During the festival of Navaratri, the Devi, the Supreme Goddess Kundalini Shakti, is honored through worship, puja. This year at Shree Muktananda Ashram, a Brahmin priest, assisted by a yajaman couple, will perform puja to three principal forms of the Devi—Mahadurga, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasarasvati. Each offering and element of the ceremony holds a unique symbolic significance.
The Main Murtis
A murti, a statue, of Shri Ganesh—the god of wisdom and the intellect, the lord of auspicious beginnings, and the remover of obstacles—is traditionally worshipped first to ensure his blessings for an auspicious puja.
The Brahmin priest and yajaman couple make offerings to a murti of Shri Annapurna, the goddess of food and nourishment and, thus, the sustainer of all life. This form of the Devi represents all three principal forms of the Goddess during the puja. Before the inaugural puja, the Brahmin priest performs prana-pratishtha, a ceremony by which prana-shakti, the life force, is installed into the statue. Once this takes place, the murti is regarded as a living embodiment of the Devi’s shakti.
The Yajaman Couple
As is traditional in pujas, the yajaman, or hosting, couple assists the Brahmin priest throughout the ceremony. The couple represents the union of the Supreme Being and its Power.
The Puja Altar
Several kalashas, large water pots made of brass, clay, or copper, are used during the puja. The largest of these is placed directly under the tray holding the Devi’s murti and serves as her throne. The smaller kalashas sit near the Brahmin priest and hosting couple. These are filled with water, which is used in offerings throughout the puja. The kalasha represents the Devi’s abundance and auspiciousness and also symbolizes the primordial womb, source of all creation. The water in the kalasha represents the purifying qualities of three of India’s sacred rivers: the Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati.
The Devi sits under a regal canopy decorated with mango leaves, which are associated with Kama, the god of love, and represent the Goddess’s delight in her own creation and her creative powers. The sweetness of mangos reminds us of the Devi’s ananda, her bliss and delight.
Under the kalasha is a tray filled with soil and planted with seven different grains that will sprout and grow during the nine days of Navaratri. This tray honors the Devi’s nourishing qualities and represents the harvest.
A standing lamp with a flame symbolizes the power of the Goddess to remove the darkness of ignorance with the light of her divine knowledge. The flame of the lamp represents the light of the Heart and witness of the puja.
The many offerings made to the Devi propitiate her as a sovereign and, because the murti is now considered to be alive, appeal to the Devi’s five senses. Some of these offerings are in the form of food, such as rice, betel nut, yellow mustard seeds, fruits, turmeric, sweets, and coconuts. These edible offerings represent the bounty of the Earth, which sustains and nourishes creation, and gratify the sense of taste.
Another nourishing offering is panchamrit, which is thought to be the nectar of the gods—pancha means “five” and amrit means “nectar of immortality.” This is a delectable concoction of five ingredients, each of which holds a symbolic significance. Milk represents purity; curd, abundance; honey, unity and mellifluous speech; sugar, the bliss of the Self; and ghee, victory and knowledge.
Other offerings include fragrant flowers—especially roses, rose petals, and garlands—as well as oil scents, sandalwood paste, and incense. The Devi is said to have a keen sense of smell and to gravitate toward pleasing fragrances. Flowers represent our innate goodness, and it is traditional for one to offer whatever excellent qualities have blossomed from within.
The senses of sight and touch are evoked by offerings of jewelry, cosmetics, a sari, and coins. Another traditional offering is kumkum, the red powder that represents Shakti and auspiciousness. Kumkum is often applied to participants as a small dot between the eyebrows, the location of the ajna chakra, the inner seat of the Guru and center of divine perception. Through these royal gifts, the Devi is honored as a being of beauty and abundance.
A bell rung during the puja stimulates the sense of hearing and invokes the presence of the Goddess. This bell lets the Devi know of our intent to worship her. The sound represents the primordial sound Om and purifies the space in which the puja is to be performed. The yajaman couple rings the bell to introduce significant moments of the ceremony—before commencing the puja, while bathing the murti, during the performance of arati, and while making sacred offerings. The body of the bell represents ananta, infinity; its tongue, Mahasarasvati; and its handle, prana-shakti, the life energy.
The most significant of all the offerings made in the puja are the mantras and prayers that honor and praise the Devi. The scriptures of Shaivism teach that the resonance of mantra is the essential nature of the Devi and of all deities. By reciting mantras, we invoke the vibrant heart of all mantras—the spanda, the primordial vibration that creates, sustains, and dissolves all of creation—and we please the Devi dwelling within the Heart of all.