These nine nights occur on equinoxes or equal nights when the sun is vertically overhead at the equator or centre. Hence the human body also attains equilibrium with nature and meditation and worship of Sakti with Beej mantras revitalises the body.
Therefore forms of Durga are worshipped with their respective yantras. Barley is sown in homes as a symbol of the creative power of the mother Goddess. In recognition of the importance of sakthi or feminine force, traditionally, little girls are symbolically worshipped on the eighth day, Ashtami.
Navaratri is a composite festival celebrated all over India. Depending on - local tradition, but for most beginning with the New Moon (Amavasya - dark moon night) or for some on the ninth day of the month of Virgo (Kanya) just prior to the Amavasya, or on the first day of the Hindu month of Ashwina (Padmanabha - Vaishnava mase), various ceremonies are performed. T essesnce of this festival consists of fasts and worship of nine aspects of Durga, one on each of the nine days. Navaratri is known as the Festival of Nights honoring the goddesses beginning
Consequently this festival of Navaratri is popularly known as Durga Puja in Bengal. After these nine days comes the Dashami, the tenth day, which is the day of the famous festival of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami ( the tenth day of victory ). This is the day Lord Rama had killed Ravana, signifying the victory of good over evil.
Navaratri is associated with goddess Durga is that of Durga Puja, which has been celebrated for ages by Hindus. In the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana there are various references to goddess Durga. When the Pandavas entered the capital of Virata for their period of one year in disguise they propitiated Durga who appeared before them and granted them boons. Again, at the commencement of the great war of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to worship Goddess Durga to ensure victory in battle Durga - the goddess of power and strength, is perhaps the most important goddess of the Hindus. She is a multi-dimensional Goddess, with many names, many personas, and many facets. As Mahishasuramardini or Shakti, she is the destroyer of evil - with her ten mighty arms carrying lethal weapons she triumphantly slays the demon Mahishasura. As Sati, beloved daughter of King Daksha and Queen Menaka she gives up a kingdom and earns her father's wrath. As Kali, she turns black as the night and omnipotent, terrible in rage and fury, with just a string of skulls as her garland and her only garb. As Parvati, she is serene, the pretty consort of Lord Shiva by his side in the snowy peaks of the Kailash mountain. She is Bhawani, symbol of life. She is Sati, the object of death. She is Basanti, the heralder of springtime. She is also Amba, Jagadhatri, Tara, Ambika, Annapurna.
Durga, through all her forms, encompasses the essence of salvation and sacrifice. She is the mother of bounty and wealth, as also of beauty and knowledge, for her daughters are Lakshmi and Saraswati (Hindu goddesses of wealth and knowledge, respectively) .
She is the embodiement of purity, knowledge, truth and self-realization. The highest form of truth present in any being or Jiva is known as "Aatman" or supreme consciousness. This supreme consciousness or the absolute soul is infinite, birthless, deathless, beyond time and space, and beyond the law of causation. Goddess Durga is the inherent dynamic energy through which this supreme consciousness manifests itself.
Goddess Durga represents the power of the Supreme Being that preserves moral order and righteousness in the universe. She is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Lord Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga has no existence. Lord Shiva is only the silent witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. Shiva has no direct connection with the tangible elements in the universe and is obliged to emanate a manifestation, an emission of energy, shakti, through the goddess. It is Durga who is the doer of all actions. Shiva and Durga are regarded as the twofold personalization of Brahman, the primeval substance.
The Sanskrit word Durga means a fort, or a place that is protected and thus difficult to reach. Durga, also called Divine Mother, protects mankind from evil and misery by destroying evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger, and ego.
The projection of the stronger and fiercer side of womanhood is but obvious in the tales surrounding goddess Durga. According to certain mythological tales, Durga is thought to be the skin of Parvati, which slips off and fights the demon brothers - Shumbha and Nishumbha. Sometimes Durga is supposed to have created helpers to fight for her, Kali being the most famous. In other versions she is supposed to have created the Saptamatrikas, the Seven Mothers, who were originally Yaksha gods.
The absence of any male influence as well as of any male assistance, in Durga's fierce battles with male demons, is worth noting. The most interesting facet of the tales of her origin is not that she is presented as Shakti - the divine power - but rather, that she assumes the powers of the male gods to save the universe.
Hindu mythology tells an interesting tale of the fierce battle of Durga with Mahishasura, a demon who earned the favour of Lord Shiva after long and hard penance. Lord Shiva, pleased with the devotion of the demon, blessed him with a boon that no man or deity would be able to kill him. Empowered with the boon, Mahishasura started his reign of terror over the Universe and people were killed mercilessly. He even attacked the abode of the gods. The war between gods and demons lasted a hundred years, in which Mahishasura was the leader of the Asuras or demons and Indra was the chief of the gods. In this contest the army of the gods was defeated by the more powerful demons. When Mahishasura conquered the gods, he became their leader.
The gods, utterly defeated, took refuge under Lord Brahma, who took them to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. Having heard of the misdeeds of the demons, pure energy blazed forth from Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - the trinity forming the pure energy of Godhood. As the gods witnessed this fiery crest of energy pervading all the directions and blazing forth like a mountain peak aflame with the sun, this matchless energy that sprang from the bodies of all the gods, its light illuminating the three worlds, became concentrated in one spot and took form of the Goddess. Her face was from the light of Shiva. Her ten arms were from Lord Vishnu.
Her feet were from Lord Brahma. The tresses were formed from the light of Yama (god of death) and the two breasts were formed from the light of Somanath (Moon God), the waist from the light of Indra (the king of gods), the legs and thighs from the light of Varun (god of oceans), and hips from the light of Bhoodev (Earth), the toes from the light of Surya (Sun God), fingers of the hand from the light of the Vasus (the children of Goddess river Ganga) and nose from the light of Kuber (the keeper of wealth for the Gods). The teeth were formed from the light of Prajapati (the lord of creatures), the Triad of her eyes was born from the light of Agni (Fire God), the eyebrows from the two Sandhyas (sunrise and sunset), the ears from the light of Vayu (god of Wind). Thus from the energy of these gods, as well as from many other gods, was formed the goddess Durga
Durga is also equated with Mahamaya - the supreme creator of illusions and attachment - the one whose spell even the gods cannot elude. There is an interesting tale related to Mahamaya. Before the creation of the universe, water pervaded all space. In that water, Lord Vishnu rested in Yoga Nidra (deep slumber), which was a result of a divine spell cast by Mahamaya on Lord Vishnu. From the navel of Lord Vishnu appeared Lord Brahma, the creator, seated on a lotus. From the wax in Lord Vishnu's ear were formed two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha. Madhu and Kaitabha were supposed to be companions of Brahma but being demons they indulged in naughty acts, which disturbed Lord Vishnu's slumber and he ordered them to limit their fun and frolic in the depths of the ocean so that his cosmic slumber wouldn't be disturbed. Though the demons went away they pledged vengeance on Lord Vishnu.
They propitiated the Mahamaya and appeased her into giving them a boon of choice of their own death, which she granted them. The demons then decided to come back to where Brahma and Vishnu resided and started scaring Brahma. Seeing this Lord Vishnu decided to kill the two demons but he could do little since they were protected by Mahamaya's boon. Brahma and Vishnu then propitiated Mahamaya. Mahamaya used her powers of illusion and cast spells on the two demons, which made them grant a boon to Lord Vishnu. They granted Lord Vishnu the boon of being able to kill them, on the condition that he did so only where there be no earth or water, no air or ether, neither mind nor intelligence and not even false ego. Taking this opportunity, Lord Vishnu squashed the two demons on his thigh, which was neither of earth, water, air, ether, fire, mind, intelligence or false ego, since Lord Vishnu's was a transcendental body. Thus the Mahamaya using her skills at illusions brought the evil demons to their own end.
Durga is also equated with two other popular Indian goddesses - Sati and Parvati - both consorts of Lord Shiva, though at different points in time. Though all three are worshipped separately, they are seen to be the form of the same goddess Durga
Origination of Durga as a Deity
Traces of origin of Durga as a deity have been found in wild regions such as the Vindhya Mountains and with old tribes such as the Sabaras and Pulindas. Probably these roots associate her with the non-Aryan habits of drinking alcohol and non-vegeterianism. Durga is first mentioned in the Mahabharata as a virgin delighting in wine, flesh, and animal sacrifice. Durga's association with agriculture, especially in her major festival, the Durga Puja, may arise from her early origins. She is thought to be the power inherent in the growth of crops and in all vegetation.
The origin of goddess Durga can be, very strangely, traced back to the Mesopotamian culture. The depictions and form of goddess Ishtar, worshipped in Mesopotamia, hold a striking resemblance to those of goddess Durga in Hindu religious texts. Mesopotamia of ancient times is an area, which is mostly covered by present day Iraq. The goddess Ishtar was worshipped by the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and even Romans and Egyptians, since about 2000 B.C. and probably even before that, since an epic called the descent of Ishtar was already traced to an old tale of that time. Ishtar is described as an independent goddess who roamed the forests and deserts at will and was a constant seeker of battle.
She was depicted as riding a lion and had multiple arms holding many weapons. She was thought to have had many lovers from all sorts of backgrounds and probably this was seen as a probable cause of her immense popularity with the common man of those days since he preferred her raw energy to pretensions and pomposity often associated with most other gods. This feeling of her transcending class division was emphasized by the wide-ranging profile of lovers from all social classes
Possibly through trade routes and ancient cross-cultural contacts, goddess Ishtar found her way into ancient Hinduism. However, the nature of promiscuity of Ishtar did not probably find favor with the ancient Hindus and hence those characteristics of hers, which alluded to promiscuity, were discarded and thus goddess Durga took form in ancient Hindu religion. Other forms of Durga have been found in other regions, cultures and religions too - with evidence of similar deities in Japanese-Buddhist art forms.
Widespread worship of goddess Durga is found in texts of the 4th and 7th centuries A.D., with the resurgence of goddess worship during those times. She is the only female deity after whom an entire Upanisad is named. At the close of the Vedic era there were apparently several goddesses acknowledged as wives of Shiva while other goddesses were worshiped by different castes throughout India. These diverse deities eventually coalesced into the one great goddess, Mahadevi, whose ultimate origin may have been the Mother Goddess of the Indus valley civilization. In the ancient Indus Valley civilization it is obvious that the worship of female deities had a very prominent place in society. The many seals and figurines found provide evidence for the apparently highly important place of female deities in the religion of the time. There is evidence of a Mother or Earth goddess cult being in existence in the period.
The post-Vedic period saw the rise of several goddesses hardly mentioned in the epic period (Mahabharata and Ramayana and Vedas) rising to a dominant position in worship. Durga and Kali were such goddesses and each gathered a following of devotees who held them as the supreme divinity. Durga and Kali were essentially independent but they were still often linked to powerful gods but in a drastically different role than the subservient, model partners played by the goddesses of the epics.
Durga came to be seen as the supreme deity by her devotees and in many aspects was supposed to have a similar role to the highest held male deities. She took on the role of leader of the gods in their struggle against the demons and also, as does Vishnu, comes down to earth to defeat evil. Durga was thought to be particularly pleased with blood offerings. Though associated to Lord Shiva, Durga is still essentially seen as independent.
In the early Medieval period appeared the Great Goddess or Mahadevi. She was to her devotees indisputably the highest manifestation of the divine. The emergence of Mahadevi is evidence of the acceptance by a large section of the population of the highest manifestation of the divine being feminine. Portrayals of Mahadevi can be found in the Devi Mahatmya, Saundaryalahari and the Devi-bhagavata Purana.
The Devi Mahatmya is perhaps the most significant, illustrating the emergence and establishment of Devi as the ultimate reality of the universe within the Sanskritized Hindu tradition. As has been mentioned earlier, goddess Durga is essentially equated with the Mahadevi
Around the fourth century A.D., images of Durga killing a buffalo become common throughout India. After the sixth century and into the medieval period, Durga was well-known and popularly worshipped. In the classical texts, the Puranas, dating from the third to the fifteenth centuries, her mythological exploits are recounted. An entire Purana, the Devibhagavatam, is dedicated to Durga. The most important text is the section of the Markandeya Purana called the Devi Mahatmya, of possibly the seventh century, which is also known as the Durgasaptasati or Chandi Mahatmya. This text is so venerated that every verse is considered a mantra (sacred utterance) of the Goddess.