Practices for Vijayadaśamī

Living Sanskrit Ritual

Today is Vijayadaśamī, which literally translates to “The Victorious 10th day”. On this day, Durgā slays the great demon Mahīśāsura, the bull-headed demon who represents the tyrannical aspects of mind. It’s also the day that Śrī Rāma kills the demon king Rāvana, and rescues his wife Śītā, who represents the Earth. So all around, dharma triumphs over darkness and protects and frees the innocent.

On this day, along with the all the practices we have shared so far in our Navrātri course, there are a few special practices that are specific to Vijayadaśamī:

Durgā-pūjā: It’s traditional to do pūjā, ritual worship, to Durgā-devī today. You can put a print, statue, yantra, or other representation of her on your altar if you don’t have one already. As with all pūjās, you offer her fruit, flowers, incense, kumkum, turmeric, food, flame, hymns and chants of praise, meditation, etc. For goddesses in particular, we also can offer red, green, or pink cloth as “clothing”, jewelry, bangles, and of course sacred dance. You can also recite Devī-Mahātmyām (also known as Caṇḍī Pāṭ), or any of its sub-hymns – for example the Devī Argalā Stotram.

-Rākhī removal: Because the Goddess has destroyed all darkness and we are now totally safe, there is a tradition in many parts of India that rākhī protection bracelets that were tied during the full moon in August can be removed on this day. If they are natural (cotton, silk, etc), they can be returned to a body of water or buried under a tree. You can also keep it on if you wish, but you have the option to remove it today.

Return sprouts to the earth. If you did the practice of growing sprouts during Navrātri and worshipping it each day, you can offer them back to a body of water or place it outdoors underneath a tree if you like. Anything we have created for a ritual and sacred purpose also needs to be ended in a ritual and sacred manner. Of course, you can also keep them growing or plant them somewhere. However, if we’ve created it specifically to use as a living icon of the goddess, we usually “release” it from that purpose in some way so that there is a clear beginning, middle, and end to our practice.

Worship and honor all the tools or instruments you use in your work. You can do this by cleaning them, and then lightly marking with kumkum and also perhaps offering āratī (waving a flame in a clockwise circle to signify that you recognize the divine within something and your fundamental unity). This is because the goddess is able to win her battle for dharma with the help of her instruments/weapons – and so we want to acknowledge their role and value in fulfilling the purpose of our lives.

For example, if you are an artist, you can clean and then offer kumkum and a flame to all your paintbrushes. If you are a doctor, perhaps you would honor your stethoscope, thermometer, otoscope, etc. Think about what you use to do your work, which instruments and tools are your faithful companions. Almost all of us can honor our computers, phones, and other technologies that we use in our work.

Kanyā-pūjā: This means ritual worship of the young girl. On this day, we show our love and respect for all the little girls, (traditionally this includes girls before they reach puberty). We revere girls of this age for being living embodiments of pure life force energy and innocent, delightful playfulness – and if you’ve ever spent any time with little girls, you know that this is totally true!

The entire community gathers and all the little girls are invited and given a seat of honor. Then, the adults, (led by older male priests) bow to each girl in turn, wash and anoint her feet, mark her forehead with kumkum, do āratī, and then offer her sweets, a small gift of money, a colorful new dress, and ideally also some jewelry for ritual adornment (earrings, bangles, and necklaces are traditional).

In this way, even in ancient patriarchal societies, little girls grow up to understand from a young age that the Supreme Goddess radiates through their being, that they are important and worthy of reverence. There is something remarkable about the fact that even the most powerful men in society bow to their joyful, sweet, life-giving power.