In Hindu mythology, Durga is a fierce form of Devi, the
Mother Goddess, the all-powerful almighty goddess. According to a legend
the gods could not defeat the buffalo demon Mahish, who was threatening
the existence of the universe. They begged Shiva for his assistance, and
Shiva advised all the gods to release their shaktis. The shaktis of the
gods emerged in female form. These goddesses fused together in blinding
light from which arose a magnificent goddess with many arms. She was as
beautiful as she was deadly. Durga was born fully-grown and is depicted
as extremely beautiful and full of rage. The gods called this goddess
Durga, the invincible one, and they armed her with all their weapons.
Thus armed, Durga rode to the top of a mountain on a lion. In a bloody
battle, she defeated Mahish and his army of demons and thus saved the
Universe from this demon�s menace.
SALUTATIONS to the Divine Mother, Durga, who exists in
all beings in the form of intelligence, mercy, beauty, who is the
consort of Lord Shiva, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe.
This festival is observed twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra and
then in Aswayuja. It lasts for nine days in honour of the nine
manifestations of Durga. During Navaratri (the word literally means
"nine nights") devotees of Durga observe a fast. Brahmins are fed and
prayers are offered for the protection of health and property.
The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very
important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods
are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother.
They are indicated respectively by the Rama-Navaratri in Chaitra
(April-May) and the Durga Navaratri in Aswayuja (September-October). The
bodies and minds of people undergo a considerable change on account of
the changes in Nature. Sri Rama is worshipped during Ramnavmi, and
Mother Durga during Navaratri.
The Durga Puja is celebrated in various parts of India in different
styles. But the one basic aim of this celebration is to propitiate
Shakti, the Goddess in Her aspect as Power, to bestow upon man all
wealth, auspiciousness, prosperity, knowledge (both sacred and secular),
and all other potent powers. Whatever be the particular or special
request that everyone may put before the Goddess, whatever boon may be
asked of Her, the one thing behind all these is propitiation, worship
and linking oneself with Her. There is no other aim. This is being
effected consciously or unconsciously. Everyone is blessed with Her
loving mercy and is protected by Her.
Durga Puja or Navaratri commences on the first and ends on the tenth day
of the bright half of Aswayuja (September-October). It is held in
commemoration of the victory of Durga over Mahishasura, the
buffalo-headed demon. In Bengal Her image is worshipped for nine days
and then cast into water. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami or
Dussera (the "tenth day"). Processions with Her image are taken out
along the streets of villages and cities.
The mother of Durga (that is, the wife of the King of the Himalayas)
longed to see her daughter. Durga was permitted by Lord Shiva to visit
her beloved mother only for nine days in the year. The festival of Durga
Puja marks this brief visit and ends with the Vijaya Dasami day, when
Goddess Durga leaves for Her return to Mount Kailas. This is the view of
In Bengal, Durga Puja is a great festival. All who live away from home
return during the Puja days. Mothers reunite with their sons and
daughters, and wives with their husbands.
The potter shows his skill in making images, the painter in drawing
pictures, the songster in playing on his instrument, and the priest in
reciting the sacred books. The Bengalis save money throughout the year
only to spend everything during the Puja days. Cloth is freely
distributed to the Brahmins.
The woman of Bengal welcomes the Goddess with a mother's love and sends
away the image on the last day, with every ceremony associated with a
daughter's departure to her husband's home and with motherly tears in
her eyes. This signifies the parting of Durga from Her beloved mother.
Durga Puja is the greatest Hindu festival in which God is adored as
Mother. Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has emphasised
to such an extent the motherhood of God. One's relationship with one's
mother is the dearest and the sweetest of all human relations. Hence, it
is proper to look upon God as mother.
Durga represents the Divine Mother. She is the energy aspect of the
Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga
has no existence. Shiva is the soul of Durga; Durga is identical with
Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is motionless,
absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. It is
Durga who does everything.
Shakti is the omnipotent power of the Lord, or the Cosmic Energy. The
Divine Mother is represented as having ten different weapons in Her
hands. She sits on a lion. She keeps up the play of the Lord through the
three attributes of Nature, namely, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. Knowledge,
peace, lust, anger, greed, egoism and pride, are all Her forms.
You will find in the Devi Sukta of the Rig Veda Samhita that Vak,
symbolising speech, the daughter of the sage Anbhirna, realised her
identity with the Divine Mother, the Power of the Supreme Lord, which
manifests throughout the universe among the gods, among men and beasts
and among the creatures of the deep ocean.
In the Kena Upanishad, you will find that the Divine Mother shed wisdom
on Indra and the gods and said that the gods were able to defeat the
demons only with the help of the power of the Supreme Lord.
The worship of Devi, the universal Mother, leads to the attainment of
knowledge of the Self. The story in the Kena Upanishad known as the "Yaksha
Prasna", supports this view. It tells how Uma, the Divine Mother, taught
the Truth to the gods. Goddess Shakti thus sheds wisdom on Her devotees.
Devi worship is, therefore, worship of God's glory, of God's greatness
and supremacy. It is adoration of the Almighty. It is unfortunate that
Devi is ignorantly understood by many as a mere blood-thirsty Hindu
Goddess. No! Devi is not a vicious demoness nor is She the property of
the Hindus alone. Devi does not belong to any religion. Devi is that
conscious power of God. The words Devi, Shakti, etc., and the ideas of
different forms connected with these names are concessions granted by
the sages due to the limitations of the human intellect; they are by no
means the ultimate definitions of Shakti.
The original or Adi Shakti is beyond human comprehension. Bhagavan
Krishna says in the Gita: "This is only My lower nature. Beyond this is
My higher nature, the life-principle which sustains the universe".
The Upanishad also says: "The supreme power of God is manifested in
various ways. This power is of the nature of God, manifesting as
knowledge, strength and activity".
Truly speaking, all beings in the universe are Shakti-worshippers,
whether they are aware of it or not, for there is no one who does not
love and long for power in some form or other. Physicists and scientists
have now proved that everything is pure, imperishable energy. This
energy is only a form of divine Shakti which exists in every form.
A child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, because
the mother is very kind, loving, tender and affectionate and looks after
the needs of the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant or the
devotee--the spiritual child--has an intimate relationship with the
Mother Durga, more than with the Father Shiva. Therefore, it behoves the
aspirant to approach the Mother first, who then introduces Her spiritual
child to the Father for his illumination.
The Mother's Grace is boundless. Her mercy is illimitable; Her knowledge
infinite; Her power immeasurable; Her glory ineffable; and Her splendour
indescribable. She gives you material prosperity as well as spiritual
Approach Her with an open heart. Lay bare your heart to Her with
frankness and humility. Be as simple as a child. Kill ruthlessly the
enemies of egoism, cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a
total, unreserved, and ungrudging self-surrender to Her. Sing Her
praise. Repeat Her Name. Worship Her with faith and unflinching
devotion. Perform special worship on the Navaratri days. Navaratri is
the most suitable occasion for doing intense spiritual practices. These
nine days are very sacred to the Divine Mother. Plunge yourself in Her
worship. Practise intense repetition of the Divine Name, having a
regular "quota" of repetitions per day, and the number of hours spent on
Devi fought with Bhandasura and his forces for nine days and nine
nights. This Bhandasura had a wonderful birth and life. When Lord Shiva
burnt Cupid with the fire of His "third eye", Sri Ganesha playfully
moulded a figure out of the ashes, and the Lord breathed life into it!
This was the terrible demon Bhandasura. He engaged himself in great
penance and on account of it obtained a boon from Lord Shiva. With the
help of that boon, he began harassing the worlds. The Divine Mother
fought with him for nine nights (the demons have extraordinary strength
during the night), and killed him on the evening of the tenth day, known
as the Vijaya Dasami. The learning of any science is begun on this
highly auspicious day. It was on this day that Arjuna worshipped Devi,
before starting the battle against the Kauravas on the field of
Sri Rama worshipped Durga at the time of the fight with Ravana, to
invoke Her aid in the war. This was on the days preceding the Vijaya
Dasami day. He fought and won through Her Grace.
In days of yore, kings used to undertake ambitious expeditions on the
day of the Vijaya Dasami. Those kings who did not go on such expeditions
used to go out hunting in the deep forests. In Rajputana, India, even up
to this date, people arrange mock attacks on some fort on Vijaya Dasami.
This day, however, has much to do with the life of Sri Rama. Nowhere in
the history of the world can we find a parallel to the character of Sri
Rama as a man, son, brother, husband, father or king. Maharishi Valmiki
has exhausted the entire language in describing the glory of Sri Rama.
And, we shall be rightly celebrating the Dussera if we make honest
efforts to destroy the demon of our ego, and radiate peace and love
wherever we go. Let us all resolve to become men of sterling character.
Let us resolve and act. The story of Sri Rama is known in almost all
parts of the globe, and if we but succeed in following even a hundredth
part of His teachings, we shall make our lives more fragrant than the
rose and more lustrous than gold!
Dussera can also be interpreted as "Dasa-Hara", which means the cutting
of the ten heads of Ravana. So, let us resolve today to cut the ten
heads--passion, pride, anger, greed, infatuation, lust, hatred,
jealousy, selfishness and crookedness--of the demon, Ego, and thus
justify the celebration of Dussera.
Religious observances, traditional worship and observances at times have
more than one significance. Apart from being the adoration of the
Divine, they commemorate stirring events in history, they are allegoric
when interpreted from the occult standpoint and, lastly, they are deeply
significant pointers and revealing guides to the individual on his path
Outwardly, the nine-day worship of Devi is a celebration of triumph.
This nine days' celebration is offered to the Mother for Her successful
struggle with the formidable demons led by Mahishasura. But, to the
sincere spiritual aspirant, the particular division of the Navaratri
into sets of three days to adore different aspects of the Supreme
Goddess has a very sublime, yet thoroughly practical truth to reveal. In
its cosmic aspect, it epitomises the stages of the evolution of man into
God, from Jivahood (the state of individualisation) to Shivahood (the
state of Self-realisation). In its individual import, it shows the
course that his spiritual practice should take.
Let us, therefore, examine in detail the spiritual significance of
The central purpose of existence is to recognise your eternal identity
with the supreme Spirit. It is to grow into the image of the Divine. The
supreme One embodies the highest perfection. It is spotless purity. To
recognise your identity with That, to attain union with That, is verily
to grow into the very likeness of the Divine. The aspirant, therefore,
as his initial step, has to get rid of all the countless impurities, and
the demoniacal elements that have come to cling to him in his embodied
state. Then he has to acquire lofty virtues and auspicious, divine
qualities. Thus purified, knowledge flashes upon him like the brilliant
rays of the sun upon the crystal waters of a perfectly calm lake.
This process demands a resolute will, determined effort, and arduous
struggle. In other words, strength and infinite power are the prime
necessity. Thus it is the Divine Mother who has to operate through the
Let us now consider how, on the first three days, the Mother is adored
as supreme power and force, as Durga the Terrible. You pray to Mother
Durga to destroy all your impurities, your vices, your defects. She is
to fight with and annihilate the baser animal qualities in the spiritual
aspirant, the lower, diabolical nature in him. Also, She is the power
that protects your spiritual practice from its many dangers and
pitfalls. Thus the first three days, which mark the first stage or the
destruction of impurity and determined effort and struggle to root out
the evil tendencies in your mind, are set apart for the worship of the
destructive aspect of the Mother.
Once you have accomplished your task on the negative side, that of
breaking down the impure propensities and old vicious habits, the next
step is to build up a sublime spiritual personality, to acquire positive
qualities in place of the eliminated demoniacal qualities. The divine
qualities that Lord Krishna enumerates in the Gita, have to be acquired.
The aspirant must cultivate and develop all the auspicious qualities. He
has to earn immense spiritual wealth to enable him to pay the price for
the rare gem of divine wisdom. If this development of the opposite
qualities is not undertaken in right earnest, the old demoniacal nature
will raise its head again and again. Hence, this stage is as important
in an aspirant's career as the previous one. The essential difference
is: the former is a ruthless, determined annihilation of the filthy
egoistic lower self; the latter is an orderly, steady, calm and serene
effort to develop purity. This pleasanter side of the aspirant's Sadhana
is depicted by the worship of Mother Lakshmi. She bestows on Her
devotees the inexhaustible divine wealth or Deivi Sampath. Lakshmi is
the wealth-giving aspect of God. She is purity itself. Thus the worship
of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set of three days.
Once the aspirant succeeds in routing out the evil propensities, and
develops Sattwic or pure, divine qualities, he becomes competent to
attain wisdom. He is now ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom.
He is fit to receive divine knowledge. At this stage comes the devout
worship of Mother Saraswathi, who is divine knowledge personified, the
embodiment of knowledge of the Absolute. The sound of Her celestial
veena awakens the notes of the sublime utterances of the Upanishads
which reveal the Truth, and the sacred monosyllable, Om. She bestows the
knowledge of the supreme, mystic sound and then gives full knowledge of
the Self as represented by Her pure, dazzling snow-white apparel.
Therefore, to propitiate Saraswathi, the giver of knowledge, is the
The tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the triumphant ovation of the soul
at having attained liberation while living in this world, through the
descent of knowledge by the Grace of Goddess Saraswathi. The soul rests
in his own Supreme Self or Satchidananda Brahman. This day celebrates
the victory, the achievement of the goal. The banner of victory flies
aloft. Lo! I am He! I am He!
This arrangement also has a special significance in the aspirant's
spiritual evolution. It marks the indispensable stages of evolution
through which everyone has to pass. One naturally leads to the other; to
short-circuit this would inevitably result in a miserable failure.
Nowadays many ignorant seekers aim straight at the cultivation of
knowledge without the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of
the divine qualities. They then complain that they are not progressing
on the path. How can they? Knowledge will not descend until the
impurities have been washed out, and purity is developed. How can the
pure plant grow in impure soil?
Therefore adhere to this arrangement; your efforts will be crowned with
sure success. This is your path. As you destroy one evil quality,
develop the virtue opposite to it. By this process you will soon bring
yourself up to that perfection which will culminate in identity with the
Self which is your goal. Then all knowledge will be yours: you will be
omniscient, omnipotent and you will feel your omnipresence. You will see
your Self in all. You will have achieved eternal victory over the wheel
of births and deaths, over the demon of worldliness. No more pain, no
more misery, no more birth, no more death! Victory, victory be yours!
Glory to the Divine Mother! Let Her take you, step by step to the top of
the spiritual ladder and unite you with the Lord!
This article is a chapter from the book "Hindu Fasts and
Festivals".By Sri Swami Sivananda