Navaratri celebrates the great goddess Durga’s triumph over the demon Mahisha, an allegorical story of the struggle between good and evil.
In ashrams Navaratri is a time of intense sadhana that incorporates asana, meditation, lots of mantra chanting and fire ceremonies on a daily basis. One can also make dietary restrictions; most notably no grain just fruit, vegetables and yoghurt. Akin to the Christian time of lent, Navaratri is a time to give something up - to go without for just a few days. There’s plenty in our rich and diverse diet and way of life to think about giving up and the intention is to keep the body light and the awareness high.
For me Navaratri is about yoga sadhana, an important time to make an effort with my practice. In yogic traditions Navaratri is broken into 3 days of 3 that focus on Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati sequentially. In fact these devis are one and the same, representing different qualities of energy.
In India Navaratri falls at the end of the monsoon season – the time for removing the mould from the walls, opening the doors and windows to the cooling breezes blowing off the Himalayas. Here in the southern hemisphere Navaratri falls at the beginning of spring and the energy is similar. The days grow longer and it is a time to open the house, get outside and get active after the internal energy of winter.
The first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to Durga is her form as the force to overcome blockages. She is powerful and to invoke her form will awaken willpower, focus and the energy to move. She is the transformer of Tamas – that aspect of energy that is inert, heavy and can sometimes get stuck.
I have been cleaning, sorting and chucking out. Clearing out my home both inner and outer. I have also been challenging myself to work a little harder in my asana – a few extra rounds, finding greater balance and today letting go of fear. Durga is the slayer of the ego – symbolized by the severed head and the sword she clutches in her hand. It is the false ego we must slay. Jung describes the ego as that part of us that is the “preserver”, that aspect that thinks it is the Self. Yet we are greater than the small ego-self. We are spirit as well and ego must be integrated as our servant not the master.
Meditate tonight on the form of Durga as the Compassionate mother using the yantra above.
Tomorrow begins three days/nights to the energy of Lakshmi – the beautiful, benevolent one who awakens the potential of spiritual wealth. As Durga is the warrior that awakens the will at Manipur, Lakshmi is the flowering lotus awakening the heart and filling us up. She represents the quality of Rajas, the dynamic force that balances and dances with tamas. As tamas can be calming in its positive quality and depressive in excess, rajas is a force that we use to move out of tamas, to break the old habits of self-destruction and lack of inspiration, but in excess rajas can send us into a manic frenzy of fantasy, over work and hyper stimulation. Lakshmi’s gifts can become over whelming and the risk is to fall back to tamas seeking balance. It would seem most of modern life is a seesaw back and forth from tamas to rajas and back again.
In Lakshmi we invoke divine grace and meditate on the blue lotus of the heart. The willful energy of the first three days gives way to deep longing for union with the divine mother within all of us. Our inner divine holds the ability for self-care and has the power to heal our wounds. We are longing not for something outside ourselves but rather the divinity that is within.
I have always loved to meditate on the deer in contemplation of the inner search for the divine. The deer is the animal totem of Anahata chakra, a flighty nervous animal that hides at the smallest sounds or threat. It also searches endlessly for the potent healing smell of musk that is always present, yet it's fruitless in it’s search because it fails to realise that which it searches for is coming from within itself.
In the same way we can search externally for a form of the divine, the benign outcome being that the search is fruitless or at it’s most toxic we put our faith and hand over our power to a fallible belief system or person, only to be bitterly disappointed in the long run.
Asana and pranayama sadhana for these three days focuses on opening and receptivity to become sensitive to what is within.
The next three days/nights call in the energy of Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge and grace. She awakens us to our higher Self and we meditate on her form as the Satguru, inner guide at the eyebrow centre. Saraswati represent the quality of Sattwa, the balanced energy of harmonised Shakti. This balanced state of energy is the kundalini that rises in the spinal cord (sushumna). Meditate on the breath in sushumna and focus on the eyebrow centre to receive wisdom from within and renewed inspiration.
The tenth day is Victory Day and is celebrated as Durga’s final triumph over Mahisha. Traditionally the celebration is a large havan (fire ceremony) to offer a sankalpa (resolve) that has arisen from our insight. The fast is broken and treats are eaten.
So Happy Navaratri! If you would like to observe this time simply start now. Be realistic, little and often is good. Set aside some time everyday to meditate, chant, sing, draw and create in what ever way feels natural for you, keeping the form of Devi in your heart and in your home.