Navrati and Durga Puja: Honoring the Darkness, Embracing the Feminine

Navrati (nav means “nine,” and rati means “nights”) is a Hindu celebration that honors the Divine Feminine and seeks her inspiration for cleansing, guidance, and enlightenment.

Over the course of the days and nights between October 1-10, Navrati celebrants invoke the three forms of the Divine Mother—Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.  The nine nights are divided into three segments, each one devoted to honoring and celebrating one of the goddesses, respectively.

This month, Longwave Yoga’s theme is dedicated to embracing the darkness that existences within each of us. In some circumstances, this darkness references the shadow side of the self or the parts of the self that need work and reflection.  However, it is important to note that in Navrati, darkness is not associated with Western notions of evil or maliciousness.  Instead, darkness is equated with the moon side or the feminine.

Traditionally, light or sun is associated with masculine qualities: fire, energy, analysis, and dominance.  Whereas feminine attributes are likened to qualities of darkness, such as the moon, intuition, softness, creativity, and potential. Thus, because darkness symbolizes the feminine and because women are the locus of Navrati, the festival is a reminder that to embrace the dark is to embrace the beauty, power, and potential of the feminine. In other words, Navrati aims to awaken the divinity of the feminine, asking all beings—male and female—to celebrate the dark, lunar side within.

Three nights are devoted to meditating upon Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.  During these three nights, the goddess Lakshmi is called upon to cultivate compassionate qualities: patience, loving-kindness, and integrity.

The spiritual wisdom of Saraswati is also summoned for three nights during the festival.  Devotees ask her to offer assistance in self-realization and understanding of divine nature and interconnectedness among all beings.

It is the three nights spent invoking Durga, the Divine Mother’s most power and destructive incarnation, that is most widely and popularly celebrated during Navrati. Through meditating upon Durga, the goddess is asked to offer protection and to destroy that which does not serve the highest self.

Durga or “the invincible” is one of the main forms of Shakti (feminine power).  Though the story of Durga varies among cultures, she is thought of as the warrior goddess who protects against evil and wickedness.  Her story emphasizes that good prevails over evil.  As such, she offers her devotees maternal protection from wickedness.

The warrior goddess is often depicted with eight arms holding many weapons and riding a lion.  When Mahishasura waged war and vowed to kill all of the devas, Durga was called to the battlefield to fight him.  Fierce and fearless, the approached the battlefield to defend the devas.

Though Mahishasura turned himself into many forms and creatures, Durga shattered each of them.  When Mahishasura finally appeared as buffalo, he nearly defeated Durga’s entire army.  But the many-armed goddess lassoed him with her rope.  Ultimately, she and her lion pounced upon Mahishasura, defeating him.

By destroying Mahishasura, Durga proved that good can overcome evil. Those who worship her see her defeat against Mahishasura as reminder that the feminine side brings protection to those who need it, suggesting that the feminine or shatki powers are a combination of protection, power, and strength.

Durga’s story suggests the positive energy of the feminine defends goodness in the world.  As such, when we embody our darkness we have the potential to harness Durga’s protective powers so that we too can do good in the world. Even more, Durga symbolizes destruction.  To honor the darkness is have potential to eliminate suffering.

During Durga Puja—the portion of Navrati devoted to Durga—the festivities’ celebrations and traditions vary depending on the region.  However, most rituals begin with unveiling the face or statue of Durga so that she can be worshipped and honored.  This is done to welcome the goddess and to invoke her presence.  Once the goddess is revealed, the festivities of feast and community gatherings begin.

Each night, the puja includes traditional drumming and dancing in an aarti, which is celebration with lanterns and songs to praise a deity. The term aarti means to cast light upon darkness.  Thus, the aarti illuminates the lunar goddess.  In areas such as Kolkata, the streets fill with people singing and dancing in honor of their Goddess Mother.

One of the most sacred parts of the event includes selecting one little girl who is then treated as if she were Durga. This is done in the belief that the Goddess makes her presence known in the  hearts of young girls, instilling the qualities of feminine power and protection for generations of young girls and women.

What Navrati and Durga Puja teach us is that accepting the darkness is not always just acknowledging and honoring the shadow side. Instead, if we define the darkness as the feminine and honor that darkness, we bring together the masculine and the feminine, the yin and the yang, the sun and the moon—finding wholeness amongst ourselves, living closer to our highest truth.


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