Our Indian culture is a way of thinking, a way of life and a way of worship. The philosophical thinking is conveyed in our famous Vedas. It was later transformed into pratik (symbol or idol) and festivals. If the true meaning of pratik and festivals are realized, our culture will flourish and be preserved for ever. The Navratri festival means Goddess Shakti (the female divinity) or the various forms of mother Goddess Durga or Jagadamba. During the festival she is prayed with fervour and devotion. Every year, these Navratri days (the first nine days of Shukla Paksha in the month of Ashwin) are followed according to the lunar calendar. Dussehra (ten days) or Dasera is the culmination of Navratri.
The festival is celebrated throughout India and among the Indian community all over the world including UK, USA, Mauritius, Nepal etc. In North India, Mother Goddess is worshipped in different forms and culminates in Durga puja. The pilgrim place Kulu of Himachal Pradesh is particularly famous for the festival. The last four days are celebrated as the biggest festival of Durga puja in West Bengal and the idols are immersed in the river on the last day. In Western India, particularly in Gujarat, Navratri is celebrated with the famous dandiya dance. In South India too the Goddess Shakti is worshipped during the festival. The people set up steps and place idols on them known as golu-Navratri.
Legends of Navratri are mentioned in different ways in the scriptures Ramayan, Devi-Bhagvatam and in Puranas. The story as found in the Markandeya Purana is reproduced below from the Hindu Blog:
The two sons of Danu called Rambha and Karambha performed penances to gain more powers. Rambha stood amidst panchagni (five ritual fires) and Karambha stood in neck-deep water. Indra, the Lord of the gods felt threatened by such intense austerities and took the form of a crocodile and killed Karambha. When Rambha came to know the death of his brother, he increased the intensity of his austerities and won several boons from gods to achieve great brilliance, beauty and invincibility in war. The boon that he cannot be killed by humans, Gods or Demons was most important. While he was roaming in the garden of a Yaksha, he fell in love with a female-buffalo and took the form of male-buffalo for copulation. But soon the real male-buffalo discovered Rambha and killed him as his boon didn’t include protection from animal killing. The female-buffalo, who was pregnant decided to kill herself in the funeral pyre of Rambha. Surprisingly a mighty Asura (demon) called Mahishasur with the head of a buffalo and human body took birth. He defeated the gods and the demons. He captured trilokas (earth, heaven and nether worlds), made all the Devas as slaves and proclaimed himself as the overlord of Indra.
The gods led by Brahma approached Vishnu and Shiva for help. They created a beam of fierce light from each of their bodies and through this sea of light Goddess Durga emerged. The anger emerging out of Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha) combined to take the shape of a terrible form, Durga to get rid of the mighty demon Mahishasur. Captivated by the awe-inspiring Durga, the gods bestowed on her their own characteristic weapons as Shiva – the trident, Vishnu – the discus, Varuna – the conch, Agni – the spear, Yama – the cudgel, Vayu – the bow, Surya – the arrows, Indra – the thunderbolt, Kuber – the mace, Brahma – the water pot, Kala – the sword, and Vishwakarma – the axe. Himavan gifted a mountain lion as her vehicle.
When the Goddess Durga was seen by Mahishasur,, he fell in love with her and sought to marry her. The Goddess promised to marry him, if he defeated her in the battle. A terrible combat ensued and continued for nine days. Finally, Durga assumed the terrifying form of Chandika and pinned Mahishasura down with her foot and pierced his neck with her spear. Durga astride a lion fought in a horrible manner and cut off Mahishasura’s head and demolished him on the 9th day. As a commemoration of Durga’s victory over Mahishasur and representing good deeds over evil, Dasara or Vijaya Dashami is celebrated on the tenth day by all.
During first three days of Navaratri, the spiritual force of Durga is prayed as Maha-Kali to destroy all evils. She has During next three days, Mother Goddess is adored as a giver of spiritual wealth known as Maha-Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth, the final three days are spent in worshipping Goddess of wisdom, Maha-Saraswati to have all-round success in the life. On the 9th day Ayudh (weapons) puja is performed by every one by worshipping the tools of their trade like pen, machinery or books.
Goddess Durga (the inaccessible or invincible) can redeem the situation of utmost distress. She also got the name as Mahishasurmardini (killer of Mahishasur). Everyone thus likes to celebrate the Navaratri by worshipping the Goddess Durga and enjoy the festival.
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