The number is the ultimate manifestation of infinity from the null or void
The Indian tradition always follows the lunar calendar connoting that the moon is associated with feminine energy. Chandi, the feminine and Chandra, the masculine together form the fertile cycle accentuated by the full moon, Poornima. The Sun is the Prakash or the light, which is witnessing the effulgence of Vimarsha, the reflector. The radiant sun supplies the moon. The moon, which sustains life on earth with its cooling rays, nourishes the gods in the Shukla Paksha/waxing fortnight and the Pitrus or ancestors in the Krishna Paksha/waning fortnight.
Vishnu Purana gives description of the moon, which is sumptuously fed with ambrosia by the sun and periodically drained of it by the progenitors and the Gods respectively. In this cycle, when just two digits of the moon remain, it enters the orbit of the sun and abides by the ray called Ama — hence the term, Amavasya. Mahalaya Amavasya is one period when people remember to show gratitude to those who inhabited the earth before them by offer of food and other charity. The nine nights — Navaratri — marks an important transition. Immediately after the night of ‘no moon,’ we start the countdown from phase one of the moon until phase nine to culminate with the tenth day grandeur. The new moon day marks the threshold of the Dasara festival.
In Ardhanariswarashtaka, Adi Sankara says that every celebration is Shakti and every renunciation is Siva. In the land of Bharata, the feminine energy is propitiated as Shakti, with manifold features. Male and female are equally the forms of Shakti. In every state of our ‘becoming’ from ‘being,’ it is Shakti in movement. In the domain of the arts, it is energy which consents to move from sound to word, word to poem, poem to music, music to dance and dance to painting.
There have been several discourses on the significance of the nine holy nights, whether it is the ritualistic worship or the decorative dolls or the frenzied dance of Raas. The autumnal moonlight offers a soothing ambience to all these combined efforts of people. For some it denotes the journey of vanquishing the evil forces in the subtle body leading to the final victory within their own selves while for others it continues to be associated with episodes from the epics.
Triumph over evil
Dasara is commemoration of the valour of Rama in vanquishing Ravana which may also mean that the ten heads or vices like Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, Matsarya and their offspring are destroyed. The countdown for some communities will be from Mahalaya (the supreme dissolution or absorption) to the seventh day, Mahasaptami, for the advent of Durga, who destroys Durgati to triumph over the evil. In any case, the bottom line remains that Navaratri signifies the splendour of Dasara after the journey of the traits in a soul from the inert/Tamasik to active/Rajasik to illuminant/ Satvik states.
The pathway for this journey is amazingly systematic and disciplined. The three-fold cycles starting from dissolution to sustenance to creation are faithfully recognised and expressed in this nine-day process. It is a kind of Yaga or sacrifice with a deep esoteric philosophy. The first three days are devoted to Mahakali to be able to conquer the base earth bound tendencies by purifying the energies of Mooladhara (earth) and Swadishthana (water) Chakras or energy circles.
The next three days are to further eliminate the malefic aspects by worshipping Mahalakshmi and purifying the Manipura (fire) and Anahata (heart) Chakras. The last three days are for surrendering to the feminine form of the eternal teacher Dakshinamurthy, resplendent in pure white as Maha Saraswathi. The Vishuddha (throat) and Ajna (Third eye/mind) Chakras are cleansed. ‘She’ is the supreme Vak or vocality who is the ultimate throb of consciousness, resting in lysis or complete undifferentiated resonance, in the delight of Nadabrahmam.
A pure form of the Goddess as Kanya is another feature whereby a small girl child is specially invited on the ninth day and offered the Naivedya Prasad. Shodashopachara or the sixteen types of puja are also done. The tenth day is the flight into the thousand-petalled Chakra of consciousness, Sahasrara.
During spring/Chaitra Navaratri, the ninth day is Ramanavami, the birth of the incarnation of the Lord as the Paramapurusha Sri Rama. On the other hand, this ninth day called Mahanavami in autumnal/Sharad Navaratri is treated as a day to seal and offer every skill and art, vehicles, weapons, machinery, books, tools and instruments of use, in the hands of Goddess Saraswati as an act of Atmanivedana or total self-surrender. ‘She’ is the origin and pinnacle of Knowledge.
On Dasara (tenth) day, these offerings are received back from ‘her’ abode after consecration and an aspirant/Sadhaka commences another new lesson under a Sastra Guru. Any venture or vocation which embarks on a new enterprise on this day would be well blessed. It is interesting to see how in some parts of India, the Mahishasura demon is annihilated by symbolically breaking large pumpkins, warding off evil eyes and kumkum powder is smeared in it, signifying that the devil’s blood is splashed all over by the terrifying Durga.
While some offer worship with the Beejakshara or seed syllables chanted to infuse mystic diagrams with the power to bless this journey, others embellish homes with a varied array of dolls. Dolls are made of clay or mud and are forms of deities, humans, other creatures or also inanimate objects, to signify that every existence is a part of the cosmic divine ‘self.’ The man-woman couple, usually made of the warm substance of wood adorn the steps in a ‘Golu’/‘Gombe’ arrangement, alongside the Kalasa, a pot which denotes the Mahakumbha, and filled with the five natural elements that constitute Prana or life forces. The supreme Yantra of Sri Chakra which is the symbol of the universe emerging out and vanishing into Siva and Sakti (Consciousness and Energy) is an added jewel during these auspicious days/nights for those who are initiated into the austere worship of ‘Mother Lalitha,’ seated in the mansion of the central point or Bindu.
The number nine is accurate, complete, magical and mystical in nature and this is accepted in mathematics or science or any religion of the world. It is the ultimate manifestation of infinity from the null or void. During Navaratri, every hallowed form of supreme Sakti becomes magnified in dimension similar to how the numeric nine expands through multiplying and adding to become nine again. Nine is truly imperishable and indomitable like the universal spirit.
Celebration of spirit
Be it the nine planets (Navagruhas), the nine gates or openings in us (Navadwaras), nine forms of devotion (Navabhakti) or the nine aesthetic emotions (Navarasas), it’s a joyous celebration of the spirit. As the nine Rasas are conjoined as a single generalised Rasa of beatitude beyond any division or individualisation, so does the Navaratri evolve into Dasara. The dance of Krishna and Gopis during Sharad Ritu in many parts of the country along with Garbha (literally meaning the womb of the Mother Goddess) is this yearning of an individual soul for the Universal Spirit.
In order to spread the cheerful Raasleela among people, the festival entails the assembly of women, offering gifts to one another and charity of food. The enjoyment is actually realised when the life forces are first appropriated within and then transmitted in creative, ecstatic and emancipatory ways. The jeevatma (will-knowledge-action or Icha-Jnana-Kriya Shaktis) incubates, starting from the first night, gestating and mutating. It gets metamorphosed on completion of the course of nine nights (symbolising nine months), emerging victoriously united with the transcendental Para Shakti on the tenth day.
‘That thou art’/Tattwamasi is the highest state of blisswhich is an experience to be celebrated. This is the journey of the spirit from darkness unto light captured beautifully in the prayer — Asatomaa Sadgamaya, Tamasomajyotirgamaya, Mrityorma Amritamgamaya — Om Shanti Shanti Shantih!