Navaratri - Introduction
Navaratri is one of the highly popular festivals of our country. Nava denotes number 9 and Ratri is the night. The term Nava-Ratri thus represents nine nights that are regarded very auspicious, when the Mother Goddess is worshipped predominantly. Though there are Navaratris in all seasons of the year, it is the autumn Navaratri which is most famous as the Navaratri festival. This falls in the bright fortnight of the month of Ashwin or Purattasi, which corresponds to September-October.
Navaratri denotes the struggle of the good against evil and its ultimate triumph. While it is celebrated almost throughout the country with enthusiasm, the observances differ from region to region. So are the mythologies that are behind such practices. Here let us get to know about some of them.
The most prominent legend on Navaratri speaks about Goddess Durga and her exploits. She is the mother Goddess, who was created through the combined powers of the supreme Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to put an end to the tyranny of Mahishasura, the mighty, buffalo-headed demon who was protected by many amazing boons that he obtained through severe penance. Durga waged a fierce battle with him for nine nights, and destroyed him and his army ultimately, thus saving the people from his oppression. The grateful world celebrated her triumph and hailed her as Mahishasura Mardhini, the slayer of Mahishasura. Navaratri marks the nine nights of her heroic battle with Mahishasura, while the day of her resounding victory, the tenth, is observed as Vijayadasami, the victorious tenth day. As these celebrations revolve entirely around Goddess Durga, the festival itself is being called as Durga Navaratri or Durga Pooja.
There is another legend which also associates Navaratri with mother Goddess. Once she was born as Uma, the daughter of King Daksha and married Shiva against her father’s wishes. Later, Daksha conducted a Yagya, a sacrifice, to which his daughter went uninvited. There Daksha insulted Shiva, and unable to stand the humiliation to her consort, she jumped into the sacrificial fire and immolated herself. She then got the name Sati. She was however reborn, married Shiva again and lived a blissful life with him. The legend states that she visits her parental home every year and spends a pleasant time of 9 days there. This period is celebrated as Navaratri.
Another popular legend associates Navaratri with Ramayana. It is during Navaratri that Rama waged war with demon Ravana. After fighting him and his forces on these nine days, Rama killed Ravana and won decisively on the 10th day, which is celebrated as Vijayadasami. The same legend extends the theory further and terms the festival of Diwali that follows after some time, as the day of Rama’s victorious return to his capital of Ayodhya. As per a slightly different version, Rama is said to have worshipped Goddess Durga during the nine days of Navaratri, obtained great power and then destroyed Ravana.
Durga is a warrior Goddess, and there is a legend that associates Navaratri with this aspect of hers. The clan of warriors used to refrain from waging wars during the monsoon, and they will start their warfare once the rains stop. These people used to offer worship for nine days to Durga and her different forms before making a fresh beginning for the year, and this has got transformed into Navaratri celebrations in due course of time.