Navratri, the word is formed using two words 'Nava' and 'Ratri'. Nava means nine and Ratri means nights hence Navratri literally means nine nights. During the festival of Navratri, Maa Durga is worshipped and revered in Her various forms for ten days and nine nights. Navratri is celebrated four times a year, during the Navratri Festival the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga are revered and worshipped for nine nights and ten days. The four different Navratri that are celebrated are Magh Navratri, also known as Gupt Navratri (January – February), Vasant Navratri, also known as Chaitra Navratri (March - April), Ashad Navratri, also known as Gupt Navratri (June – July) and Shardiya Navratri, also known as Maha Navratri (September - October).
Out of these four Navratris the Vasant Navratri and Shardiya Navratri are especially considered important and auspicious by devotees. In 2015, Vasant Navratri Festival will be celebrated from 21st March to 29th March, 2015 and Shardiya Navratri will be celebrated from 13th October to 23rd October 2015. The nine nights of Navratri are considered as most auspicious period to perform devotional sadhanas, worship Goddess Durga and perform Navratri Puja. The nine manifestations of Goddess Durga are worshipped each day of Navratri these incarnations are Goddess Shailputri, Brahmcharni, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. Worshipping the nine Goddess is the primary ritual of any Navratri Puja.
Rituals of Navratri Festival
• First 3 days (1st - 3rd day of Navratri): The first three days of the nine days are dedicated to Goddess Durga, the Goddess of power. On the first day, barley seeds are sown in a mud pot and the pot is kept on the Puja Altar.
• Second 3 days (4th – 6th day of Navratri): The second three days of the nine days are dedicated to Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.
• Third 3 days (7th – 9th day of Navratri): The next three days of the nine days are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge and learning.
Mahanavami : Navratri culminates with Mahanavami. Kanya Puja is performed on Mahanavami in which nine young girls (pre-puberty) representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped and fed.
During nine days of Navratri Festival Goddess Durga is worshipped for all nine days. It’s best to conduct the Puja at a particular time each day, sunrise is considered as the best time. On the first day Sthapana of idol of Goddess Durga and the Kalash with mango leaves and coconut is done on the chowki. Also barley seeds are sown in the clay pot and watered. Offer the prayers to Maa Durga and conduct Aarti. To worship Goddess Durga one may recite the Durga Saptshati each day of the Navratri. On the ninth day of Navratri, Kanya Puja is done in which 9 girls (who haven’t attained puberty) symbolizing nine manifestations of Maa Durga are worshipped and fed.
Legends of Navratri Festival in India
There are different legends associated with Navratri in different parts of India:
• North India: In North India it is believed that once there was a might demon Mahishasura who performed penance for Lord Shiva and gained unlimited power. Drunk with power he started terrorizing heaven and earth, terrified Gods asked Lord Shiva for help. Lord Shiva asked all Gods to combine their powers and create a divine female warrior Goddess Durga. Goddess Durga fought demon Mahishasura for nine days and nights and at the end of the ninth night She beheaded the demon. Thus the tenth day of Navratri is also celebrated as Vijayadashami.
Another legend is that Lord Ram worshipped Maa Durga in Her nine manifestations for nine nights before the war with demon king Ravana. On the tenth day Lord Ram slayed the demon king Ravana. Thus the nine nights are celebrated as Navratri and the tenth day as Vijayadashami or Dusshera.
• East India: In East India it is believed that Maa Uma, the daughter of king Daksha, the king of the Himalayas was a devotee of Lord Shiva and wanted to marry Him. To win over Lord Shiva Maa Uma performed severe penance and managed to please Lord Shiva. But king Daksha wasn't pleased with his daughter choice and once when he organized a Yajna he didn't invite Lord Shiva. Angered with Her husband's insult Maa Uma ended Her life by jumping into the agnikund of the Yagna. Thus Maa Uma came to be known as Goddess Sati, Maa Uma took re-birth and again won Lord Shiva as her groom. It is believed that during Navratri, Maa Uma comes down to earth every year with Ganesh, Kartik, Saraswati and Laxmi and two of her best friends Jaya and Bijaya.