Even the one with the least knowledge of Sanskrit, if Hindu, can tell that ‘Navratri’ literally translates to nine nights. These nine nights that falls between ten days of grand celebration, are marked by the evocation and adulation of the mother goddess Durga in her nine mighty forms.
The first incarnation of the ultimate feminine power is the daughter of the mountains, Maa Shailaputri. Her arrival marks the beginning of Navratri. She is also one of the avatars of Maa Parvati, who was born to Daksha as Sati in her previous birth, and married Bhagwan Shiva after accomplishing an extreme austerity. But, as a reprisal to her father’s incessant insults directed at her husband, she jumped into the fire and performed self-immolation. She was then born as Shailaputri and once again got Shiva as her husband.
On the second day of Navratri, the unmarried form of Maa Parvati is worshipped as Maa Brahmacharini. The daughter of Daksha Prajapati is draped in sparkling white and bespeaks the purity and immaculateness one must bear in mind while on their journey to knowledge and attainment. Barefoot, holding a water pot and a string of prayer beads known as Japa Mala, Devi Brahmacharini embodies wisdom and love.
The third night of Navratri is dedicated to Maa Chandraghanta. Her opened third eye suggests that she is always prepared to go to war with the evil forces. Devi Parvati had assumed this form to protect her parents from Bhagwan Shiva’s frightening appearance that he had donned the day he came to remarry Parvati. His grim appearance rendered Parvati’s mother senseless and antagonized the humble goddess to transform into her fearsome self. The otherwise serene devi, thus, compelled Shiva to adopt a more suitable look. If a devotee succeeds to win her grace, the goddess graces him with bravery and courage.
Depicted with eight hands, Maa Kashmanda, whom we worship on the fourth night of Navaratri, has a divine smile, and is believed to have created the entire universe with her serene smile. It is said that the creation was dark when she surfaced from a dark hole, looked on and smiled and thus the world came into being. Maa Kashmanda carries a lotus, a water pot, a bow-arrow, a discus, a mace, a pot of Amrit and a string of prayer beads.
Maa Skandamata, the mother of Lord Kartikeya, is seen with baby Kartikeya on her lap, while riding a fierce lion. This manifestation of the mother is worshipped on the fifth night. She has four arms, two of them hold up a lotus each, one arm secures baby Katrikeya, and with the one empty hand, she blesses the world.
The sixth night is the time for adulating the destroyer of the evil demon king, Mahishasur. The Mahishasur-mardini is hailed as Maa Katyayani who was formed when the spontaneous wrath of the gods conjoined to create the mightiest, undefeatable, the all-conquering goddess. She rides on a lion and is depicted to have four arms in this avatar.
Maa Kalratri, the fiercest of all the nine forms of Maa Durga, is evoked on the seventh night of Navratri. When demon brothers, Shumbha and Nishumbha invaded heaven and threw off Indra dev from his throne, all the devatas turned toward Bhagwan Shiva as a recourse. They also pleaded to Maa Parvati, who obliged them, and by shedding off her outer golden skin assumed the fearful form of Kalratri. She rides a donkey and has four arms. With her right hands, she blesses her devotees, and grants them boons, while in her left hands, she carries a sword and an iron hook.
After Maa Kalratri, appears Maa Mahagauri, an extremely fair avatar of Maa Parvati. Clothed in white, she sits atop a bull. She grants blessings with one of her four hands; others hold a trident, a drum, and a lotus. Legend has it, after slaughtering the demons in her dark complexion, she prayed to Bhagwan Brahma to regain her original complexion. Parampita Brahma advised her to take a dip in the Mansarovar. After bathing in the divine lake, Kalratri was transformed into Mahagauri who is worshiped on the eighth night.
On the final night of Navratri, we all bow down for blessings in front of Maa Siddhidatri. Seated on a bloomed lotus, she holds a mace, a discus, and a conch shell in three of her hands, while the fourth one showers blessings on us.
All these nine names of Maa Durga are described in the ‘Devi Kavacha’ section of the Chandipaath. Praying to these nine manifestations of the supreme mother goddess with fervor during Durga Pooja, awakens the divine spirit within us, leads us toward contentment, and graces us with the strength to combat and overcome obstacles thrown by life.
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