"Navratri"means nine nights. "Nav" means Nine and "Ratri" means nights and in north India, this festival is called as - "Navratra". Navratri is a nine-day holy festival, which is celebrated to propitiate Goddess Shakt,during the beginning of October month. Devotees observe a fast on all the nine days of this holy festival of nights.Devotees visit the decorated Devi temples all over India.Navratri is celebrated with full pep in Gujarat state.
All the nine nights of Navratri are spent in vibrant Garba and Raas dance.The Gujarat government has been organising the "Navratri Celebrations" on a regular basis for the nine days. Durga Puja is the very important festival in West Bengal and is celebrated with a great enthusiasm.The Navratri begins on the first day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin ie "Pratipada". Navaratri represents celebration of Goddess Durga,the manifestation of God in form of Shakti(Power).
Navratri is divided into sets of three days to adore three different aspects of the supreme goddess or goddesses. Life size clay idols of the Goddess Durga defeating the demon Mahisasura are placed in temples and other places. These idols are then worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day.
Navaratri festival is celebrated in the whole world with Garba and Dandiya dance,among the Gujarathis and other Hindu casts.Nowdays the modern generation celebrates the Disco Dandiya on a bigger scale with the latest disco lights and hi-fi sound sysytems. Each night of Navratri corresponds to worship of different forms of Goddess Durga,which is explained as follows-
9 Forms of Durga Mata
1) Maa Shailputri
The daughter of Parvatraj Himalaya (King of the Mountain Himalaya). She married Lord Shiva and is known as mother of Lord Ganesha (The Remover of obstacles) and Kartikeya (The God of War).
2) Maa Brahmachaarin
She gives the message of pure love to the world.
3) Maa Chandraghanta
She establishes Justice. She wears the crescent moon on her head.
4) Maa Kushmaanda
She provides the basic necessities and everyday sustenance to the world.
5) Skand Maa
She gives the gift of differentiation & discrimination of right from wrong to the world.
6) Maa Kaatyayin
She persistently & relentlessly battles against the evil, deceitful and devious entities .
7) Maa Kaalratri
She killed Raktabeeja (A demon who had the power to produce a demon from every drop of blood that fell from his body.
Goddess & Divine Mother eventually licked the blood before it could reach the ground and hence conquered and overpowered him).
8) Maa Chaamunda
She killed two demons - Chanda and Munda and restored tranquility and order in the world.
Maa MahaGauri: She also liberated the world from the evil forces.
9) Mata Sidhidaarti
She is a treasure house of Mystic Powers (Yantra Tantra) and Knowledge (Gyaan).
The nine days are also devoted to the Trinity God by worshipping their consorts.Nine days are divided in to sets of three each.
Three days Maa Durga (Goddess of valor, power and energy) is worshipped.
Other three days Maa Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity) is worshipped and next three days Maa Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge, learning and art) is worshipped.
The tenth day of this festival is celebrated as Vijayadashami ie "Dassera".
First Three Days of Navratri
During the first three days,Maa Durga is worshiped in her manifestations as Kumari,Parvati and Kali. These three forms represent the various stages of a woman - as a young virgin girl, a wife,a mother and as an old mature woman.
On the first day of Navratri, barley seeds are sown in an earthen pot,kept in the worship room.On the tenth day,after the seeds grow into small shoots,those are plucked out and given to devotees as "Prasad".
Fourth to Sixth Days of Navratris
In these three days, Maa Lakshmi is worshiped.This is observed to create divine feelings in devotees' minds. Prayers, Kirtans etc. are performed in .
On the fifth day,ie Lalita Panchami,it is traditional to gather and display all literature available in the house, light a lamp or 'diya' to invoke Saraswati Maa.
Eighth Day of Navratris
On the seventh and eighth day of Navratri, Maa Saraswati is worshiped.It is believed that worshiping Maa Saraswati enhances the spiritual knowledge and makes a person free of all bonds of the Sansar (Material World).
On the 8th day of this colorful festival, Yagna or Hoam (holy fire) is performed with Pure Desi Ghee (clarified pure butter), kheer (rice pudding) and sesame seeds form the holy offering to Goddess Durga Mata. Many people in north India worship the 8th day as ashtami.
Ninth day of Navaratri
On this important day,called 'Mahanavami',the festival of Navratri culminates.'Kanya Pujan' is performed in Hindu households,by worshipping the nine 'kumarikas' ie young girls representing the Goddess Durga.
The Kumarikas are made to seat respectfully and are worshipped by washing their feet and then offering new clothes as gifts.They are offered a food of 'Prasad' with special items,a token of money,red bangles and a rsaree.
During these Navratri days most of the people eat vegetarian food, some people eat food without any form of cereal and some fast for all the eight days.
Navratri is celebrated twice in a year.As per the astronomy,there are two major solar influences each year.The seasons are determined by the two directions in which the sun appears to be moving. One is when the Sun is crossing the equator and moving towards south, which is called "Visaragakaal" or "Dakshinayan." The sun is not very harsh in this season, and more moisture is released in the atmosphere.
The other is when the Sun is crossing the equator and moving towards north, which is called "Aadanakaal" or "Uttarayana". The sun is stronger in this phase and tends to absorb the moisture from the atmosphere. One is the start of the winter season and the other is the start of the summer season. The beginning of summer season and the beginning of winter season are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influences.The bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change on account of the changes in nature.
These two are the sacred periods to worship the Goddess Shakti.So both the seasons are selected to celebrate Navratris.Ram Navratri is celebrated in Hindu month Chaitra(March 22-April 20) and the Durga Navratri in Hindu month Ashvin(September 23-October 22).
Durgamata Kills Demon Mahisasur
As per the legend, Lord Brahma granted a boon of ultimate power, to the demon king Mahishasur.Charged with the powers,he became uncontrollable and created havoc in the universe, and no one could defeat him or finish him.He became so over confident,that he started troubling even the Devlok. One day, he reached Heaven (Swarglok) to challenge the Gods' king, Indra .Annoyed Indra requested Lord Brahma to help him.
Lord Brahma was angry due to misuse of his power,granted through the boon. He, along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, combined their shaktis (powers) and brought to life a magnificent Goddess with many arms.This form of Shakti was called "Durga".Goddess Durga was mounted on a Lion,who fought a fierce and bloody war with the Demon Mahishasur,for nine days and nights.
During the war,the demon,Mahishasur changed his form many times.However,on the tenth day, the Goddess Shakti,successfully squized him under her foot and the Demon was finished.
The universe was releived from the harassment of the demon Mahishasur. This victory symbolises the victory of good over evil.These nine days are devoted to the propitiation of the Mother Goddess,Shakti.