The power behind creation is Shakthi in its three aspects: Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. This power, we are assured by the Rishis-- the Seers, resides in each one of us. We have to invoke this Shakthi to assist us in reaching our ultimate goal which is realization of Oneness with the Divine Self in us.
This determination and effort is indicated by the commencement of the navaratri celebration starting with the worship of Durga, invoking her Shakthi for the removal of the obstacles in our spiritual path; these obstacles were responsible for our decline into the lack-lustre new-moon mind-set. Mythology tells us that Durga is the One who destroyed the powerful demon Mahishasura (Mahisha = Bull; asura = demon, our undisciplined self).. The Bull is characterized by great inertia and also great rage – a very apt model for our own ego. All our spiritual practices are hindered by inertia; we start, but soon stop, like the immobile Bull on the street blocking all traffic. No wonder we make very little progress. We are also swayed by extreme passions like the enraged Bull which then charges wildly. The slaying of this demon by Mahishasuramardhini (another name for Durga) symbolizes the taming of this ego-bull and putting it to productive use in the service of God. Observe how the same Bull under the total control of its master Shiva becomes Nandi whom we worship – Nandi always faces the Lord and is eternally in His service. The Durga Shakthi, if invoked through prayer, will help us to yoke our ego and plow the spiritual field for us.
The next three days are devoted to the worship of Lakshmi. The yoked ego is now ready for Karma Yoga which ensures a dynamic life filled with selfless activity. This helps to cleanse the mind of selfish desires. Any action needs resources and Lakshmi is the provider of every resource needed by us. When you need courage, Dhairya Lakshmi provides it for you; Valor by Virya Lakshmi; material resources by Dhaanya Lakshmi and Dhana Lakshmi and so on: that is why Lakshmi in eight forms known as Ashta Lakshmi is worshipped. Whereas all the resources needed for Karma are provided by Lakshmi, we need Vidya (knowledge) and Viveka (power of discrimination) to use these resources in the right manner.
To make an intelligent choice, we need a well-informed mind: the education needed for this is given by Saraswathi whose Shakthi we invoke in the final three days of Navaratri. You may have seen in paintings of Saraswathi a peacock rapturously listening to the music played on the Veena by the Goddess. When we pray to Saraswathi, she plucks our heartstrings from which divine music issues forth. Our ego, tamed and trained by the power of Durga and Lakshmi then starts listening to the dictates of the pure Intellect and the divine music of OM. The Bull has been transformed into Nandi, ready to serve our spiritual purpose. Nothing then prevents us from proceeding further in the path of Self-Realization and reaching the ultimate goal of Sat Chith Anand.(Reality-Consciousness-Bliss)
We are aware of the power of the untamed ego and how it can take us along the wrong path. Who would not therefore, celebrate ultimate victory in this battle and taming it for spiritual use? At the conclusion of nine days of prayer and meditation, we celebrate our spiritual victory on Vijayadasami day. (Vijaya = Victory; dasami = tenth day). On this day, students rededicate themselves to their study through formal recitations from their books and paying their respects to their Guru; professionals rededicate themselves to their work symbolically by worshipping the tools of their trade. Mentally, every devotee renews the determination to work towards the spiritual goal of Sat Chit Ananda.
Whatever our age, we are all students trying to learn Truth, Reality in various ways. The Navaratri celebrations every year help us to invoke the divine power which resides in everyone of us and through the Grace of Shakthi, to proceed further on the path of self-realization with faith and renewed vigor to the ultimate goal of Sat Chit Ananda.
In Bengal the festival is known as Durga Puja and is the most important one for the people and is an occasion for family reunion. The image of the Goddess is worshipped in the home and in public places where community worship is organized. This is an occasion for the potter to display his skill in making images and other artists in decoration, music. Worship is offered for nine days; the tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the triumph of the soul at attaining liberation through descent of knowledge by the Grace of the Divine Mother. The image is taken in a procession and immersed in the sea or a lake.
In South India, the festival is celebrated as a colorful exhibition of dolls arranged on ascending steps; families and friends are invited to come and join in the celebration, sing and worship. The ninth day is Saraswathi Puja day when the Goddess of learning is worshipped. On the tenth day, Vijaya Dasami is celebrated when new students get enrolled and new projects are commenced, after offering worship to the Goddess; old students continue their studies, invoking the Goddess' Blessings and and renewing their contact with their revered Gurus..
In the northern states of India, the festival is called Dussera; it celebrates the home-coming of Rama the hero of the epic Ramayana, after his victory over the ten-headed Ravana, the king of Lanka. In vast open spaces, Ram-leela folk-plays with music and impromptu dialogues re-telling the story of the life of Rama are enacted late into the night. Songs are sung in praise of Rama and people throng in thousands to witness this traditional theatre. Larger-than- life figures of Ravana and other demons are burnt on cold dark nights with fire-works lighting up the sky.
Dussera is also reminiscent of the end of the exile and banishment of the Pandava princes in the Mahabharata and their return with their weapons to reclaim their kingdom. In memory of this epic story, people in Maharashtra worship the implements of their professions and distribute the leaves of the Shami tree as gold and express their goodwill.
All over India, this ten-day period is observed as a festival of thanks-giving and celebrated in diverse, colorful ways to celebrate the glory of Devi, the Shakthi Goddess and the victory of good over evil. The diversity is characteristic of the Indian way of life.