When translated literally, Navratri means nine nights. It is the time of the year when the feminine aspect of energy – Shakti – is worshipped. Male and female are both forms of Shakti, the dynamic and creative aspect of the absolute. The great sage Adi Shankaracharya once said that all celebration is Shakti and all renunciation is Shiv. It is the movement of Shakti that morphs the being into the becoming.
Navratri is a 9 day journey of spiritual awakening which culminates in Dussehra, also known as Vijaydashami (the tenth day of victory). Dussehra is celebrated with great enthusiasm across maidans (grounds) in India, as thousands cheer the burning of effigies of Ravana (a character from the famous Indian epic Ramayana) to symbolise the victory of good over evil.
The journey to get to the point of victory is what makes Navratri such a spiritually poignant period. The 9 day process is an extremely scientific and disciplined one – a kind of yag or sacrifice – in which three different manifestations of Shakti and the qualities these aspects represent, are invoked for spiritual benefits.
The first three nights are devoted to the worship of the fiercest form of feminine energy – Mahakali or Durga. MahaKali is the most terrifying form of the sacred feminine and iconographists often depict the Goddess as a fierce looking, blue bodied woman, holding a bloodied sword in one hand and the severed head of a man in the other while her foot rests on the body of a man she has slain.
To learn, you need to unlearn. To gain true knowledge, you have to first peel away the multiple layers of ignorance. Spiritually speaking, Mahakali represents the transformative aspects of Shakti (feminine energy). By invoking her on the first three days, you are essentially invoking the power of transformation within yourself. To transform, you need to destroy all that is standing in the way of the change. Mahakali represents the energy force that helps rid you of ignorance and helps you detach from base earth bound tendencies. The worship of this aspect of energy is believed to purify the energies of the Mooladhara (earth) and Swadishthana (water) Chakras (centres of energy) in the body.
The next three days are spent worshipping Shakti in the form of Lakshmi – the giver of wealth. In current times, we associate the Goddess Lakshmi as a benefactor of material wealth and the giver of the finer things in life. Shakti in the aspect of Laksmi represents wealth but of a wholly different kind. She is the giver of spiritual wealth and invoking her energies is about the purification of the mind rather than the filling of bank vaults. The worship of this energy is designed to achieve spiritual awareness and imbibe qualities that are spiritual in essence. Worshipping Lakshmi helps purify the Manipura (fire) and Anahata (heart) Chakras.
The last three days are dedicated to the worship of the sacred feminine in the form of Goddess Saraswati. Her energy represents the ultimate throb of consciousness resting in complete undifferentiated resonance – enlightenment. Worshipping aspects of Saraswati helps purify the Vishuddha (throat) and Ajna (Third eye/mind) Chakras.
The ninth day of Navratri also involves worshipping the purest aspect of feminine energy. Offerings to Goddess Saraswati are made by feeding young girls (known as Kanyas or Kanjaks) black chick peas, puri (an Indian fried bread) and halwa (an Indian sweetmeat). Through acts of service such as this, people pay their respects to the divine feminine energy that flows through every being.
The tenth day, Vijaydashami or Dussehra, is the flight into the thousand-petalled Chakra of consciousness, Sahasrara. It is the day of enlightenment, the victory of knowledge over ignorance.
The entire theme of the profound Vedas (Indian spiritual scriptures) is reflected in the nine nights of Navratri. It is the journey of the soul from transcending ignorance to the realisation of the ultimate truth which is the the recognition of its own undifferentiated divinity.