Understanding the symbolism of the nine forms of Durga
Navratris is an important Hindu festival that celebrates the divine feminine energy and is a time of immense reverence for women. It honors the nine forms of Durga, the goddess of strength and power, who symbolizes female empowerment and courage. The spiritual and religious significance of Navratris runs deep, with each of its nine days representing an aspect of the Goddess Durga that has been associated with women’s empowerment for centuries.
The festival is a reminder of the inherent strength and potential of women, and how they can overcome obstacles and challenges through determination and perseverance. It is a nine-day festival celebrated with much fervour and enthusiasm by Hindus across the country. During these nine days of Navratri, a different form of Goddess Durga is worshipped each day. Each day of the nine-day long Navratri festival has its own significance.
According to several Sakta scriptures, a year which is 365 days annual cycle is divided approximately into 40 nine-night periods (40 x 9 = 360 Days), known as Navratras/ navratri. Of these, four Navratras which are placed equidistantly around the calendar are prominent for the worship of Devis(Goddesses ). However only two – Chaitra Navratri and Sharad Navratri are celebrated widely. Chaitra Navratri falls in late March or early April according to the Gregorian calendar. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion by the Hindu community all over India and other parts of the world. Navratras signify new beginnings and are considered auspicious for starting new ventures.
The supreme form of divinity is regarded as feminine. The Great Goddess is regarded as Maa Durga ; the Cosmic Mother, Protector and the Destroyer of the Evil. It is believed that the Great Goddess manifested herself in three major forms namely, Maha-Saraswati, Maha-Lakshmi and Maha-Kali who are the shaktis of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively.
These three forms of Durga further manifested in three more forms each, and thus emerged the nine forms of Durga, which are collectively called Navadurga or Nau Devis:
Maa Shailputri – The Navratri commences with the 1st night devoted to the puja of Maa “Shailputri”. “Shail” means mountains; “Parvati”, the daughter of king of Mountains Himavan, is known as “Shailputri”. She is also the consort of Lord Shiva and mother of Ganesha and Kartikeya (Murugan).Her two hands display a trident and a lotus. She rides on Nandi, the sacred bull of Lord Shiva.
Maa Brahmacharini – Maa Brahmacharini is the second manifestation of Maa Durga who is worshipped on the second day of Navratri. Here word “Brahm” refers to “Tapa”. So Brahmacharini means Tapa Charini – The one who performas Tapa or penance. It is said that the “Vedas”, “Tatva” & “Tapa” are synonyms of word “Brahm”. The form of Brahmacharini is tremendously majestic. She holds a rosary in her right hand and Kumbha (water pot) in her left. She personifies love and loyalty. Mata Brahmacharini is a store-house of knowledge and wisdom.
Maa Chandraghanta – Maa Chandraghanta is worshiped on the third day of Navratri Pooja. Those who worship Devi Chandraghanta get eternal strength and be blessed by Devi Maa to be happy throughout one’s life. Maa Chandraghanta is the one who establishes justice and wears crescent moon on her forehead which is why she is known as Chandraghanta.
The colour of her body is golden, she rides on a lion which personifies “dharma”, she possesses ten hands and three eyes. Eight of her hands display weapons while the remaining two are respectively in the mudras of gestures of boon-giving and stopping harm.
Maa Kushmanda – The 4th night begins the worship of Maa “Kushmanda”, possessed of eight arms, holding weapons and a mala or rosary.
Maa Kushmanda is worshiped on fourth day during Durga Pooja in Navratri. She rides a tiger, possesses eight arms holding weapons , a lotus, a rosary and Kumbha and she emanates a divine aura. Mother Goddess created the whole universe in a shape of an egg known as “Anda” with her little & light divine smile, so that Maa Durga is named Kushmanda. The word Kushmanda is made of three other words that are “Ku + Ushma + Anda= Kushmanda”.
Here “Ku” is “Little”, “Ushma” is “Warmth or Energy” & “Anda” is “Egg” , meaning the one who created the universe as Little Cosmic Egg with the energy of her divine smile is called Kushmanda. Maa Kushmanda is known as the creator of the whole universe and hence also named as “Adi Shakti”.
Maa Skandamata – Maa Skandamata is fifth among Nava Durgas. She is the mother of Kumara Skanda or Kumara Kartikeya also called Lord Murugan in south India which is why she is known as Skandmata. Using a lion as a vehicle She holds her son, “Skand” in her lap while displaying 3 eyes and 4 hands; two hands hold lotuses while the other 2 hands respectively display defending and granting gestures. Kumar Skanda was chosen by Gods as their commander in “Deva-Sura Sangram” (the war of gods & demons) against the demons.
Maa Katyayani – Katyayani Mata is worshipped on the sixth day of Navratri. Goddess Parvati took this form to kill the demon Mahishasura. Katyayani Maa rides a majestic lion. She is depicted with four arms, where the left two arms carry lotus & a sword, and right two arms stay in Varada & Abhaya Mudras.
The Goddess got this name Katyayini because she was born to the Katyayana Rishi. Some texts also described that she is an Avatar of Goddess Shakti and got this name because Rishi Katyayana was the first one to worship her.
Maa Kalaratri – The seventh day of Navratri pooja is dedicated to Durga Kalaratri. This is the most violent form of Goddess Durga. Kalaratri is the one of the fiercest forms of Durga. Kalaratri means the one who is “the Death of Kaal”. Here Kaal is depicted as time & death.
Kalaratri is the one who destroys ignorance and removes darkness. She possesses dark skin with bountiful hair and four hands,two clutching a cleaver and a torch, while the remaining two are in the mudras of “giving” and “protecting”. She is mounted upon a Donkey.
This form primarily depicts that life also has dark side – the violent Mother Nature and creates havoc and removes all dirt when needed.
Maa Mahagauri – The Eighth day is dedicated to Mahagauri. This is the form of Goddess Parvati when she did penance to get Lord Shiva as her husband. It is believed that due to intense Tapas performed by her without moving caused soil and dust to collect on her body.
Lord Shiva cleaned her with water from Ganga which made her shine as white as a pearl and she got the name as Maha Gauri. She has got four arms and the fairest complexion of all the Durga Shaktis. She holds a drum and a trident and is often depicted riding a bull.
Maa Siddhidatri – The last among the nine forms of Maa Shakti is Goddess Siddhidatri who is worshiped on the ninth day of Navratri. ‘Siddhi’ is a Sanskrit term which means ‘perfection’. Goddess Siddhidatri sits on Lotus and rides on the lion. She is depicted with four hands. She has Gada (mace) in the one right hand, Chakra in the other right hand, lotus flower in the one left hand and Shankh in the other left hand.
She is the Goddess who possesses and bestows all type of Siddhis to her devotees. Even Lord Shiva got all Siddhis by grace of Goddess Siddhidatri. She is worshipped by not only humans but also by Deva, Gandharva, Asura, Yaksha and Siddha. Lord Shiva got the title of Ardha-Narishwar when Goddess Siddhidatri appeared from his left half.
Kanjak Pujan is also an important ritual that is performed during the eighth day (Ashtami) and ninth day (Navami). It is also known as Kanya Pujan, where young girls are worshipped as the embodiment of the divine feminine power. During the Kanjak Pujan, young girls are invited to the house, and their feet are washed as a sign of respect. They are then offered food, sweets, and gifts, which are considered as a form of offering to the goddess. The girls are worshipped and blessed with holy water, vermillion, and flowers, and their foreheads are marked with a tilak. This ritual is performed to seek the blessings of the goddess and to show reverence towards young girls who are believed to represent the purity and innocence of the goddess and are seen as a symbol of hope and potential for the future, and their blessings are believed to bring prosperity and happiness to the household.
These nine manifestations of Maa Durga which are worshiped during Navratri, are believed to infuse divine spirit in us. During Navratri, devotees crowd into virtually every goddess temple for darshan ; profound perceptual interaction with the Divine. Navratri is a celebration of the power and potential of women, and a reminder that women can achieve anything they set their minds to. By understanding the symbolism of the nine forms of Durga, we can better appreciate the role of women in society and their contributions to the world.