Tonight’s New Moon marks the beginning of the month of Aśvina, and one of the most loved annual celebrations – the 10-day festival in honor of the Devī, the Goddess.
We just finished Pitṛ Pakṣa – the time of the ancestors. For those of you who took the course we just offered here at Living Sanskrit, you know firsthand that it can be an intense 16 days of practice, reflection, austerity, and transformation. For a some time now, our attention has been on the past and on the dead.
Well, now we go into an equally intense and very different ten days – embracing LIFE with full gusto! This festival is called Navarātri (navarātrā in Sanskrit, but no one calls it that anymore), which means “Nine Nights”. For the next nine nights, sacred feminine energy surges forth and battles all the darkness and unconsciousness in the world. On the 10th day (October 22), we celebrate the Divine Mother’s victory.
However, the party actually starts NOW, on the first night of Navarātri. Why? Because as soon as She shows up, we know She will protect us and that She’s already won. So even as the seeming struggle ensues, we rejoice, relishing both the process and the certainty of victory.
Who is the Goddess, and what is sacred feminine energy? Well, one answer is that the Goddess is anything that moves, that can do, that is the cause of all the various forms and processes of existence (creation, maintenance, destruction, concealment, revelation). To honor Her is to honor the entire universe and all life.
A beautiful prayer-verse speaks to this:
rūpaṃ dehi jayaṃ dehi yaśo dehi dviṣo jahi
You of unimaginably beautiful form and energy, Destroyer of all obstacles, remover of all afflictions. Grant us your form, grant us victory, grant us welfare, destroy all hostility.
–a verse from the Devī Mahātmyam
She is in you, She is around you, She is beyond you. Everywhere you look you’ll find the Śakti, Her sacred energy. In fact, that you are ABLE to look, and even the fact you are able to experience yourself as a person who can look is because of Śakti.
So these joyful 10 days are a time to deeply cherish and celebrate life, power, and existence; and also, to release every thought, belief, tendency, or habit that harms or disrespects life energy. (This is actually what the whole myth of the Goddess fighting the demons is about – something we’ll explain in more detail in upcoming courses)!
And of course, there are a number of awesome traditional practices that you can do… so, without further ado:
Practice: Celebrate the Goddess
There are so many wonderful Navarātri traditions and practices, and different lineages and regions also have their unique variations. Some common practices are:
1) Sing and chant Her glory! From folk songs of praise to mantra-japa (recitation of mantra) to scriptural recitations, the possibilities are limitless. Two very sacred texts to read or chant at this time are the Devī-Mahātmyam (nearly a 1000 verses honoring and describing the Goddess) and the Lalitā-Sahasranāma, the thousand names/attributes of the Goddess.
2) Dance! She gave you the gift of movement, and the power that makes you move and express yourself is Her form within you. One of the most traditional offerings to the Goddess is nṛtya – dance.
Now remember, this is sacred dance, so try to focus on pure, beautiful movement. To support that, let the music be uplifting, joyful, and sacred. Also, you’ll want to avoid overly sexualized forms of music and dance – because it is a solo offering from you to her, and not about anyone else.
3) Grow something! A common practice in many regions is to sprout mung or other lentils at the beginning of Navaratri – usually something that grows fast. The pot is adorned and revered as a form of the Goddess – abundant, life-giving power. Each day, as you offer water to it, imagine that it is abhiśekha, ritual bathing of the deity. Then, on the 10th day, you can release the plant into a body of water, completing the cycle of life.
4) Face your demons! Demons are the energies that work in opposition to the dharma, to the sacred and natural. They create suffering, ignorance, terror, and harm all around. You might know some of them as fear, addiction, greed, envy, pride, and willful ignorance. This is the BEST time of the year to shine the bright pure light of your spirit onto these spaces and cast them out! (If you get stuck, pray to the Goddess for help. Clearing demons is Her specialty).
5) Create sacred art! The Goddess is the supreme artist and creator of all things… if you want a sample of Her talents, just look around! One way to honor Her is to connect with your creative power and make an offering of sacred art. You can draw or color or sculpt or make a rangoli or paint or use a drawing app or… let yourself be inspired!
6) Adorn and worship Her! If you have a statue or icon of Her, this is the time to really showcase and celebrate Her beauty. Offer jewelry, bangles, new clothes, flowers, perfume… even if you have an abstract image of her, such as a yantra, red rock, plant, etc, you can still adorn Her. Also, do pūjā – ritual worship – which includes offering hymns of praise, flame & incense, sacred substances like turmeric and kumkum, prayers, and meditation.
7) Embody Her beauty! All forms are Her forms; all beauty is Her beauty. Regardless of what gender you are, you can wear bright, beautiful, luxurious clothes; adorn yourself with jewelry and flowers; let your beauty shine! Avoid wearing greys, browns, or blacks this week (if possible) – reds, greens, yellows, and pinks are ideal, as they are the colors of flowering life.
8) Honor Her human forms! The Goddess takes the form of mothers, sisters, daughters, and even prostitutes – and during this time She is revered and honored in this form. Offer your gratitude and respect for the way Her creative and powerful energy enters your life through these forms. In some parts of India, girls are actually worshipped as forms of the Goddess by the entire community on the 10th day.
9) Meditate on Her form! There are countless descriptions and depictions of the Goddess available. A common practice is to visualize and concentrate on a particular form or aspect of the Goddess. This is an inner practice and must be done with devotion and love for Her to bear fruit. All outer depictions exist so that we can find Her inside our own self.
10) Serve the Divine Presence! The greatest way to please a deity is to become one with that deity. Everything the Goddess does is out of deep love and reverence for God, the Supreme Presence. And in truth they are one and the same – divine presence (the masculine) and divine power (feminine). And all that power joyfully serves to glorify and reveal the presence that contains and cherishes it. When we surrender to and serve the Supreme Presence, we reveal our oneness with the Goddess!