An Introduction to Chaitra Navratri
For readers who are unfamilar with Hindu culture and celebrations, a very brief introduction to this nine-day festival of the Goddess is an essential foundation upon which to build this series of articles on the different forms of Shakti worshipped during this festival. Navratri is a festival that is celebrated five times a year, but the most important two are the ones in the spring (Chaitra Navratri, Vasanta Navratri) and in the autumn (Sharada Navratri). Chaitra is the first month on the Hindu calendar, and the word Navratri itself literally means “nine nights” in Sanskrit. This year, Chaitra Navratri will be celebrated from March 31-April 7.
There are several legends associated with the celebration of Navratri, but the most famous is the tale of Sri Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura. The battle between the demon and Goddess lasted for nine days, and on the end of the ninth night Sri Durga finally killed him. During Chaitra Navratri, a lamp is kept lighted at all times for the duration of the festival. A ritual called Ghatasthapana (ghata meaning “vessel” and sthapana meaning “to establish) is performed on the first day, in which the kalash (holy water vessel) symbolising Sri Durga is placed in the prayer room. The kalash is covered in cow dung and barley seeds are planted inside of the kalash. The sowing of the barley seeds symbolises growth, prosperity, abundance, and fertility. Fasting is also a common practice during Chaitra Navratri. Meat, alcohol, grains, onion, and garlic are all avoided during this time. Every evening during Navratri, the Durga Suktum is chanted in honour of Shakti. On the eigth and ninth days of Navratri, Yagna is performed in honour of Sri Durga and to bid her farewell. On these last days, Kanya Puja is also performed in which nine young girls representing the nine forms of Shakti are worshipped. Each day has a governing Goddess who is the focus of the daily devotions. The following series discusses these nine Goddesses and their worship during Chaitra Navratri.
Sri Durga is glorified on the first day of Navratri through Her form, Shailputri (Shail=mountain, putri=daughter). She is the Absolute Form of Mother Nature and watches over every living thing and encourages humans to live in harmony with Nature. She is also a form of the Goddess Parvati and Her consort is Shiva. She holds a lotus in Her left hand and a Trishul (trident) in Her right hand. Her mount is Nandi, a bull.
She is associated with the Moon and is also the Goddess of the Muladhara (Mula=root, origin, Adhara=foundation) chakra, which is the root chakra located at the lowest point of the spinal column. The Muladhara chakra is the starting point toward spiritual development, the seat of our dormant wisdom. For this reason, Shailputri is worshipped in order to make full use of our precious human lifetime. This concept is further expounded upon by Yogi Ananda Saraswathi:
Durga’s slaying of the demons as per Purana stories has important lessons for the spiritually minded . Durga is a very important feminine form of divinity, especially for personal transformation from our lower or animal nature to our higher spiritual nature. These are all symbolical. Heaven is our own mind. The demon is our lower nature. And the demon in heaven is our own inability to control our own mind. By slaying them, she has torn down ego. In reality, this is a common challenge for most people, so one can see the relevance of the story and importance of Durga. As Durga represents transformation through elevation in consciousness, we call on Durga to transform and elevate our minds. Durga as a goddess is a feminine form and therefore the divine mother, but she also has a form that relates to the earth – Shaila Putri. Her birth connections to the mountains are indicative of the sacredness of the mountains and their important connections to the earth. Goddess Shaila Putri is also strongly associated with the waters and air as well, as the waters represent the flow of consciousness, cleansing and purity.
Shailputri’s mantra is:
Vande Vanchhit Laabhaay, Chandrardhkritshekharaam
Vrisharudham Shooldharaam Shailputriim Yashaswinim
Which is translated into English as:
Salute the Mother Goddess who has a half moon on Her forehead, who rides a bull and holds a trident. We chant your name and praiseyou always Maa Shailputri.
For purposes of pronunciation, I have included a link to the spoken mantra (The mantra itself lasts for the first 35 seconds of this video, after which a speaker gives a lecture in Hindi).