Today is the first day of ‘Navratri‘, meaning nine nights, devoted to the Mother Goddess. This is one of the biggest festivals in India, perhaps second only to Diwali, the festival of lights. Having recently done a post on devotion, ‘The yoga of poets’, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk specifically about devotion to the Divine Mother.
In India, the Divine Mother has been worshipped for centuries in various forms (we even refer to the country India as ‘Bharat Mata’ or Mother India). The earliest records of the Vedic period, many thousands of years old, contain the Gayatri mantra, dedicated to the Goddess Gayatri, which was held as the highest mantra for the realisation of truth. Many scholars hold the view that the earliest form of worship in most cultures across the world was worship of the Mother Goddess, although over time, this culture was lost or eradicated by other influences. In Indian culture, the male and female energies are worshipped together: there is Gauri-Shankar, Sita-Ram, Radha-Krishna, Lakshmi-Vishnu (notice that most times we say the female diety’s name first). The underlying principle is one of Shiva, the male and Shakti, the female energies. Shiva is unmanifest energy that needs Shakti, the creative force, to become manifest. Shakti takes many forms as the Divine Mother, Mother Nature, and even the Kundalini energy referred to in yoga.(See also an artice by Dr David Frawley on the Mother Goddess)
The 9 days of Navratri follow a new moon and are dedicated to the three forms of the feminine: Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Durga is associated with protection, Lakshmi with wealth and Saraswati, with knowledge and the arts. As Sadhguru explains in a very informative article, these forms represent the three forms of nature: tamas (ignorance/inertia), rajas (activity/passion) and sattva (transcendence). These three aspects are also manifest in cosmology with the earth representing tamas, the sun, rajas and the moon, transcendence. These 9 days of Navratri were designed to help one transcend through these three states of nature with the help of the Divine Mother. On the 10th day, the Goddess is said to slay the demon Mahishasur, which symbolically portrays the slaying of human ego.
Many saints in India, notably Sri Ramakrishna Parmahansa (founder of the Ramakrishna Mission and guru of Swami Vivekananda) have been great devotees of the Mother Goddess. For them, she was as alive as any other human being around them. The great mathematician Ramanujan, whose life has been depicted in the recent movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity, was also an ardent devotee. For him the Devi (as the Mother Goddess is also referred to), poured mathematics and made him feel equations and numbers as if they were alive. (Some of his formulas from the early 20th century took decades for mathematicians to understand and were also later used to understand the nature of black holes, a concept not invented when he wrote the equations.)
In India, the Navratri festival is celebrated with worship of the Devi, dance and song. The dance is in the form of the dandiya, involving playing with sticks, which happens in both small towns and large cities where people don traditional clothes and dance the night away. Indian culture likes to make everything into a celebration rather than a serious religious affair because it is considered that people are more receptive in a joyous state. During these days, most people will ensure that their diet consists only of sattvic food and many people will eat only once a day. It is also a custom to grow some barley, a symbol of fertility, in a small pot for immersion at the end of the festival.
As Yogini Shambhavi of the American Vedic Institute so eloquently puts it in praise of the Mother Goddess,
She lifts the veils of maya that underlie our material nature – kama (desire), krodha (anger), mada (intoxication), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), ahamkara (arrogance of the ego) and matsara (jealousy). Her light steers us through the struggles we face at a soul level, helping us work through and move beyond our karmas…
In honouring the Great Mother Goddess we must always remember Mother Earth, Mother Nature and the Cosmic heavens, recognising her as the Mother of all. Then we will reclaim our own nature as one with Her boundless radiance that is all-pervasive!
See also an article by Sadhguru on how the Devi is a living entity.
Read also: A Most Touching Tribute to Devi
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