Navaratri, or “Nine Nights” is celebrated in many different parts of India at the beginning of autumn as this is thought to be a very auspicious time because of climatic and solar influences. It is the celebration of Durga or the female energy (Shakti) in all of us. Each night is devoted to worship of Durga, the goddess of power and energy and “overcoming obstacles”, and her incarnations Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth and Saraswati, the namesake of our yoga lineage, worshipped to gain spiritual knowledge that can eventually set us free from our earth bound ways.
During the nine days of Navratri, for many Hindus, feasting and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities. In the evenings there are many celebrations filled with religious dances in order to worship Goddess Durga. Durga incarnated as the “united power of all divine beings”, who, according to the story, offered her their very best physical attributes and weapons (which are depicted in each of her many hands)to kill the demon “Mahishasur”.
Durga is depicted as having eight or ten hands. These are believed to represent the eight quadrants or ten directions in Hinduism. This suggests that she protects the devotees from all directions. She is often depicted to be riding a lion or tiger which represents power, will and determination, which makes sense as it is ultimately up to the individual (without weapons) to defeat any obstacle that may be encountered.
My yoga studio is celebrating this festival and so far I have attended the first 3 nights, which were dedicated to “Durga” specifically in order to destroy our impurities, evils and weakness, the next three nights will be for Lakshmi who has the power of giving unlimited wealth and finally, the last three nights are for the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati.
The evenings are 1 hour long and are filled with chanting of various mantras. The evening starts with chanting the 32 names of Durga 9 times. 32 Names of Durga (Click here for the meaning) The chanting 24 repetitions of the Durga Gayatri Mantra Durga Gayatri Mantra.Om Kathyayanaya Vidmahe Kanya Kumari cha Dheemahe Thanno Durge Prachodayath
Om, Let me meditate on the goddess who is daughter of Kathyayana,
Oh, maiden Goddess, give me higher intellect,
And let Goddess Durga illuminate my mind.
For the next three nights, I am told that we will chant the Lakshmi Gayatri followed by the Saraswati Gayatri the last three nights.
Following the Gayatri mantra there are two additional mantras with musical accompaniment that are used during Navaratri. The night has concluded with some call and response chanting, or Kirtan.
The first two nights I took my daughter Jade with me to the evening of chanting. Although she was not necessarily thrilled to be there at first, she kindly surrendered and settled into her mat and spent the time coloring some beautiful pictures of mandalas. By the second night, however, she was chanting along with us while she colored! It was quite amazing to hear how quickly she picked up the mantras, especially the pronunciation which can be quite tricky!
Both of us reported to have slept very soundly and both had very vivid and colorful dreams after each night of chanting which we found to be quite interesting. Mantra can have a very profound effect on the body and the mind regardless if you understand the words or not. The sound vibrations from the words are known to have an effect on the cellular level and many people will report a change in how they feel physically, an positive alternation of mood, etc. after chanting or even just listing to the chanting of mantra.
Moving from celebrating the Ganesh Festival in Mumbai, India last month to Navratri in Cleveland, OH, I feel quite blessed for the experiences and more connected to India and to the roots of yoga then ever before!