Chaitra Navaratri (March 31st to April 7th 2014), or the nine (nava-) nights (- ratri) of Durga, are celebrated in the first nine days of the bright half of the month of Chaitra (starting from the day after Amavasya). According to the Indian lunar calendar, this usually occurs in late March or early April.
This period of nine days heralds the onset of spring and also marks the beginning of the new year for the hindu calendar in most parts of India. The nine-day festival honors the role of three prinicipal female Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The period of Chaitra Navaratri concludes with Ramanavami (or Lord Rama’s birthday) on the tenth day of the festival.
Observing Chaitra Navratri
The nine day period is marked as a period of “cleansing” and fasting by all devotees of Devi. The durga suktam is chanted with great vigor every evening during this period. The festival is marked on the eighth day or ashtami by honoring a group of kanjaks or pre-pubescent girls.
A group of five (or seven or nine) such girls are invited into the household and treated as representatives of Durga. The head of the household washes their feet, and then they are fed a sumptuous meal of halwa, puris, black chana and yogurt with boondi. They are then given a set of red clothes or a red chunni and a small gift of cash and asked to bless the household.
History and Traditions
The story of Durga that is most frequently associated with Navaratri is the incarnation of her as the slayer of the buffalo-headed demon or asura, Mahishasura. A long war had been waged between the gods, led by Indra, and the anti-gods. The king of the antigods, the genie Mahisa (the Powerful), won the war and established himself in heaven.
The gods wandered homeless on the earth. Then, guided by Shiva and Vishnu, they concentrated their power into the shape of a goddess named Durga (the un-reachable one).
Durga slays Mahishasura
The power of Shiva formed the head, that of Yama the hair, that of Vishnu the arms, that of Indra the waist, that of Brahma the feet. All of the Gods handed over their weapons to the goddess Durga. The goddess chose a lion as her vehicle, and defeated the armies of the anti-gods In her final battle, she fought the demon Mahisawho took on many shapes to fight her, and finally that of a buffalo, the symbol of death. Durga pierced the throat of the buffalo and restored the heavens to the Gods. Hence, Durga is often referred to as Mahisasura-mardini, the slayer of Mahisasura.
Legend of Chaitra Navaratri
King Dhruvasindu of the kingdom of Kosala was killed by a lion on a hunting trip. In his place, Prince Sudarsana was to be
crowned King. But King Yudhajit of Ujjain and King Virasena of Kalinga wanted to secure the throne of Kosala for their respective grandsons. As a result a war erupted in which killed King Virasena. Queen Manorama, the daughter of King Virasena fled with Prince Sudarsana and an eunuch to a forest where they took refuge with Rishi Bharadwaj in his hermitage.
With the obstacles in his path removed King Yudhajit crowned his grandson Satnijit at Ayodhya, capital of kingdom of Kosala and tried to capture Queen Manorama and the prince. However the Rishi refused to let harm come to those who had sought protection from him. Prince Sudarsana started to call the enuch, whose name was “Kleeba”, by the word “Kleen”. This syllable was a powerful sacred Sankrit mantra and is the root syllable of the Divine Mother, or Maa Durga. Since the Prince Sudarsana went on repeating the word he obtained peace of mind by the grace of the Divine Mother.
Maa Durga appeared to him, blessed him, and granted him certain divine weapons. Years later when the emissaries of the King of Benares passed through the ashram of Rishi, they saw the noble Prince Sudarsana and recommended him for marriage to Princess Sashikala, the daughter of the King of Benares. A Swayamvar was held for her to choose her future spouse and she chose Prince Sudarsana. They were joyfully wedded. King Yudhijit was present at the wedding and was angry at the King of Benares.
Maa Durga sided with the Prince and his father-in-law, the King of Benares. But King Yudhijit mocked her. Maa Durga got angry and reduced him and his army down to ashes. Prince Sudarsana, his wife Princess Shashikala and the King of Benares praised the Maa Durga which pleased her and she ordered them to worship by performing a “havan” during Chaitra Navaratri.
The Prince and his wife returned to the ashram of Rishi Bharadwaj, who gave them his blessing and crowned the Prince as the King of Kosala. As per the commands of the Divine Mother the havan is performed during the month of Chaitra and is called Chaitra Navaratri.
Significance of Navaratri
Navaratri 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 spiritual wealth, Lakshmi, who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees the inexhaustible wealth.
The final set of three days is spent in worshipping the mother as the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In order have all-round success in life, we need the blessings of all three aspects of the divine mother; hence, the worship for nine nights.
First Avatar – Shailputri (Ghatsttapana)
1st night devoted to Ma Shailputri Shail means Mountains She carries a Trident and a Lotus She is sitting upon a bull
Second Avatar – Bhramcharni 01-04- 2014
2nd night devoted to Ma Bhramcharni She personifies Love and Loyalty She carries a Kumbha and a Rosary Rudraksha is her most adorned ornament Sindhara Dooj
Third Avatar – Chandraghanta 02-04- 2014
3rd night devoted to Ma Chandraghanta She personifies Supreme Bliss and Knowledge She is prayed to for protection from harm She has 10 hands, from which 8 have weapons She is riding on a Tiger
Fourth Avatar – Kushmanda 03-04-2014
4th night devoted to Ma Kushmanda She is prayed to for curing ailments and sorrows She has 8 hands, holding weapons and a mala She is riding on a Tiger
Fifth Avatar – Skandmata 04-04-2014
5th night devoted to Ma Skandmata She is prayed to for fulfilling ones desires She has 4 hands, holding two lotuses and her son She is riding on a Lion
Sixth Avatar – Kaatyayani 05-04-2014
6th night devoted to Ma Kaatyayani She is prayed to for granting the wishes of her devotees She has 4 hands, holding a lotus and a sword She is riding on a Lion
Seventh Avatar – Kaalratri 06-04-2014
7th night devoted to Ma Kaalratri She is prayed to for removing sins and clearing obstacles She has 4 hands, holding a cleaver and a torch She is riding on a Donkey
Eighth Avatar – Mahagauri
8th night devoted to Ma Mahagauri 07-04- 2014 She iprayed to for purification and the removal of sins She has 4 hands, holding a trident and drum She is riding on a Bull
Ninth Avatar – Siddhiratri Ram Navmi
9th night devoted to Ma Siddhiratri She is prayed to for acquiring great powers (Siddhis) She has 4 hands, holding a chakra, mace, lotus flower and conch She is riding on a Lotus