Nalini Velayudhan, DO, Health and Wellness Committee
Shakti, the divine feminine power of creation, is celebrated in the Hindu tradition over nine nights: Nav (nine) ratri (night). The Sharad Navratri occurring in the Hindu calendar month Asvin (September/October Roman calendar) is considered the most significant and is celebrated widely all over India and by Hindus worldwide. Each day honors the nine forms of Goddess Durga and on the tenth day, Vijay (victory) Dashami (tenth day), she is celebrated for her victory over negative tendencies.
In a simpler version of this beautiful festival, three main aspects of the Goddess are evoked as Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati over the nine nights. In the form of Durga, dressed in a red saree, wielding weapons in her hands, and riding a tiger or lion, the divine feminine energy is represented as all-powerful, fierce, and determined. When manifested as Lakshmi, dressed in a pink saree, flowers gracing her hand, gold showering down from the other hand, seated on a lotus in serene waters, the divine feminine energy of beauty, prosperity, and abundance are invoked. As Saraswati, dressed in a white saree, veena (stringed musical instrument) in hand, book in another hand, seated on a swan, the divine feminine energy of creativity, purity, and wisdom are depicted.
The period of Navaratri is a time for introspection, to slow down, to meditate and emerge renewed and rejuvenated over the nine-day period. It is a time when one may be deliberate about fasting, or simply eat a healthier and simpler diet. One may also engage in daily meditation and chants to detoxify the body-mind from the inside out. Each of the aspects of the Devi have chants that can be sung to honor her unique virtues, and in so doing devotees hope to imbibe and embody these attributes of the divine feminine.
It is also a time when communities, friends, and families come together in joyous celebrations of song and dance. In the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat, the traditional folk dance of Raas-Garba is performed. In this colorful and exuberant celebration, dancers orbit around the central deity of Durga to twirl and sway the night away to ballads that sing her praises. The night culminates with an Aarti (camphor-lit fire) circled around the image of Durga as jubilant chants are sung and all in attendance are blessed.
In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu many families have the tradition of setting up a “Golu,” which in the southern state of Karnataka is known as “Gombe.” In this tradition dolls standing for various aspects of day-to-day life are placed amongst figurines of gods and goddesses in an elaborate tiered display. Each step symbolizes the spiritual progression of people over time and represents evolution toward our own divinity. Women visit homes of neighbors, friends, and families to view the Golu or Gombe, pray, and share good wishes and sweet treats.
With a glimpse into the Hindu festival of Navaratri may you find your own singular pathway to celebrate this season. May this Navaratri renew your body, mind, and spirit as you find ways to pause, reflect, and clarify your intentions for the season. May you cherish the part of you that is fierce and the part that is tender. May you relish playfulness and the quiet of contemplation. May you treasure belonging with loved ones and the solitude within you that can lead you back home to yourself.
Resources: The Art of Living: Significance of Navratri: Why is Navratri Celebrated