“Shardiya Navratri” takes its name from the term “Sharad,” which refers to the autumn season, and “Navratri,” which means “nine nights.” This festival, which lasts for nine days, is dedicated to the worship of the nine forms of the mother goddess Durga, known as Shakti. It is a celebration of the love and devotion towards Maa Durga and her nine different avatars. Pratipada is the primary day of Shardiya Navratri, and Maha Navami is the final day.
Hindus observe this festival as a way to honor and worship Maa Durga, who represents the divine feminine energy and signifies the triumph of good over evil. During Navratri, all nine days are dedicated to the worship of the nine forms of Goddess Shakti. Each of these avatars represents a unique characteristic of Goddess Durga. Devotees offer specific Prasad to Navdurga each day to seek her blessings. The Navratri festival concludes on the tenth day with Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami.
During the nine-day Navratri festival, devotees worship the nine avatars of Maa Durga to seek their blessings. It is believed that those who worship Goddess Durga with sincerity and devotion during these nine days will be bestowed with peace, happiness, and prosperity as the goddess removes all of their worries. Each day of Navratri is associated with a specific avatar of the goddess.
In order to obtain Goddess Durga’s blessings, people practice traditional fasts for the full nine days. During this time, they also clean their homes, wear new clothes, recite shlokas dedicated to each goddess, and offer Prasad or bhog. They offer prayers to the goddess in hopes of receiving her graces for a successful, contented life.
Furthermore, on the tenth day known as Vijayadashami, an impressive procession takes place. Clay statues of Maa Durga are ceremoniously immersed in a river, sea, or ocean. This custom is particularly popular in West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Bihar. The day of Durga Visarjan is regarded as the most significant day of Maa Durga’s worship.
During the nine-day festivities, there is a lot of dancing involved, particularly Garba and Dandiya Raas, which are popular in Gujarat. Garba is a traditional dance where participants clap their hands and move rhythmically in a circular pattern. Dandiya Raas involves dancing with sticks called dandiyas, in sync with the music’s beat.
Key aspects of Shardiya Navratri include-
Goddess Worship: As part of the worship, devotees offer prayers and perform rituals to pay homage to the nine forms of the goddess. These forms include Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidatri. In some traditions, Bhadrakali, Jagadamba, Annapurna, Sarvamangala, Bhairavi, Chandika, Lalita, Bhavani, and Mookambika are worshipped.
Fasting: During the nine-day period, many individuals choose to undertake fasting and penance as a part of their observance. This may involve abstaining from certain foods, following specific dietary restrictions, or engaging in other forms of penance. The purpose behind this practice is to cleanse and purify both the body and soul. Some people strictly adhere to a diet that includes fruits, milk products, nuts, and specific grains such as buckwheat or amaranth. During Navratri, some people also choose to fast exclusively on water or fruit juice for one or two days.
Garba and Dandiya Raas: A significant aspect of Navratri celebrations, particularly in Gujarat and other regions, is the participation in Garba and Dandiya Raas dances. These are traditional folk dances where people dress in vibrant attire and engage in rhythmic movements, often incorporating the use of sticks.
Temples and Pandals: Temples are adorned beautifully during Navratri, and temporary structures known as pandals are constructed to house the goddess idols. These locations are visited by devotees who come to offer prayers and seek the goddess’ blessings.
Music and Cultural Events: Navratri is not only about religious rituals but also encompasses cultural programs, music, and other forms of entertainment that contribute to the festive ambiance.
Culmination with Dussehra: The festival reaches its pinnacle with Dussehra, also called Vijayadashami, which commemorates Lord Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana. In grand public events, effigies of Ravana, Meghnad, and Kumbhakarna are set ablaze to signify the triumph of good over evil.
Shardiya Navratri is a period that encourages spiritual introspection, cultural festivities, and the unity of communities within India and among Hindus globally. While the specific customs and traditions may differ across regions, the fundamental essence of honoring the goddess and rejoicing in the victory of righteousness prevails consistently.
There are two mythological stories related to it in the scriptures-
According to the first one, Lord Brahma grants a boon of immortality to Mahishasura due to the demon’s unwavering devotion. However, this boon comes with a condition – only a woman would have the power to defeat him. Mahishasura begins to terrorize the Earth since he doesn’t think any woman could ever overcome him, and even the gods are powerless against him.
In response, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva combine their energies to create the Goddess Durga, who is bestowed with various weapons. The battle between Maa Durga and Mahishasura spans ten days. Eventually, when Mahishasura transforms into a buffalo, Goddess Durga impales him with her ‘Trident,’ instantly ending his life, hence known as Mahishasuramardini.
In another legend, Lord Ram spent nine days worshipping Goddess Durga before his battle with Ravana in order to rescue Mother Sita from Lanka. Goddess Durga gave him a blessing of victory, pleased with his commitment. Ten days later, Lord Ram defeated Ravana and took control of Lanka. This day is celebrated as Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami.