Navaratri is one of the most ancient methods of recognizing the force, the shakti, the power and wisdom of God. There has been much speculation about who or what God is. However, while everyone claims to speak the truth, very few can claim to see the truth.
We all have a body but also inherent in the body is the force or shakti. Where does the strength come from when you have to win a 100 metre sprint, or need to lift a 100 kilos on your shoulders? That strength is contained in the body. When the energy in the body is focused, it is recognized as strength. Similarly, when the energy of God is focused, when the three qualities of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence are focused, what manifests at the point of focus is creation, shakti. Just as the coming together of the energy in your body is known as strength, similarly, the coming together of the shakti, the energy of God, is the expression of God's focus. It is here that the motherly nature, the creatrix, is perceived as one of the multifaceted personalities of God.
Being inherent in the body, this strength is therefore no different to the body. So it is visualized as the life force, the life principle. There is a saying that God sleeps in minerals, opens the eyes in trees, walks in animals and thinks in human beings. So, if the God within us is wisdom, knowing when to step forward and when to step back, without arrogance, then by being that we can worship the cosmic nature, the Cosmic Mother.
The nine day sadhana of Navaratri is an age-old practice of worshipping the cosmic nature, the Cosmic Mother, the lone of creation. After all, who can judge whether God is male or female? How can one know the true Self? Whatever is known, there is another layer behind it. It is like peeling an onion-all you will find is another layer. Being transcendental, God is incomprehensible through the intellect. Therefore, predominantly intellectual people think that God-realization is only a mental fantasy. But people with heart, with feeling, have the conviction and the faith to know that they can find and experience God in their lives. They gain strength from bhakti. Bhakti is opening up of the heart and becoming one with the energy of the environment. When you spend time with someone you love very deeply, there is a total merger of awareness. It is possible to lose the concept of time when there is that feeling of happiness, contentment and euphoria. It is the same when that energy is channeled, guided and directed towards the force of creation, which is known as shakti.
Saundarya Lahari, the thirty-two names of Durga and all the other Navaratri chants and practices are designed to awaken the human psyche. Just as there is a mental level, an emotional level, a pranic level and a physical level, so there is a vibratory level to our life as well. This vibratory level is the most subtle of the bodies and the only thing it responds to is frequency. Mantras create such frequencies in the body, in the personality, which stimulate and awaken the subtle personality.
This opening up of the subtle personality is also opening up of the heart. Logic governs life up to a point. After logic, buddhi, comes faith, bhavana, and after faith comes fusion, tadatmya. When this fusion takes place in us at a subtle psychic level, a spiritual level, we become more sensitive to the universe, life, spirit, creation. We learn to live life in a more responsible way, appreciating and applying the wisdom that has been gained through the ages. Mantras are definitely the keys to finding this inner awakening.
The Durga mantras are very powerful tantric mantras. In the Hindu tradition, Durga Saptashati is chanted during Navaratri. It is a tantric work that describes the awakening or coming alive of Durga. Once upon a time there was a major war between the gods and the demons. The demons had gained the upper hand and the gods were losing. Instead of peace and harmony, chaos and struggle prevailed. The gods went to the trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and told them of their woe. The three gods became very angry and from each of their bodies emerged a point of light, a flame of light, which fused and became one. From that luminosity Devi emerged in the form of Durga. The name 'Durga' means remover of durgati, the negative states and conditions in life. Durga fought the demons, as atmashakti, the force of the spirit, and was victorious, establishing a kingdom of peace, prosperity, joy, well-being and happiness.
So Durga Saptashati is a narrative of the history of Durga, of the Cosmic Mother who manifested in order to destroy evil. It is a symbol of the war between good and bad that is fought in everyone's life, with the truth always prevailing. Tantra is a subject in which every kind of thought exists, accepting and rejecting at the same time. Tantra always pushes one to go beyond logic and beyond feeling. The Durga mantras evoke that kind of inner response, filling you with courage and inner strength to overcome and transform the negative, restricting, limiting destructive forces in your life.
Navaratri is also associated with Rama. Rama personified the highest ideals that an individual can attain. The story of Rama is contained in the Ramayana, written by Valmiki, and the Ramacharitamanas, by Tulsidas. Rama was an historical figure, a reality which later became a myth.
The story of Rama is a very simple one. He was born to a king who was old and had three wives. The king's name was Dasharatha. Das means 'ten', rath means 'chariot', so Dasharatha means the chariot pulled by ten horses. Our bodies are that chariot and the ten horses are the ten senses. Within the body there are certain inherent desires. The spiritual traditions have classified human desires into three groups: (i) lokeshana, the need for recognition, (ii) viteshana, the need for security, social, financial, etc., and (iii) uptreshana, the desire for progeny. So recognition, security and progeny are the three classifications of desires. Some people have one, some have two, some have all three, but there is something all the time.
In the body of King Dasharatha, the chariot pulled by ten horses, the desire for offspring was predominant. So Dasharatha went to a yogi, asking for the fulfillment of his desire, and the yogi performed a yajna, which created the right ambience. As the outcome of the yajna, Rama was born to Dasharatha's first wife, Kaushalya, who represents the sattwic nature. Bharata was born to the second wife, Kaikeyi, who represents the tamasic nature, and Lakshman a and Shatrughna, the twins, were born to the third wife, Sumitra, who represents the rajasic nature.
The body of the ten senses also has three wives - sattwa, rajas and tamas. When we are under the sway of a particular wife or husband, our responses become like that - sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Rama was born from sattwa, Bharata from tamas, and Lakshmana and Shatrughna from rajas. This is how the birth of Rama took place. The pure consciousness will only come down in sattwa.
In the course of time Rama married Sita. Rama represents the pure Self and Sita represents the individual self. The marriage represents the union of the individual with the cosmic, with pure consciousness.
King Dasharatha came under the sway of Kaikeyi, the tamasic wife, who wanted to send Rama into exile. Only tamas would want to send the pure consciousness away, because in the presence of pure consciousness tamas cannot exist. So Rama was sent into exile. The pure consciousness is sent away from the body under the sway of tamas. When God leaves the body, who also leaves along with God? When the loved one leaves the room, the lover will also leave the room. So both Sita and Rama leave. Although the exile only applied to Rama, Sita decided she would not stay behind because she couldn't live without Rama. So for a good thirteen years Rama and Sita had a great time in the forest. The beloved and the lover, the pure Self and the individual self, were together consorting happily with each other.
Now the king had to die, because the individual spirit had left, and tamas had overpowered the king. With the departure of that inherent God, the pure consciousness, and the individual consciousness, the body of the ten senses dies.
Meanwhile Rama and Sita were enjoying each other's company in the forest, admiring each other and being happy with each other. Now, if these two are together, if the individual sell, the confined, finite self, is with the cosmic Self, how can there be creation? The finite self has to be brought back down to our level, into the body of the ten senses again. In order to achieve this the ten-headed monster named Dashanam appeared on the scene. Dashanam means ten heads. The head represents the ego of the senses. The ten heads are the five karmendriyas, the organs of action, and the five jnanendriyas, the organs of cognition. Each one has its own ego, so it is identified as the ten heads. It is these indriyas or senses which now have to capture that individual self away from God.
What was the object of attraction sent to lure Sita away? A golden deer. The pure consciousness knows very well that, as God, it has created everything in the world except a golden deer. Rama knew that it was an illusion, that it was foul play. But Rama, the pure consciousness, also has to play a role which is known as lila. He indulges in this lila in order to manage the ego of the senses and also to uplift the positive qualities and create a balance. So he agrees to get the golden deer for Sita, the individual consciousness.
As Rama went after the golden deer, the ten-headed monster, Ravana, came and captured Sita and took her to his city of Lanka. Lanka was a city of gold, which again represents ego. Sita was placed in a garden known as Ashokavatika, the place where sadness can never enter. Where is the place of sadness in our body? The heart. The heart is considered to be the seat of the individual soul.
In order to discover Sita again, Rama engaged two very important personalities. One was Hanuman, who represents devotion. In order to bring the individual consciousness back to the pure Self, devotion is required. Bhakti is the last transformation in human life in order to experience the divine - bhakti in its purest form. This is why Hanuman was the one who discovered Sita.
In order to rescue Sita, Rama went to Lanka, which indicates that the pure consciousness has come down to the level of the human experience. It is said that if God is at all hungry, he is only yearning and experiencing hunger for your sentiments. God is attained through devotion, though love, through the qualities of the heart. Therefore, the qualities of the heart have always been emphasized - be kind, be compassionate, be loving, be gentle.
A fight then took place between the ten-headed monster Ravana, the ego of the senses, and Rama, the pure consciousness. Although Rama chopped off the heads and the arms of this monster many times, they all grew back. Then another personality, Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, entered the scene. Where Ravana represents the rashness of the ego, Vibhishan represents viveka, the discriminative ability of the intellect. It is this viveka, right wisdom, who tells Rama, the pure consciousness, that if he wants to kill that monster, it is no good just playing with the ten heads and arms as they will grow again. Instead he has to go to the source of their life.
What is the source of life? Manipura chakra. A baby is connected to the mother's body by the umbilical cord. Manipura chakra is also the seal of prana shakti, the life force, which is also a very important centre in kriya yoga and kundalini yoga. Prana is the source of all manifest creation. So Vibhishana tells Rama to dry up the source so that nothing will grow again. In the war, Rama shot an arrow into the navel of the monster Ravana and thru shot ten arrows into Ravana's ten heads. The life force that is responsible for giving birth to each ego was destroyed, and the existing ego was destroyed. So Rama was able to reclaim Sita.
According to the myth, the birth of Rama, the cosmic consciousness, takes place on Ramanavami, the ninth day of Chaitra Navaratri (March/April). On Vijaya Dashami, the last day of Ashwin Navaratri (September/October), Rama is victorious over Ravana, and he is able to reclaim and become one with the individual self. These two events are an indication of what we can aspire for.
So Navaratri is connected with Rama as well as with Devi, the Cosmic Mother. Navaratri is an attempt to reconnect with the underlying reality within, to tune the individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness, to redirect life towards the goal of positive evolution.