As a South Asian you’ve probably grown up in a home rich in culture, tradition, and rituals. You’ve seen your mum performing pooja (prayer) to various deities and have happily sung along. Then, you get older and break out on your own and holiday season comes around.
“Shoot, I did pooja with mum all those years, but never asked her why she did what she did.”
This was a realization I had my first year living away from my family. For my first Navratri on my own, I made it a point to research the festival and the meaning behind all the rituals (pooja, garba, etc). Little did I know Navratri, like most Hindu holidays, has a spiritual significance.
It can be difficult to maintain traditions in the absence of a family unit. However, being far from home presents you with an opportunity to actively learn and understand the significance of Navratri. When you make an active choice to pay attention to tradition and culture, it solidifies your commitment to it.
Two years ago a dear friend emailed me a document titled, The Spiritual Significance of Navaratri, by Chinmaya mission. This two-page pdf did an awesome job of breaking down the spiritual elements of the nine days known as Navratri and how to meditate on it. And you know who is going to break it down even further? You got it, yours truly.
Let’s get started.
What is Navratri?
“Nava” means nine and “ratri” means night, so Navaratri means nine nights. God is worshipped in the form of a Goddess in three forms: Durga (destroyer of evil), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), and Saraswati (goddess of knowledge). The nine nights are broken into three cycles across nine nights. Durga is worshipped the first three nights, then Lakshmi and then Saraswati. The 10th day is called “Vijayadasami,” which means victory. By worshipping these three forms of the Goddess, we can win a victory over our minds.
Durga: The Destroyer of Evil
We worship Durga to destroy evil tendencies in our mind to gain noble virtues. Another name for Durga is “Mahishaasura Mardini,” the destroyer of the demon Mahishaaura (a buffalo). In a metaphorical sense, the buffalo symbolizes “tamoguna,” the quality of laziness, darkness, ignorance, and inertia. By worshipping Durga, we can destroy our animalistic tendencies and invoke the Divine Power within us.
Lakshmi: The Goddess of Wealth
We worship Lakshmi in order to purify our minds. In order for us to acquire knowledge, our minds must be pure and focused. Lakshmi is commonly mistaken for material wealth such as money, jewelry, etc. However, its true form is the spiritual values we practice in our daily lives to purify our minds. It is these noble values that will allow us to preserve and continue acquiring material wealth and make good use of it.
Saraswati: The Goddess of Knowledge
The goddess Saraswati represents the highest knowledge: knowledge of the Self. Victory over the mind can be gained through knowledge and understanding. We may have a lot of knowledge about subjects such as math, science, literature, and philosophy, but if we do not know our own self, then we are at a great loss. The supreme knowledge, knowledge of the self, is represented by the goddess Saraswati.
I don’t know about y’all, but I NEED these three goddesses in my life. Actually comprehending their roles and meditating accordingly while I do my daily routine brings tremendous positivity and peace.
I thank the season of Navratri for reminding me of the most important fact: The agent of change to improve my destiny lies within me and I am the only one that can activate it.
Jai Mati Di and a happy festival season from our family at BGM to yours!