Chaitra Navaratri, or the nine (nava-) nights (-ratri) of Durga, are celebrated in the first nine days of the bright half of the month of Chaitra (starting from the day after Amavasya). According to the Indian lunar calendar, this usually occurs in late March or early April (March 18th to March 2th7, 2018). This period of nine days heralds the onset of spring and also marks the beginning of the new year (Ugadi and Gudi Padwa) for the hindu calendar in most parts of India.
The nine-day festival honors the role of three prinicipal female Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The period of Chaitra Navaratri concludes with Ramanavami (or Lord Rama’s birthday) on the tenth day of the festival.
Observing Chaitra Navratri
The nine day period is marked as a period of “cleansing” and fasting by all devotees of Devi. The durga suktam is chanted with great vigor every evening during this period. The festival is marked on the eighth day or ashtami by honoring a group of kanjaks or pre-pubescent girls. A group of five (or seven or nine) such girls are invited into the household and treated as representatives of Durga. The head of the household washes their feet, and then they are fed a sumptuous meal of halwa, puris, black chana and yogurt with boondi. They are then given a set of red clothes or a red chunni and a small gift of cash and asked to bless the household.
History and Traditions of Chaitra Navratri
The story of Durga that is most frequently associated with Navaratri is the incarnation of her as the slayer of the buffalo-headed demon or asura, Mahishasura. A long war had been waged between the gods, led by Indra, and the anti-gods. The king of the anti-gods, the genie Mahisa (the Powerful), won the war and established himself in heaven. The gods wandered homeless on the earth. Then, guided by Shiva and Vishnu, they concentrated their power into the shape of a goddess named Durga (the un-reachable one).
Durga and Mahishasura
The power of Shiva formed the head, that of Yama the hair, that of Vishnu the arms, that of Indra the waist, that of Brahma the feet. All of the Gods handed over their weapons to the goddess Durga. The goddess chose a lion as her vehicle, and defeated the armies of the anti-gods In her final battle, she fought the demon Mahisawho took on many shapes to fight her, and finally that of a buffalo, the symbol of death. Durga pierced the throat of the buffalo and restored the heavens to the Gods. Hence, Durga is often referred to as Mahisasura-mardini, the slayer of Mahisasura.
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