Navratri (Sharad Navratri) Part I
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Dear editor,

NAAVRATRI is the grand Hindu festival inherited from our ancestors who arrived from different parts of India over 150 years ago, and it is celebrated for nine days (technically, nine nights). There are four Navratri celebrated four times per year: Vasanta Navratri, celebrated in the month of Chaitra (March-April); Ashad Navratri, during the month of Ashada (June-July); Sharad Navratri,during the month of Ashwin (September-October); Pausha/Magha Navratri, in Paush month (December-January (eight days only). In Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean, and in Suriname also, only Vasanta and Sharad Navratri are mostly observed. For Vasanta Navratri, in Guyana, Hindus are accustomed to paying homage to the deity, Mata Durga, on the first three nights for strength, courage and protection. Mata Lakshmi is worshipped the next three nights for health, wealth and prosperity. The last three nights are dedicated to Mata Sarasvati, paying obeisance for education, fine arts in music and dancing and literature.

For Sharad Navratri, the festival celebrates the nine incarnations of Goddess Durga (Fort), and each night is dedicated to a specific form of the Goddess. It is referred to also as “Durga Puja”, because many devotees would conduct this Puja (religious ceremony) specifically during this auspicious period. Her nine manifestations are: Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandmata, Katyayani, Kalyatri, Mahagouri and Siddidhatri. Hinduism is a “way of life”, comprising of various philosophes. There are three sub-parts of Hinduism, referred to as Vaishnavism (Lord Vishnu), Shaivism (Lord Shiva) and Shaktism. Goddess Durga is the primary deity in Shaktism; she is another form of Goddess Parvati, and came to be known as Durga after she destroyed the demon, Mahishasura. Navratri is one of the most important Hindu Festivals observed in the Hindu calendar, and it falls in the month of Ashwin. This year, the festival is being observed from October 17 – 25.

The nine (Nav)-day/night(Ratri) is dedicated to the Universal Mother, Mata Durga, the Goddess of a feminine form of energy, strength, wisdom, prosperity, protection and the destroyer of demonic powers. Upon the culmination of the nine-day period, on the tenth day, Dussehra is celebrated, which is also believed to be the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon, King Ravana of Lanka in a battle between the forces of good and evil, with Vijay Dashami (the destruction of the demon King Mahishasura) and Durga visarjan (immersion of the idol). Included in the custom is the Kanya Puja, which is done on Maha Ashtma (the eight night of the festival). On this night, nine little girls, between the ages of 2 to 9 would sit and represent the nine manifestations of Durga Ma. Devotees would honour them with gifts, and also feed them. During this nine days/nights period, devotees would fast, abstain from meat eating and alcohol consumption. The interior and exterior of the homes would be thoroughly cleansed, new clothing would be purchased, and an extra effort would be made to attend services at the Mandirs each night. The atmosphere and environment is filled with joy, devotion and happiness throughout the country, and people would celebrate the festival with great spirituality.

The manifestation of Durga Ma is related in this simple story form, so that children in particular can follow and understand why Hindus celebrate Navratri and its significance. Long ago, there was a wicked demon King, Mahishasura; he wanted to be powerful and rule the three worlds. Therefore, he performed severe penance to please Lord Brahma. When Lord Brahma was pleased and appeared before him, Mahishasura asked for a boon, to be immortal; that is to never die and to take the form of any human or animal. But Lord Brahma said, “Mahisha, all that is born must die; tat is the universal law. You cannot escape that.” Mahishasura thought for a while and said, “If I must die, my Lord, it should be in the hands of a woman”. Lord Brahma agreed and granted him the boon and returned to his abode. Mahishasura thought- How can a woman kill a man? That is Impossible. I am now the most powerful person in the whole universe. Mahishasura immediately ordered his army to attack the humans on the earth and the Gods/ Devas in the Devaloka (heaven). Mahishasura and his men became a menace- they started bullying and destroying the Devaloka and no one could touch him. The King of Devas- Indra, went to the Trimurtis- Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and explained the situation to them. The three Gods created a powerful woman with several hands (transformed Mata Parvati, as she herself was Adishakti, the supreme power).

Lord Shiva offered his trishul to Her. Vishnu, his Sudarsana chakra, Lord Indra his Vajrayudha- or thunderbolt. They named her Durga. Durga- now, a powerful Goddess armed with inner strength, courage and wisdom with arms gifted by the powerful Devas set out on a lion to destroy Mahishasura. Mahishasura’s heart skipped a beat when he heard the thunder of Goddess Durga’s arrival. Still, he asked “A mere female trying to attack me?” Durga Ma responded “I not an ordinary female, Mahisha. I am here to fulfil your desire to be killed by a woman” He immediately realised it was a danger sign for him and changed himself into a buffalo and charged the Goddess with all his might. Ma Durga with her inborn power and acquired weapons killed Mahishasura after a long battle. The day Goddess Durga killed the wicked demon Mahishasura is celebrated as Vijayadashami . This day is also celebrated as a victory of Good over Evil. (To be continued).

Respectfully,
Jai Lall

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