There are three dimensions to the celebration of Navaratri. They are Cosmic, Mythological and Practical.
Everyone would be aware of different reasons for celebration of the ten day festival season that happens in this country. What is celebrated as Durga Pooja in the North (in general) is celebrated as ‘Navarathiri’ in the Southern Peninsula.
As the legend goes, in these Nine Nights Goddess Durga manifests herself in nine different forms and fights the demon called Maha Asura (The Big Demon).
In Ramayana, Rama worships the Goddess Durga during these nine nights, the nine different forms of Goddess Durga, derives strength from her every night, to fight the Big Demon Ravana. And finally the Big Demon is slayed in both the cases.
In my view, the celebration of Nine Nights (Nava ratri) preceded the time of Ramayana. Rama simply practiced the penance and poojas specified during this Nava ratri time. And he achieved victory over Ravana. Hence the reason of Rama’s victory over Ravana is not the prime reason for Navaratri celebration.
The Cosmic Dimension
There is a cosmic dimension to Navaratri. If we examine it carefully, these nine nights (Nava ratri) occur closer to the September Equinox. Our legend goes that one day (day and night) of Devas, at (Planet.??) Deva Loka, is equal to 1 year of human beings in our Planet Earth. One can consider Deva Loka as the planet of Gods and Godly beings, that is probably at the edge of the expanding Universe.
According to science, time dilates based on the relative velocity between two moving objects, as speed of light is constant at all reference frames. Hence with respect to Planet Earth, this time dilation of Deva Loka represents the relative velocity between the Planet Earth and the Deva Loka.
If I extend my thoughts a bit, Deva Loka is almost like a Planet at the edge of the Expanding Universe, while Planet Earth is much deeper inside. Hence this Planet Deva Loka is moving much faster than the Planet Earth and this time dilation is a representation of that. It is even possible to compute the relative velocity between Planet Earth and Deva Loka with this time dilation figure.
Sounds Scientology..? But then it is true.
The time of September Equinox at Earth, according to this legend, is the time when day falls and night starts at Deva Loka. Or more precisely it is the time of dusk (Sandhi) at Deva Loka.
These nine nights at Earth represents roughly 36 minutes at Deva Loka, which is the duration of the dusk or Sandhi in the Hindu Calendar. This time or dusk or Sandhi is generally considered as the most difficult and unpredictable time whether in Earth or any other Planet.
Prayers like SandhyaVandhan, Gayatri Japa are prescribed during this duration of dusk for us mortals living in planet Earth. Similarly this Sandhi time of Deva Loka is also supposed to be spent in prayers in Planet Earth, as it is believed that well-being of Deva Loka is critical to the well-being of Planet Earth.
Hence we the mortal beings of Planet Earth, celebrate these nine nights, corresponding to the 36 minutes of Sandhi time of Deva Loka, with prayers and penance on Goddess Durga and her various forms. In other words we are performing the Sandhya Vandhan for the Deva Loka during these nine nights, when we celebrate Navaratri.
Goddess Durga: Energy, Matter and Intellect
Goddess Durga and her various forms themselves are a representation of the evolution of our cosmic Universe. Hence by worshipping her various forms, we are actually remembering our own cosmic evolution. And this is what is generally performed in any Sandhya Vandhan.
Broadly these nine nights are characterized into nights for three different Goddess forms. They are Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.
Durga represents Energy, Lakshmi represents matter and Saraswati represents intellect.
These Goddess forms actually signify the way cosmic evolution happened. From energy came matter and when intellect entered matter, evolution of intellectual beings happened.
Goddess Durga: Energy Incarnate
The first set of three goddesses worshipped during this festival are Shailaputri, Brahmacharini and ChandraKantha.
Shailaputri represents the energy that came out from the mountainous structure before the big-bang occurred. I have written about this mountainous structure in my article on Nasadiya Suktam here http://thebigthinkg.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/12/nasadiya-suktam-before-the-bigbang.htm
Brahmacharini represents the penance/tapas or the heat that is generated on this energy that came out. Severe heat seems to have come out of Shailaputri, which the Puranas depict as Penance carried out by Brahmacharini.
Chandrakantha represents the electrical and magnetic force that came out of this energy. Chandra is the electrical force and Kantha is the magnetic force. Huge sound probably came out when the electrical and magnetic force erupted out of this energy that got heated up. Purana depicts Chandrakantha as an aggressive god with terrifying sound.
Goddess Durga: Matter Incarnate
The second three goddesses worshipped during this festival are kushmanda, skanda and katyayini. These set of goddesses represent the process by which the energy becomes matter.
Kushma-anda represents the little golden egg that evolved from this energy. It is called Hiranya-Garbha in Vedas. Kushmanda is depicted in Puranas as a Mother diety that is the source of this Universe.
Skanda Mata represents the fire, the thermo-nuclear fusion, that started from the Mother Kushma-anda. Puranas represent Skanda Mata as the daughter Goddess and fire Goddess.
Katyayini represents the stage in which the production of matter starts from the gas clouds in which thermo-nuclear fusion is going on. Puranas represent Katyayani as Red-Dress clad fierce goddess.
Goddess Durga: Intellect Incarnate
The third set of three goddesses worshipped during this festival are KalRatri, MahaGauri and Siddhidatri.
Kalratri represents death. The stage in which the matter produced gets consumed and becomes non-existent. Kal Ratri means time of night. The time of demise which is going to be followed by the time of day or time of birth. Hence Kal Ratri represents a part of a cycle and not an end. Puranas represent Kal Ratri as goddess of darkness.
Maha Gauri represents the birth of variety of matter forms following the death of matter. In the cycle of production of matter that runs on thermo-nuclear fusion, various matter forms die and more complex matter forms evolve on top of the dead matter. A continuous production of matter follows. Puranas depict Maha Gauri as an all-white goddess. White symbolizes convergence of all colours.
Siddhidatri represents evolution of action. There are eight types of actions in this Universe. They are
- Anima – indicates activity in terms of size at a sub-atomic scale (length, breadth, width).
- Mahima – indicates activity in terms of size at cosmic scale (length, breadth, width).
- Laghima – indicates activity in terms of numbers that are too small (light mass).
- Garima – indicates activity in terms of numbers that are too huge (heavy mass).
- Prapti – indicates activity in terms of past, present and future (time).
- Prakamya – indicates activity evolution into different forms of life (primitive biological evolution).
- Vashitvam – indicates the activity to rein in emotions and intellect to control other beings (evolution of higher intelligence).
- Ishitvam – indicates the activity to develop intellect that controls the entire universe with all its matter and energy (evolution of Highest Intelligence)
The Practical Dimension
To apply to the materialistic human world, Energy is represented as Bravery/Courage, Matter is represented as Wealth and Intellect is represented as Knowledge.
Applying the first set of three goddesses practically, Shailaputri represents the energy which with we face difficulties in life. Brahmachrini represents the hard-work (penance) that we need to overcome these difficulties. Chandrakantha represents the focus that we need to bring in to overcome our difficulties.
To sum up these three, ie energy with which we face difficulties, hard-work and focus, are collectively called Courage or Bravery.
Applying the second three set of goddesses practically, Kushma-anda represents instincts, Skanda Mata represents emotions and Katyayani represents natural intellect. In the yogic system this sixth Durga Katyayani also corresponds to Ajna Chakra, which I interpret as the stage when brain takes over the control of body.
To sum up these three, ie instincts, emotions and intellect are the real wealth of any being in this Planet Earth.
Practically, Kal ratri represents Understanding of death, Maha Gauri represents Understanding of birth and Siddhidatri represents Understanding of evolutions of all types of action.
To sum up, these three, understanding of death, understanding of birth and understanding of eight kinds of activities are collectively called knowledge.
Golu: The Celebration of Navaratri
Traditionally in South India, Golu is the method of celebration of Navaratri. Golu means ‘Sthan’ in Sanskrit. Something like placed, situated etc.
It means that various Goddesses come and get placed during these nine nights. To give a resting place to these goddesses various idol forms of these goddesses are placed in a series of steps.
Golu brings life to our otherwise dull and insipid life. We really enjoy the time we place the steps, get the idols out of carton boxes, remember the time we bought them, appreciate the beauty of these idols etc. We also really enjoy the time we spend in creating the environments like parks, playgrounds, temples, fields etc. Many a times our heart desires to live amongst these dolls and toys.