Navratri – The festival of invoking Shakti
In 2016, Sharad Navaratri begins on 1st October. Navratri is associated with the progress of a spirituality. The different stages of spiritual progress are reflected in the sequence of celebrations during Navaratri. However, Navaratri is not only significant for spiritual aspirants; it has a message for those who lead a worldly life as well. They should invoke Durga’s help to overcome obstacles, pray to Lakshmi to bequeath peace and prosperity, and envisage upon Saraswati in order to gain knowledge. These three ingredients are just as necessary for a full and complete worldly life. In reality, all three forms of Goddesses help us in invoking the Shakti that is within ourselves.
The reason behind the worshipping of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati lies rooted in the philosophy that in life’s journey we travel from the known to the unknown. Hence it is said that Shiva, who symbolizes pure consciousness, can only be known through Shakti, who represents divine energy. That is why people worship Shakti, also known as Devi, in her various manifestations.
The spiritual journey signifies three stages personified by Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The first 3 days of Navratri are dedicated to ‘Maa Durga, next 3 days are dedicated to ‘Maa Laxmi’ and the last 3 days to ‘Maa Saraswati’. During the first three days of Durga worship the worshipper gets akin to Shakti (strength) which destroys our negative tendencies. The process of trying to control our senses is our individual war in mind which battles the good, the bad and the ugly thoughts. The stories in the Puranas symbolically depict Devi in the form of Durga as waging war and destroying the asuras (devils); both good and bad lie within us.
The next three days are dedicated to Maa Laxmi who is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and good health. In Hinduism certain symbols denote materialistic objects; they are flowers, plants, leaves, eatables, birds, animals and water. These symbols are assigned to each deity. This association of worldly objects helps a common man in getting emotionally involved with the deities easily. Goddess Laxmi is associated with fortune and prosperity.
The last three days Maa Saraswati is worshipped. The word Saraswati stems from the Sanskrit root ‘saras’ which means that which is fluid and can be either contained in a lake (sarovar) and made to flow as in a river (sarita). Saraswati personifies wisdom and thinking; this is the only ability that separates man from other living beings. Sarasvatī is also goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. The earliest known mention of Saraswati as a goddess is in Rigveda. She has remained significant as a goddess from the Vedic period through modern times of Hindu traditions. But in all other cases, we need Saraswati to get Lakshmi. The better one gets equipped with knowledge, the more possibilities he/she gets in generating wealth. So the farmer grows food because he knows how to farm. A craftsman creates valuable products because he has knowledge of a craft. Saraswati is needed not just to generate wealth but also to retain wealth.
So unless the farmer and the craftsmen have business acumen, they lose their generated wealth. They need to have knowledge of marketing and sales. They need to develop financial skills or have the knowledge of partnering with people with financial skills. A trader needs Saraswati, a banker needs Saraswati, and doctors needs Saraswati. Even a housewife needs Saraswati: she needs to master her cooking craft, she needs the knowledge and skill to allocate her money to satisfy all household needs and wants, both short term and long term.
We human beings innovate and pass on learning from one generation to another, a trait not seen in any other animal. Every human generation prospers by taking advantage of knowledge gained in the past by their ancestors. Therefore, they experience continuous skill and knowledge up gradation which accounts for human civilization. One generation discovered how to control fire, another discovered how to control plants hence invented agriculture, another discovered the wheel, and another discovered electricity, another the computer and this is how civilization progressed. We may have the same genetic structure as our ancestors a hundred thousand years ago, but we live very different lifestyles. And this is because of our imagination. Because we imagine, we hypnotize, and this ability makes us do research.
When one gets inherited wealth and wins money through lottery or gamble in such cases Lakshmi comes without Saraswati. A rich relative dies and leaves behind a fortune for us; this is luck again. We win in a casino, is also luck. We can call this the result of some good karma or the grace of Goddess Laxmi. But friends, lack of knowledge and wisdom is seen when Lakshmi comes, and people don’t value it. Lack of knowledge (Saraswati), makes one proud, as one feels he has magically generated wealth and it will stay with him magically forever.
But an educated man will realize that riches don’t stay permanently with anybody and one needs to work towards preparing for future crunches. Same applies to businesses; when businesses get busy harvesting wealth from the market focusing on major aspects of doing business but not bothering to create a talent pipeline, on knowledge up-gradation and continuous training, some day they face downfall. This is also example of Goddess Laxmi is worshiped by limiting existence of Goddess Saraswati.
The trio of Goddess Laxmi, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Durga typically personifies the manifestations of Mahashakti, the supreme divinity. For leading a successful life one needs Shakti. Shakti is energy. Everything that has Shakti is alive, radiant and desired. Shakti is a Sanskrit word which means power and energy. Shakti is phenomenon, it is a force responsible for our life and its various stages of lifecycle. It is the force responsible for the growth in the nature; be it vegetation, forest, river, animals or human beings. It is responsible for the movement of all things. Friends, the triad of Goddess Laxmi, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Durga merge in each other and manifest as Shakti. Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are not different entities, but different facets of the singular Divinity.
Some of the spiritual practices associated with Navaratri include fruit and milk fasts, japa (mantra chanting), chanting of hymns dedicated to Devi in her different forms, prayer, meditation and recitation of sacred texts including the Devi Mahatmya, Sri Lalita Sahasranama and the Durga Saptashati.
There is a folk proverb: in good times Lakshmi marches towards us and Saraswati moves away from us while in bad times Saraswati walks in our life and Lakshmi moves away from us. The trick is to focus on Saraswati at both times. In businesses and our personal life in boom times, she teaches us how to ensure sustainable growth. In bad time, she teaches us how to reverse our situation and get out from adversity towards fortune. And Goddess Durga gives us the power to sustain the good and the bad. So, the Navrastri festival teaches us to ‘grow’ in the grace and awareness.