Intro: Navratri, the most popular Indian festival is here. It’s crucial to understand the message of Navratri rituals, since the underlying theme of the festival is worship of Goddess Durga, the symbol of womanhood.
How do you define ‘dharm’? If translated correctly, the English word that comes closest to describing ‘dharm’ (or ‘dharma') is ‘duty’.
The original traditions in India were always based on a deep scientific study of the Universe. The ‘sages’ were knowledgeable people who analysed and understood the ‘system of God’ and guided the common man to live in accordance. They taught us that every single atom plays an important role in maintaining the cosmic balance. This role is also its duty. It applies to absolutely everything – be it the sun, moon, oceans & rivers, flora & fauna, humans or even inanimate objects like mountains, soils etc. In short, the basic principles of dharm are based on the 'eternal laws of nature'.
Hence, ‘Hindu dharm’ literally means that which supports, upholds or maintains the order of the Universe. This is a much more far reaching categorisation than the western concepts of religion or culture.
Having thus studied the laws of nature, our sages also understood the inherent strengths of a woman. They adopted different symbols and imagery to educate people about the power of womanhood and the status women must enjoy in a healthy society. The most powerful message is the depiction of Goddess Durga – symbolising purity and power or 'shakti'.
Goddess Durga is the mother of the universe and believed to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Since time immemorial she has been worshipped as the supreme power of the Supreme Being and has been mentioned in many scriptures – Yajur Veda, Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taittareya Brahman.
The most celebrated Hindu festival devoted to Maa Durga – Navratri is celebrated twice a year with great fervour. Nine forms of Shakti are worshipped during the Navaratri. The Devis worshipped depend on the tradition of the region.
There are many ways to explain the concept of Navaratri, literally meaning ‘nine nights’. Overall, it is divided into sets of three days to adore different aspects of the supreme goddess. On the first three days, the Mother is invoked as powerful force called Durga in order to destroy all our impurities, vices and defects. The next three days, the Mother is adored as a giver of inexhaustible spiritual and worldly wealth, Lakshmi. The final set of three days is spent in worshipping the mother as the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In order to have all-round success in life, we need the blessings of all three aspects of the divine mother; hence, the worship for nine nights.
A whole chapter in the tenth mandal of the Rigveda addresses the devotional sadhanas of Shakti. The “Devi Sukta” and “Isha Sukta” of the Rigveda and “Ratri Sukta” of the Samveda similarly sing paeans in praise of Shakti. It is said that Lord Shiva, who symbolises pure consciousness, can only be known through Shakti, who represents divine energy.
Interestingly, before the beginning of the legendary war between the Kauravas and Pandavas in the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna worshipped the Goddess of Shakti for the victory of the Pandavas. Lord Rama also worshipped Durga before going for war with Ravan. It is said that Durga blessed Ram with secret knowledge of the way to kill Ravan.
The imagery associated with Devi Durga is in itself full of powerful symbols – her many arms, the lion she rides, the sword and trident in her hands, the conch shell and the half-bloomed lotus. The ‘Sudarshan-Chakra’ in her hand signifies that the entire world is subservient to her will and is at her command.
The most amazing ritual of Navratri is the ‘kanya pujan’. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Durga are worshiped. A virgin girl child is seen as the symbol of the pure feminine power. No other society looks upon womanhood with so much reverence and respect.
The message our sages wished to give us is clear and simple – in order to maintain the balance of the universe, it is imperative to recognise and respect the power of womanhood. If you bow down to wash a young girl’s feet and take her blessings, you learn that a girl child is so pure she should be worshipped. When you look at the image of Maa Durga and offer prayers, you are bowing before the power of womanhood and seeking her goodwill for a better future. To cast an evil eye upon her is akin to inviting the wrath of the Gods, leading only to destruction and ruin. It is unfortunate that with time, we have turned these rituals into mindless actions without understanding the deeper truth. Let us learn the depth of Hindu beliefs and live life in accordance. The balance of nature depends on it.
-Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is social worker and