The essence of Navratri

Navratri, also spelled Navaratri or Navarathri, is a 9 day long Hindu festival celebrated in almost every part of India. In most parts it is celebrated in honour of the divine Devi – Durga, a re-incarnation of Adi Shakti. In the southern and eastern states of India, the Durga Puja is synonymous with worshipping the Goddess – Navratri, wherein goddess Durga battles and emerges victorious over Mahishasura – the buffalo demon. In the northern and western states, the festival celebrates the battle and victory of god Rama over the demon king Ravana. In both cases, the festival celebrates the victory of the good over evil.
The 9 days of Navratri are dedicated to the worship of 9 forms of the Goddess – Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalaratri, Mahagauri, Durga or ParaShakti. Here are the stories of each of these Goddesses.
Ma Shailaputri
Ma Shailaputri (Daughter (putri) of Mountain (shaila)) is worshipped on the first day of Navaratra. Shailaputri was the daughter of the God of Mountains, Himalaya. Popularly known as Parvati, her husband is Shiva and she has two sons – Kartikeya and Ganesha. In her previous incarnation, she was Sati – the daughter of a great king, Daksha. According to the legend, Daksha Prajapati was one of the sons of Lord Brahma.
Ma Brahmacharini
Ma Brahmacharini is the goddess worshiped on the second day of Navratri. It is one of the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. In this avatar, Durga embodies tapa or penance. The name Brahmacharini is derived from two words – “Brahma” here means tapa or penance and “Charini” means an ardent female follower.
After she immolated herself in the sacrificial fire of the yagna, Durga took birth as the daughter of the King of the Mountains, Himavan or Himalaya. She was named Parvati (after the Sanskrit name for mountains – parvat) or Hemavati.
When Parvati grew up, sage Narada – son of Brahma, paid her a visit. He told her that she did have a chance to marry her husband from her previous birth, Lord Shiva, if she followed a path of penance. Determined to marry Shiva in this birth as well, Parvati embarked upon an extremely difficult regime of penance and devotion.
Ma Chandraghanta
On the third day of Navratri, the third Power (Shakti) of Goddess Durga is worshipped. This avatar of Goddess Durga is known and worshipped as Ma Chandraghanta (Mother Chandraghanta). Her forehead is bedecked with the crescent moon (Hindi: Chandra) resembling the shape of a temple bell (Hindi: ghantaa).
Upon the insistence of Sage Narada, Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya observed austere penance to get Lord Shiva as her consort. Shiva, after losing Sati, had become detached from worldly affairs and had retired into the mountains in deep meditation, isolation and austerity.
But after seeing Parvati’s resolve to get him, Shiva relents and agrees for the marriage. On the day of marriage, Shiva reaches King’s Himavan’s palace in a most terrorizing form along with the strangest marriage procession. His body is smeared with ash, with snakes around his neck as well as in the matted locks of his unkempt hair. The marriage procession consists of ghosts, ascetics, sages, goblins, ganas, ghouls and aghoris. Upon seeing such a terrorizing form of Lord Shiva and his strange marriage procession, Parvati’s mother and other relatives are left in a state of shock. Most of them faint purely out of terror.
To avoid any embarrassment to her family and to Lord Shiva, Parvati transforms herself into a terrorizing form – Chandraghanta.
Ma Kushmanda
Ma Kushmanda is worshipped by devotees on the fourth day of Navratri. This avatar of Adi Shakti is also referred to as the Smiling Goddess. Her name is made up of three distinct words. The first word is “Ku” which means little. The second word is “Ushma” which means warmth or energy. And the third word is “Anda” which means egg. Upon combining the three words, one can derive the meaning of her name which means the one who is the creator of this “little cosmic egg” called Universe. This form is a happy manifestation of the goddess.
It is said that when the universe was non-existent and there was darkness everywhere, Ma Kushmanda produced this “little cosmic egg” with her smile. The universe was then filled with light. It is believed that she is the source of all the energy in the universe. Further, it is also believed that she lives in the core of the Sun and thus provides energy to all the beings. She is believed to provide direction to Surya, the Sun God.
Ma Skandamata
Ma Skandamata is the fifth avatar of Durga and is worshipped on the fifth day of Navratri. Skanda is another name for Lord Kartikeya (Parvati’s son and Lord Ganesha’s brother). Mata means mother and thus Skandamata means mother of Skanda or Kartikeya. As is clear from the name, she is another form of Parvati.
The birth of Kartikeya is an interesting story. After Sati immolated herself, Shiva became detached from the worldly affairs and started practicing austere penance as an ascetic. At the same time, the gods (devas) were under an attack from demons (asuras) who were being led by Surapadman and Tarakasura. They had a boon that only Shiva or his offspring could kill them.
Ma Katyayani
Ma Katyayani is worshipped on the sixth day of Navratri. She has four hands and she wields a long sword and a lotus in two of them. She blesses with the third hand and protects with the fourth one.
According to the legends, there was a sage known as ‘Kat’ who had a son named ‘Katya’. Later, a sage named ‘Katyayan’ took birth as his descendant. Sage Katyayan had no offspring. He observed austere penance and prayed to the gods for a child.
Meanwhile, the demon Mahishasura was creating a lot of trouble for the gods. The gods approached Vishnu to sought a way to end Mahishasura. At Vishnu’s behest, Shiva and Brahma joined him and then the Trinity (Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma) emitted flames which took the form of Katyayani. A manifestation of Durga, she then took birth as the daughter of Sage Katyayan as a result of which she came to be known as Katyayani.
Ma Kaalratri
Ma Kaalratri is the goddess who is worshiped on the seventh day of Navratri. Kaal refers to time as well as death in Hindi whereas ratri refers to night or darkness/ignorance. Hence, Ma Kaalratri is the one which brings the death of darkness or the one who ends ignorance. She is also commonly referred as Kali.
Once two demons named Shumbha and Nishumbha invaded devaloka and defeated Indra and his army. After losing his kingdom, Swarga, Indra along with all the other gods went towards the Himalayas to seek help. They prayed to goddess Parvati and sought her assistance in getting their kingdom back. Parvati created Chandi and sent her to kill the demons. In the battlefield, Shumbha and Nishumbha sent two demons Chanda and Munda. Chandi created another goddess, Kali, to fight Chanda-Munda. Kali killed both of them and thus came to be known as Chamunda.
Ma Mahagauri
Mahagauri is the Goddess worshiped on the eighth day of the 9-day long festival of Navratri in India. Maha means extremely and gauri means white. She is worshiped by devotees to attain loyalty in relationships and create life-long bonds.
The story of Mahagauri has many versions. The most popular is this. After killing all demons in the form of Kaalratri, Parvati was left with skin as dark as night. Her husband Shiva teased her with the nickname ‘Kali’ (dark-skinned). Agitated, Parvati applied to Brahma by undergoing a severe penance lasting many days, to regain her fair skin. Pleased, Brahma advised her to take a bath in the Mansarovar River in the Himalayas (some local variants replace the Mansarovar River with the holy Ganges river).