Navratri literally means “nine nights”. This ritual is mainly observed twice a year, in spring and in autumn. According to scriptures Navaratri is celebrated five times a year as Vasanta, Ashadha , Sharad , Paush and Magha Navaratri. Of these, the Sharad Navaratri and the Vasanta Navaratri are the most important.
Vasanta Navaratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) during the Shukla Paksha of Chaitra month(March–April). The beginning of this Navratri also marks the start of the new year as per the Hindu lunar calendar (Vikram Samvat). “Vasant Navratri” is nine days of fast and worship for the Hindus. It is also known as “Ram Navratri” because Ram Navami falls on the ninth day of the Chaitra month.
Children, the tale behind the celebration of Vasanta Navaratri goes as under:
It is said that King Dhruvasindu was killed by a lion when he went out hunting. He had two wives named Lilavati and Manorama. Preparations were made to crown the prince Sudarsana, son of Manorama. But, King Yudhajit of Ujjain, father of Queen Lilavati , and King Virasena of Kalinga, the father of Queen Manorama, were each desirous of securing the Kosala throne for their respective grandsons. They fought with each other. King Virasena was killed in the battle. Manorama fled to the forest with Prince Sudarsana and an eunuch. They took refuge in the hermitage of Rishi Bharadwaja. King Yudhajit, thereupon crowned his grandson, Shatrujit, as the king of Kosala. He then went out in search of Manorama and her son. The Rishi said that he would not give up those who had sought protection under him. Yudhajit returned to his capital. Fortune smiled on Prince Sudarsana. A hermit’s son came one day and called the eunuch by his Sanskrit name Kleeba. The prince caught the first syllable Kli and began to pronounce it as Kleem. This syllable happened to be a powerful, sacred Mantra. It is the Bija Akshara (root syllable) of the Divine Mother. By the repeated utterance of this syllable, the Divine mother appeared before him and granted him divine weapons and an inexhaustible quiver. The emissaries of the king of Benares passed through the Ashram of the Rishi and when they saw the Sudarsana, they recommended him for Princess Sashikala, the daughter of the king of Benares.
A Swayamwar was arranged and Sashikala at once chose Sudarsana. They were duly wedded. King Yudhajit, who had been present at the function, began to fight with the king of Benares. The Divine Mother helped Sudarsana and his father-in-law. Yudhajit mocked Her, upon which the Divine Mother promptly reduced Yudhajit and his army to ashes.
Thus Sudarsana, with his wife and his father-in-law, praised the Divine Mother. She was highly pleased and ordered them to perform Her worship during the Vasanta Navaratri.
Prince Sudarsana and Sashikala returned to the Ashram of Rishi Bharadwaja to seek his blessings. He crowned Sudarsana as the king of Kosala. Sudarsana and Sashikala and the king of Benares implicitly carried out the commands of the Divine Mother and performed worship in a splendid manner during the Vasanta Navaratri.
Sudarsana’s descendants, namely, Sri Rama and Lakshmana, also performed worship of the Divine Mother during the Vasanta Navaratri and were blessed with Her assistance in the recovery of Sita. – Aniket Raja