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The Navratra (nine nights) commences on the first night of Aswin (Septem­ber-October) and lasts for nine nights.


Each day is sacred to one of the manifes­tations of Durga and the deity is worshipped in North India in the form of an unmarried girl.

The girls who represent the deity should be healthy, beautiful and free from eruptions. She should be of the same caste as the devotee.

One girl may be worshipped on nine days or nine girls in one day. In the later case the worship should take place on the fifth day which is particularly sacred to Durga and is known as Lalita Panchami.

In all these days of Navratra, the devotees of Durga either fast or take only one meal a day. Those find it difficult to observe the fast for nine days, may fast for seven, five or three days. Certain ceremonies are performed and magic formulae repeated by priests.


Brahmins are fed and given cash and clothes. As Navratra is sacred to Durga it is also called Durga Puja or Durgatsova. But in the eastern part of India, Durga Puja is celebrated in a different way and in a grand scale in memory of Durga’s triumph over Mahisa, the buffalo demon.

The Puranic roots of the ‘Navaratra festival go back to the Devi Mahatma a work composed sometimes between the eighth and the tenth century and is part of the Markandeya Purana. The Devi Mahatmya details the nine manifestations of Shakti. These legends may seem fantastic to the modern mind, but they have had such an impact on Hindu culture, and especially in these festivities, that it is worth nothing their gist.

It is said that a great monarch by the name of Suratha was once defeated in a war, betrayed perhaps by his own ministers. He therefore gave up his kingdom and began wandering in the woods. There, quite by chance, he came upon the hermitage of Rishi Madha.

The Rishi received the distressed king with much kindness. But the restless monarch soon left the cottage. However, he returned there, this time with yet another lost and confused individual”. It was to these two that the Rishi began to narrate the stories of Maha Maya: the Great Illusion.

The Maha Maya, the Rishi explained, was born of the great Vishnu him­self. Her express purpose was to eliminate or help eliminate the evil forces that raise their heads ever so often in human history. These forces are pictured in the symbolism of the Puranas as grotesque monsters with superhuman powers, since whatever is evil is not only ugly but often has an unshakable hold on the relatively weaker human spirit.

The demons Madhu and Kaitabha arose from the wax in the ear of Vishnu. As soon as they emerged, they promptly went around to annoy Brahma while Vishnu was still asleep. Brahma, apparently helpless at this moment, appealed to Maha Maya to wake up Vishnu so that the troublesome monasters could be si­lenced. Maha Maya complied. And Vishnu, in understandable anger, used his might against the devilish duo. But evil forces are not easily subdued. The war went on for five thousand years, and to no avail!

As if to add insult to injury, the demons disdainfully told Vishnu that they were so much impressed by his valiant and untiring pugnacity that they would grant him any boon of his choice. “Then grant me the boon of killing you both,” answered Vishnu. The miscreants were nonplussed, for they had to grant the desired boon.

“Very well, then,” said one of them, “but only if you can do this at a spot where there is no water”. They were smart indeed, or at least thought so, for the entire globe was then submerged in a vast deluge. But Vishnu would not be outwitted. He lifted them both to the height of his waist, well above the water level, and summarily slaughtered them.

Now Maha Maya assumed a form with ten heads and ten feet, grew dark in color and ferocious in gait. She came to be called Maha Kali. This is the story of the first avatar of Maha Maya.

In another story, there appears the half-human-half-buffalo monster known as Mahishasura. This ignoble character was another nuisance to the gods. Again, Brahma and the gods went to Siva and Vishnu to complain. Both Siva and Vishnu opened their mouths in rage, whence emanated vast layers of incandescent flames which eventually took on the body of Mahalakshmi. She tamed a lion to be her vehicle. Riding on it triumphantly, she defeated the demonic being that was now the villain.

The third avatar of Maha Maya was Mahasarasvati: her purpose was to rid the world of the demons Shumbha and Mishumbha. The fourth avatar was to kill yet another pair Chanda and Munda by name. Then, in the forms of Raktadanti, Shakambari, Durga, Matangi and Lambrahmari, the cosmic goddess is said to have manifested again and again for cleasing the world of its outstanding evils.

The details of these avatars, spelled out in the Devi Mahatmya Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Dasara, Vijaya Dasami, all thus becomes part of the Navratra festivaties.

The fast of Navratra is also observed in memory of a similar fast observed by Lord Rama to propitiate Durga when he was waging war against Ravana. On the eight day of Navratra Rama killed the demon king of Lanka. On the ninth, he performed a sacrifice as thanks giving and on the tenth he returned back to Ayodhya, in memory of which Dussehra celebrated. On the whole, it the first 3 days for Durga, the next 3 for Lakshmi and the last 3 for Saraswati.

The ninth day festival of Navratri is called, Kalaimakal (Saraswaji) Puja in Tamil Nadu young children are initiated to the learning process on this day. In ancient times, cadjan manuscripts were neatly arranged on a plank, now being replaced by books are worshipped.

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