Composed by Siva Sankaran
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Before I begin with this article, I would like to wish all those of you believe in the power of the divine mother goddess who is known to Hindus by many names including Durga, Bhadrakali, Amba or Jagdamabika, Anapoorna Devi, etc, a very happy Vasanta Navaratri. Vasanta Navatri is close and will be celebrated from March 31 to April 8 this year according to the Gregorian Calander. Navaratri , as the name signifies (Nava mean Nine and Ratri is Night), is a celebration of nine nights during which Hindus celebrate the feminine divinity and the grace that it showers upon us.
In all there are five navaratris namely:
- Vasanta Navaratri: Vasanta Navaratri is a nine day festival dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Chaitra (March–April) and is observed during the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) of Chaitra. The beginning of this Navratri also marks the start of the new year as per the Hindu mythological lunar calendar (Vikrami Samvat).
- Gupta Navaratri: Gupta Navaratri, also referred as Ashadha or Gayatri or Shakambhari Navaratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Ashadha (June–July). Gupta Navaratri is observed during the Ashadha Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
- Sharad Navaratri: This is the most important of the Navaratris. It is simply called Maha Navaratri (the Great Navratri) and is celebrated in the ‘pratipada’ (first day) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashvina. Also known as Sharad Navaratri, as it is celebrated during Sharad (beginning of winter, September–October).
- Paush Navaratri: Paush Navaratri is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Paush (December–January). Paush Navaratri is observed during the Paush Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
- Magha Navaratri: Magha Navaratri, also referred as Gupta Navaratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Magha (January–February). Magha Navaratri is observed during the Magha Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon).
The Story of Vasanta Navaratri
However since the Vasanta Navarratri is close, I will take this auspicious occasion to discuss its origins and its significance as is presented in the Devi Bhagavata Purana (Book 3 Chapters XIV – XXX). The story begins with the death of King Dhruvasindhu. He was killed by a lion when he went out hunting:
20-21. Thus some days having passed, one day the king Dhruvasandhi went out on an hunting expedition to the forest. He killed in the forest many deer, Ruru (a kind of deer), elephants, boar, hare, buffaloes, rhinoceros, camels and amused himself very much with this hunting affair. 22-23. While he was hunting thus, a lion got very much enraged, and, from a bush, suddenly jumped and came upon the king. That king of the beasts was already struck with arrows; now seeing the king in front, he loudly roared. 24-25. He angrily lifted his long tail high up in the air and, puffing up his manes, jumped up high in the air to attack and to take the life of the king. Seeing this, instantly the king took sword in his right hand and shield in his left and stationed himself like another lion before him. 26. The king’s followers, one and all, angrily shot arrows on the lion. 27. Then a loud uproar ensued; and all began to hurl arrows as best as they could. But, after all, that dangerous lion fell upon the king. 28-29. Seeing thus, the king struck him with his sword, but the lion also tore asunder the king, with his sharp nails. The king thus struck by the lion, fell on the spot and died. The soldiers cried aloud and killed the lion with arrows. 30. Thus both the king and lion lay dead on the spot; and the soldiers turned back to the palace and gave all the information to the royal ministers. – Devi Purana Book 3 Chapter 14
Soon after preparations were made to crown his eldest son Pince Sudarsana. However the in laws of the late King Dhurvasindhu, King Yudajit of Ujjain and King Virasena of Kalinga, fathers to Queen Lilavati and Queen Manorma respectively wanted to secure the Kosala throne for their own sons. Thus ensued a war between the two kings in which King Virasena was killed in a battle. With her father killed, Queen Manorama fears for her life and the life of her son:
“16-17. O King! Thus when the battle was deadly, the king Yudhâjit shot a sharp, dreadful arrow at Vîrasena and severed his head from body. Vîrasena lay dead on the battle field and his army was routed. The soldiers fled away from the battle. 18-19. Hearing that her father was slain in the battle, Manoramâ became very terrified and anxious. She then began to think that the vicious wicked king Yudhâjit will surely slay her son, for kingdom’s sake and to satisfy his enmity with her father. 20. What shall I do now? My father is slain in the battle. My husband is no more. My child is a minor to-day. Where shall I go?” – Devi Purana Book 3 Chapter XV
His daughter Queen Manorama fled to the forest with Prince Sudarsana and a servant and took refuge in the hermitage of rishi Bharadwaja:
“58. Bhâradvâja said :– “O beautiful one! Remain in this hermitage without any fear; rear up your son here. O auspicious one! There is no cause of fear here from your enemies. 59. Better nourish and support your child. Your son will surely be a king and if you remain in this hermitage, no sorrow or grief will overtake you.” 60. Vyâsa said :– When the great Muni Bhâradvâja said thus, the queen Manoramâ became peaceful. The Muni gave them a cottage to live in and there they dwelt without any sorrow.” – Devi Purana Book 3 Chapter XV
The victorious King Yudhajit crowned his grandson Satrujit at Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. He then went out in search of Manorama and her son inorder to kill them so that there would be no future claimants to the throne. Upon confrontation with the King, rishi Bhardwaja said that he would not give upon those who had sought protection under him. Hearing this Yudhajit decided to go back to his own kingdom as the didn’t wish to incur to pappah of killing a rishi.
“57-58. On Manoramâ’s thus speaking to the Muni, the fiery Maharsi went to Yudhâjit and said :– “O King! You better go back to your own place or anywhere else you like. The son of Manoramâ is a minor; that queen is very much grieved; she cannot come to you now.” 59. Yudhâjit said “O peaceful ones! Kindly cease showing this impudence and give me Manoramâ. I will never go away leaving her. If you do not give her easily, I will take her away by force.” 60. The Risis said “O King! If there be any strength in you, you can take away Manoramâ by force; but the result will be similar to that when the King Visvâmitra wanted to take away the heavenly cow by force from the hermitage of Vas’istha.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XVI
“25. Therefore, O King! Dost Thou never quarrel with these ascetics and be involved in wars resulting in great enmity and causing the extinction of the race. 26. Better dost thou appease the Muni and now go back to your own kingdom. Let Sudars’ana remain here at his pleasure. 27. O King! This minor boy has no wealth; what harm can he do to you? It is useless to show your enmity towards an orphan, a weak minor boy. 28. This world is under the control of Destiny; therefore one should shew mercy to all. O king! What use is there to shew one’s jealousy? What is inevitable will surely come to pass. 29. O king! The thunderbolt comes sometimes like a blade of grass; a blade of grass acts sometimes like a thunderbolt. 30. O king! You are very intelligent; consider that by, combinations of circumstances, a hair can kill a powerful tiger and a gnat can kill an elephant. Therefore dost thou forsake this rashness and hear my beneficent advice. 31. Vyâsa said :– O king! The best of kings, Yudhâjit hearing the prime minister’s advice bowed down humbly at the feet of the Muni and returned to his own city.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XVII
The years rolled by and a hermit’s son came to the hermitage of rishi Bharwdaj and called out the servant of Prince Sudarsana by his Sanskrit name, Kleeba. The young prince only caught the first syllable Kli and began to pronounce it as Kleem. Unknowingly the young prince began to recite this name, which happens to be the beeja mantra of the divine mother. By continous utterance of this syllable Pince Sudarshana obtained the darshana of the Divine mother, who then granted him with divine weapons and an inexhaustible quiver.
“34. One day the minister Vidalla came there and the sons of the Munis seeing him began, in the presence of Sudars’ana, to address him “Klib,” “Klib.” 35. Sudars’ana, too, hearing them pronounce “Klib,” “Klib” took up the one letter, “Kli” and uttered this only repeatedly, which is, in fact the prince of the root mantras of Kâma, with anusvâra omitted. 36. Then the son of the king took that mantram and silently repeated this in his mind. 37. O King! Thus that boy Sudars’ana was initiated in this root mantra of Kâma (desire) spontaneously, out of his original Samskâra (innate tendency) owing to the unavoidable destiny of Fate. 38-39. The son of the king, when he was five years old, got this most excellent mantra, though without its Risi (seer), meditation, without its chhanda (metre) and without Nyâsa (assignment of the various parts of the body to different deities, accompanied with prayers and corresponding gesticulations), and considered this as the quintessence of all, therefore meditated this always in his mind spontaneously and never forgot it.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XVII
“42-43. One day Sudars’ana got a vision of the form of the Supreme Goddess, of a red colour, wearing red apparel and decorated with red ornaments, mounting on Garuda and with Her wonderful Vaisnavî powers and Her face, fully opened like the budding of a lotus flower. 44. Thus, expert in many branches of learning, Sudars’ana served his Mother in that forest and began to wander on the banks of the Ganges. 45. One day the Mother of the Universe gave the bows, sharpened arrows, quiver and a mail coat of armour to that boy in that forest” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XVII
While passing through the forest, the emissaries of the king of Benaras came across the ashrama of the rishi where they caught a glimpse of the young prince. On reaching Benares these emissaries recommened him to the king of Benaras as a good suitor for his daughter Sashikala. The svayamvara ceremony (a ceremony where a number of suitors presented themselves to the future bride and she chooses the one best suited after certain procedures, interviews etc). Sashikala at once chose Sudarsana and they were duly wed after that.
On witnessing this alliance King Yudhajit, who was present at this occasion, started a fight with the king of Benares. It is said that the divine mother appreared in her physical form and commanded Yudhajit to stop his adharmic act. However drunk in arrogance and power Yudhajit mocked the divine mother and asked his army to attack the newly weds and the King of Benares. The divine mother immediately reduced Yudhajit and his army to ashes. Thus Sudarsana, with his wife and his father-in-law, praised Devi. She was highly pleased and ordered them to worship her with havan and other means during the Vasanta Navarathri after which she went back to her formless self.
“34. Thus saying, the king Yudhâjit, filled with anger, came to the battle field with S’atrujit and all his forces. 35-36. That wicked king, drew his bow string well nigh to his ear and shot arrows after arrows, sharpened under stone and by blacksmith at Sudars’ana, with the object of killing him. Sudars’ana cut off all those arrows quickly with his own quick going arrows. 37. Thus when the fight grew intense, the Goddess Chandikâ became very mach enraged and shot arrows at Yudhâjit. 38. Assuming diverse forms, the Goddess Durgâ, holding various weapons the auspicious Mother of the Universe, began to fight terribly in the battle field. 39. S’atrujit and the king Yudhâjit were killed in that terrible battle. Both of them fell dead from their chariots; and a shout of victory arose from the side of Sudars’an.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XXIII
Prince Sudarsana and Sashikala returned to the Ashram of rishi Bharadwaja. The great rishi blessed them and crowned Sudarsana as the king of Kosala. Sudarsana and Sashikala and the king of Benares implicitly carried out the commands of the Divine Mother and performed worship in a splendid manner during the Vasanta Navarathri. According to the Krittibas Ramayana, Sri Rama invoked goddess Durga in his battle against Ravana. Although Goddess Durga was traditionally worshipped in the late spring, due to contingencies of battle, Lord Rama had to invoke her in the form of astam (eighth) Mahavidya (Maa Bagla) in the autumn and thus is known as akaal bodhan (invoking out of scheduled time). This autumnal ritual was different from the conventional Durga Puja, which is usually celebrated in the springtime. So, this Puja is also known as ‘akal-bodhan’ or out-of-season (‘akal’) worship (‘bodhan’). This Rama’s date for the Navratra puja has now gained ascendancy and culminates with Dusherra on the following day:
“1. Vyâsa said :– Hearing the Devî’s words, the king Subâhu began to say with great devotion thus :– 20. It is noteworthy that My Great Puja in autumn for the nine nights (Navarâtra) ought to be done with the greatest devotion. 21-22. O king! In the month of Chaitra, Mâgh, Âs’vîn, and Âsâdha, My grand festival should be done on the four Navarâtris respectively; and especially on the fourteenth and on the eighth day of the black half, all persons ought to worship Me with their minds full of devotion towards Me.” 23. Vyâsa said :– After the Devî, the Goddess Durgâ, the Destroyer of all dangers, had finished Her sayings, Sudars’ana bowed down to Her and praised Her much. The Devî, giving him the above mentioned advices, disappeared.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XXIV
“40. In villages after villages, the chief townsmen began to build temples, worship the Goddess there with all their jolliness. Thus everywhere in the Kosala kingdom spread the Devî worship. 41. On the other hand, the king Subâhu established the Idol in Benares, had temples built and worshipped there the Devî. 42. The inhabitants of Kâs’î became then filled with devotion and intense love towards the Devî and duly worshipped Her, as they used to do to S’iva in the temple of Vis’vanâtha. 43. Thus the Durgâ Devî became very widely celebrated in this world. O king! Thus in different countries, the devotion began to increase towards the Goddess. 44. The Devî Bhagavatî Bhavânî became in every way an object to be worshipped and adored by all people and everywhere in Bhâratavarsa. Amogst the descendants of Sudarshana were the legendary Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana. In keeping with the tradition of their ancestor Sri Rama and Sri lakshmana also performed the worship of the divine mother during the Sharad Navaratri and it was with her assiatnce that they managed to recoved mother Sita who had been held hostage by Ravana.” – Devi Purana, Book 3 Chapter XXV
Since the Vedic Age of the Rishis, the devotional practices recommended during Navratri are primarily those of Gayatri Anushthana. The Devi Mahatmya is regarded as the greatest purana composed on the victory of the divine mother over the demon mahishasura. However that is another story for another time. For now my best wishes to everyone for the festival
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