Festivals around the world evoke reverence for cultural traditions, spirituality and kinship! My fondest memories of celebrating festivals in India are simple, yet joyous. The hustle and bustle in streets, shops displaying mouth-watering food or eclectic collections of traditional ritual items, homes decorated with rangoli (mandala), flowers and string lights/lamps (image below), women adorned in their gold jhumkas (traditional earrings) and fine silk sarees (traditional Indian attire worn by women) and men in their traditional silk garb of kurta/dhoti, indeed, such liveliness can uplift spirits! Rich in culture, festivals in India are both a spiritual as well as exhilarating experience!
Autumn in North America is marked by vibrant fall colors, abundance of harvest crops, carved pumpkins and Halloween! Many cultures across the world celebrate the splendor of Fall in colorful ways and express gratitude to nature's bounty. Autumn in India sets the tone for Hindu festivities, rituals, and spirituality. Celebrations begin with the 9 day festival of Navaratri and culminate with the widely celebrated festival of Diwali. Each festival instills a meaningful sentiment and carries its own ritualistic flavor. Ancient customs are made relevant for today's youth and tradition is kept alive.
Navaratri, meaning 9 nights, honors the 9 forms of Goddess Durga representing Shakti-Cosmic Energy. According to Hindu mythology, Durga was formed with combined energies of the 3 Divine powers of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer to combat the cruel demon, Mahishasura, who was causing mayhem and carnage across 3 worlds.
Mahishasura was an ardent devotee of Lord Brahma and after rigorous penance, Lord Brahma appeared and asked what he desired. Mahishasura asked for the gift of immortality but Lord Brahma denied his wish, saying that all living beings have to go through the cycle life and death. Instead, Mahishasura then asked for protection from being killed by either a man or animal. However, since he considered women inferior, weak and powerless, he assumed the chances of being killed by a woman were negligible. He therefore, didn't ask for protection from being harmed by a woman!
Blessed with limitless power and no fear of death, Mahishasura marched on to create havoc and mayhem. His ambition to rule over the 3 worlds grew wilder and more brazen, with time. Menaced by his rampant carnage, people gathered to pray to the mighty Gods, asking for restoration of peace in their lives. This is when Goddess Durga was born. She emerged wearing a red saree, symbolizing power and action. She had 10 arms bearing weapons and boons, given by 10 Gods, to tackle the demon from different directions and with various weapons. She was riding a lion, which signified her mastery over animalistic tendencies like anger, fearlessness, power, etc., that could be harnessed and used in a righteous way.
In a 10 day long, fierce battle that ensued between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura, Durga killed the demon and restored peace to the worlds.
The symbolism in this story is compelling. While this story highlights the victory of good over evil, more importantly, it actualizes the power, strength and courage of the Goddess. As an embodiment of women’s empowerment, Goddess Durga in her Avataars/forms indicates the transformative powers we inherently carry. We assume various roles of being career women, mothers, homemakers, daughters, sisters while effectively balancing work life with our home life!
Durga represents the collaborative spirit women exhibit in performing a task, like she did, by acquiring and using powers from different Divine energies. Durga was fearless in defeating the demon, similarly, women can courageously win over the demonic forces that might trouble them. Like the Goddess used her arms in different directions to tackle the ferocious demon, women are multitaskers and enablers.
Fighting patriarchal norms set by society, women strive for equal opportunity, justice and economic empowerment.
Nine nights of Navaratri celebrations infuse devotion, bliss and serve as a reminder to nurture and awaken the spirit of Goddess that resides within all of us.
“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.
P.S: To listen to the Story of Goddess Durga please click here!
My dear friend made this beautiful flower Mandala -to celebrate Diwali. She is seen lighting a lamp, placed in the center of the Mandala.
Author : Deepti Gupta
All of us have a story to tell. Turning ideas into words and life's experiences into stories is empowering and fulfilling.