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Navaratri festival (Part 1 of 3)

Dear friends,

We are celebrating Navaratri festival during this week.  Best wishes to all
of U. I would like to present a summary of a kannada article about Navaratri
by Sri Masti Venkatesha Iyengar in three parts. This article covers the origin
of this festival, different styles of celebration and the significance of the
pooja.  This article appeared in the newsletter "Jeevana" Oct. 1950 published
by Jeevana Karyalaya, Bangalore. So, here we go ....

"By Navaratri, we understand that it is a ten days festival held during
Ashwayuja masa. There is also another Navaratri during Chaitramasa called
Vasanta Navaratri or Rama Navaratri (since it includes the birthday of
Lord Srirama). The first nine days of Ashwayuja masa are called Sharannavaratri
(Nava=nine; nine days of Sharat Rutu). Since there is a program after nine
days, this became ten days festival. Therefore it is called Dushera (Dus=Ten)
in north India.

In the Vedas there is a Suktam (stanza) which mentions an yajna of Goddess
Saraswati. It is said that Saraswati protected the group of Devas by assuming
SimhiNi avatar (Lioness). There is also a mention of yajna for "Ratri" (night)
Goddess to be conducted during night. Ratri and Vagdevi are different roopas of
same Goddess. A suktam calls Ratri devi as "Durga". Another suktam talks about
"atiraatra pooja" (pooja of many nights) whose Goddess is Saraswati.

In the Puranic period, the Vedic gods became different personalities like
Surya, Ganapati, Shiva, VishNu and Durga. Durgadevi is the Goddess for the
punishment of bad and protection of good and also one who likes batteles and
success. Sarswati, Ratri; Ratri, Durga; Vagdevi, SimhiNi; all these ideas got
formalized into a pooja of ten nights praising Simhavaahini Durgadevi
(Goddess Durga raiding on a lion).

By this time, the history of Ramayana and Mahabharatha gave some special
significance to this festival. As mentioned in Ramayana, Srirama planned his
battle and killed Ravana in this period. Also, in Mahabharata, Arjuna took out
his weapons from Shami tree (Pandavas had hidden their weapons in this tree
during their one year Ajnatavaasa) and defeated Duryodhana who had captured
cows of Uttara Rajakumara (son of King ViraTa). Since Sharat Rutu is best
suited for travels, kings used to set out for their battles after worshipping
Goddess Durga, the Goddess who loves success.

Thus the origin from the Vedas, the development on that in the PuraaNas,
the historical incidents, the notion of welfare of a nation - all put together
has become today's Navaratri festival.
                                             .... [To be continued]
Raghavendra Chikkingala Swamy                      c1raghav@watson.ibm.com

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