Navaratri, which means “nine nights,” is a festival which has been observed for centuries throughout India. Navaratri honors the Devi, the great Goddess and divine Mother, the all-pervading Shakti.
In India, there are two main Navaratri festivals. One is Chaitra Navaratri, which takes place during the spring season. The other one, and the most widely celebrated throughout the country, is Sharad Navaratri or Mahanavaratri, which begins on the first new moon in early autumn and culminates on the tenth day with the celebration of Dasera. On the Siddha Yoga path, it is this Navaratri that we celebrate.
There are many scriptures that extol the glory of the Devi and tell stories of her victories. One such text is the Devi-Mahatmya, which is found in the Markandeya Purana and recounts the tradition of Navaratri. In this story the goddess Mahadurga, who encompasses all forms of the Devi, spends nine days in battle with a host of demons including the terrible buffalo demon, Mahishasura. These demons symbolize the ego and the forces of ignorance. Mahadurga defeats the demons on the tenth day, or Dasera, in a triumph of light over darkness, good over evil.
One of the highlights of Navaratri is garba dancing as part of evening worship of the Devi. Groups dance in concentric circles around the garba flame, which represents the light of the Devi. While dancing they rhythmically tap dandiya, small sticks, which are painted in vibrant colors and decorated with tassels and other adornments.
During Navaratri, Siddha Yogis worship the Devi as Kundalini Shakti in three of her forms: Mahadurga, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasarasvati. Each of these forms of the Devi supports a seeker to experience and nourish the light that is their true nature. And over the nine nights and ten days of this celebration, Siddha Yogis honor the Goddess in her various manifestations by singing the Jaya Devi Arati.
In 2020, Navaratri, which is a lunar celebration, is taking place between October 17 and 24 in the western hemisphere, and between October 17 and 25 in India. (The second and third lunar days overlap on October 18 in the West).
October 17 – 18
The first three nights of Navaratri honor Mahadurga, the form of the Devi that dissolves ignorance. Mahadurga is depicted riding a tiger and wielding divine weapons, her countenance both fierce and serene. She vanquishes our inner enemies and strengthens our courage. When we seek her blessings, she helps us overcome fear and ignorance so we can persevere on the spiritual path.
One of the many highlights of the Navaratri celebration on the Siddha Yoga path is invoking the power of the devi Mahadurga through namasankirtana—chanting Kali Durge Namo Namah.
October 19 – 21
For the next three nights of Navaratri we honor Mahalakshmi, the goddess of abundance, beauty, and auspiciousness. She is often depicted standing or seated in a lotus flower, gold coins streaming from her open palm. When we pray to Mahalakshmi and invoke her grace within us, she bestows wealth in all forms, inspires generosity, and helps us to recognize the abundance and beauty within us and in the world around us.
Mahalakshmi has many names and manifestations. Eight of these forms are known by the name Shri Ashtalakshmi, which you can read about here. One way that Siddha Yogis invoke Mahalakshmi is by reciting the beautiful hymn Shri Mahalakshmyashtakam Stotram.
October 22 – 24
The final three nights honor Mahasarasvati, the embodiment of wisdom, creativity, and artistic expression. Clad in white and holding the Veda in one hand, she represents purity and the light of knowledge within us. In another hand she holds the veena, a stringed musical instrument which symbolizes the creative inspiration that springs forth, ever-new and ever-replenishing, from the inner Self. Worship of Mahasarasvati cultivates learning, noble thoughts, and eloquent, truthful speech. She is the inspiration for musicians, artists, writers, and students.
October 25 – Dasera
The celebration of Navaratri culminates on Dasera, also known as Vijayadashami—the tenth day, the day of victory after the nine nights of Navaratri. Dasera marks the triumph of the Goddess over the demon Mahishasura and symbolizes the prevailing of the supreme light.
Dasera as the day of victory is reflected in other Indian scriptures and texts as well. According to the epic poem Ramayana, this is the day when Lord Rama defeated the ten-headed demon Ravana.
In the Mahabharata, Dasera is the day when the Pandava brothers returned to their kingdom after thirteen years in exile and re-established righteousness in the world. Upon their return, the Pandavas regained their weapons and did puja to them. Therefore, on Dasera it is traditional to honor the tools of one’s trade.
Dasera is considered one of the three-and-a-half most auspicious days of the year. (In India, auspicious days and nights are determined by the panchanga, which is a traditional minute-by-minute lunar calendar). This is therefore one of the most favorable days to embark on a project, especially one that involves knowledge, art, or music. It is a day of new beginnings, of fresh starts, when the heavens seem to shower their golden-hued blessings in particular abundance, supporting the success of our new endeavors.
Jaya Devi! Victory to the divine light! Victory to dharma!