and all negative/ evil energies from the space. The conducting Priest or person(s) recite powerful chants and power words in the Sanskrit language. Observers stand in prayer positions, with palms touching to the chest (heart) and occasionally at key moments of Pooja, raise hands to their foreheads or over their heads in reverence and adoration, saying `Arohara’. In extensive festive poojas at temples, the statues of deities in the various central and sub-altars are given a ritual wash (called `Maha-abishekam’) with water, honey, milk and fruit juices. The idols are then dried, dressed in fine fabric, jewellery of gold, gems and garlands. Then the main pooja commences. The used milk, honey and fruits are then carefully collected with reverence, and shared amongst devotees as a token elixir/ blessings of the gods!
Temple Altar arrangements:
Hinduism is an ancient form of pagan religion found in the eastern world, originating from the Indus valley, and dated to over 12,000 years ago. It pre-dates pagan religions and civilisations of ancient Incas & Mayas, Egyptians and other such.
The Hindu Temple designs vary enormously, but have an underlying esoteric principle with which they are based on. Most large temples have 3 layers or boundaries. The outer walls & gates, middle temple space & sub-altar rooms, and a main altar room that is granite or painted black, where the dedicated deity statue of that temple resides. The layers represent the pathways to the Womb! And Hindu temple designs manage and lead the attention of the devotees from the outer world into the womb of the Great Divine. Only the Priest may enter the inner sanctum of the temple and conduct temple poojas. But during poojas, a screen covering it is removed so that devotees may witness and worship the deity in the altar.
Animals & Hindu processions:
Most temples with grounds will have a sacred animal living freely and taken care of by the temple priests or devotes. These can be Cows, Goats to Swans, Peacocks or as large as an Elephant! Many Hindu deities have an associated animal, some poets, or defeated forms of demons, and so their particular animal is seen as a sacred link to that deity, honoured, fed and even worshiped. At special festivals, these animals are decorated with luxurious cloths, and taken on a parade around temple grounds or indeed the village or town roads where the temple is located. Often these animals `carry’ a small altar and an idol of that deity on their back during festive processions.
– Manivannan Navasothy