Navarathri festivals and divine lamps
Navarathri is one of the most important Hindu festivals in which we worship Adi Parashakthi in Her three forms viz. Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswathi. It is a nine day festival and on the tenth day we celebrate Vijayadasami to seek Her blessings. The supreme power and the greatness of Adi Parashakthi is described in the following verse by His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi (affectionately known as Periyavar) who was the chief pontiff of the Kanchi Mutt in south India. The verse is as follows. Dhadhanoh bhaswath thvaam amruthanilaya lohitha vapuhuh vinamranamah soumyoh gurupathi kavitham cha halayaam kadhoh mandho gangadharanakrisham kamaksheem bajadhaam charanapadmoh vijayathe
The above Sanskrit verse talks about the nine planets (which are actually governed by Adi Parashakthi) worshipping Devi at all times and this is the recommended Navagraha stothra. The above verse describes Adi Parashakthi. She gives light to the sun, lustre to the moon and to the celestial bodies. To Chevvai (mars) she gives humility, gives knowledge to Buddha (neptune) and Guru (jupiter), gives prosperity to Shukran (mercury), She is worshipped as the consort of Gangadhara Siva and Her feet are worshipped by Rahu and Kethu. Such is the greatness of Adi Parashakthi.
Swami explained the significance of the Navarathri festival in this context. In Hindu astrology, the horoscope of the child is drawn up based on date, time and place of birth. All our lives are governed by the planetary positions. The divine mother governs all these planets. The planetary positions in relation to an individual are cast in the horoscope. The horoscope has twelve blocks called houses. Even if a planet occupies every house, that will still leave three houses empty. Sometimes two or three planets occupy a single house. In this process, any number of houses can be left empty. In a person's horoscope, the lesser the number of empty houses, the more the person is spiritually inclined and prosperous. Astrologers predict people's lives according to the movement of the planets, a methodology based on sound vedic principles and calculations. The three important manifestations of Adi Parashakthi are Durga (Shakthi, Goddess of power), Lakshmi (Aishwarya, Goddess of wealth) and Saraswathi (Vidya and Gnana, Goddess of learning and intelligence). Goddess Durga governs mars, neptune and jupiter. The sun, moon and Kethu are governed by Goddess Saraswathi. Goddess Lakshmi governs Shukran, Shani and Rahu. On the first three days of Navarathri, we pray to Goddess Durga, the next three days we pray to Goddess Lakshmi and on the last three days to Goddess Saraswathi. We perform the poojas in this order. Nava means nine and Rathri means night. So, for nine days at dusk we chant the Lalitha sahasranamam. On the tenth day, Vijayadasami, we seek the blessings of the Goddess to fulfill our desires.
The mythological stories of Mahishasura Mardhini (in which the Devi kills the asura king Mahishasura) and Ramleela (in which Rama slays Ravana, the asura king of Lanka) on the tenth day of Navarathri are commonly cited to explain the origin of the festival but they have no true bearing on the significance of the Dassera festival. During this festival all of India wears a festive look filled with pomp and gaiety.
Swami being the embodiment of Devi Chothanikkara Bagavathi, all the devotees celebrate the Dassera festival for ten days in Swami's presence. Under Swami's instructions, the devotees celebrated the Navarathri festivals from 1988 to 1999 in Bombay in a grand manner. We cherish those memories even today. Since the year 2000 ail the festivals, including Navarathri are being held in the siddhar peetam itself. All these festivals leave lasting impressions in the devotees' minds. The uniqueness of these festivals will be better understood as you read on.
More often than not, Swami fasts on all the nine days of Navarathi, drinking only hot water and rarely, some hot milk. He materializes divine lamps by his siddhis. He uses these lamps as tools to reach out to the devotees and lead them down the spiritual path. He started handing out these lamps in a particular sequence so as to guide us spiritually. We are immersed in this materialistic world constantly thinking about kith and kin, acquiring wealth and fame. Our prime goal in life is the appeasement of our never-ending desires and pleasure-seeking. When we fail to acquire all that we crave, we see ourselves drowning in the ocean of wordly desires, not knowing how to swim to safety. Swami helps us swim by his grace through these divine lamps. They act as buoys and lighthouses. With the help of soothing spiritual advice, he sows the seeds of spirituality in our minds and tries to inculcate in us noble thinking and deeds, eventually moulding us into good and worthy citizens of the world.
Just before the start of each Navarathri, Swami gets the divine command from Devi as to how and where the function is to be held. He aiso gets the divine lamps from Devi using his siddhis and directives as to whom the lamps are to be given, how the lamps need to be lit and worshipped. On all nine days of Navarathri during dusk, the devotees gather at a particular place and chant Lalitha Sahasranamam and do kumkumam archana. Then, devotional songs are sung. After mangala aarathi at the conclusion of the pooja, prasadam is distributed. The very first Navarathri festival under Swami's guidance was celebrated in one of the devotee's house at Kalyan, Mumbai in 1988. Swami materialized the divine lamps personifying the family deity of each individual. He gave them to devotees who were ordained to receive it. He stressed the importance of worshipping one's family deity. He also mentioned that the lamps should be lit with til oil as til oil signifies karma and by lighting the lamps we are burning our karma. In the following year, he gave divine lamps signifying Goddess Durga to remove fear and anxiety of the devotees. He instructed that these were also to be lit with til oil. In the year 1991, the Navarathri function was held in Tolaram towers at Chembur. On Navami day of this function, my husband, my sister and I decided to attend the function, but were delayed as we had some visitors unexpectedly. When we reached Tolaram towers, the doors of the pooja hall were closed and we could only hear the function coming to an end. Suddenly the doors opened and we saw that the mangala aarathi was going on and that Swami's whole body was covered with vibuthi. It was an emotional and awe-inspiring scene. This was the first time that all the devotees were witnessing such an event. After the event, Swami distributed the lamps to the devotees. The lamp was to be lit every day with til oil. The significance of this was that one burns away one's own karma and prays to the divine mother to shower her grace and blessings. We were standing in a corner and just watching. Suddenly he called me and gave me a lamp. I was completely overwhelmed by this, because at this time our association with Swami had just begun and he had now showered me with so much of divine grace, the next Navarathri pooja was also held in Toiaram towers. Normally in Bombay at this time all schools and colleges have their semester exams and it was a very busy time for me. Yet I had a strong urge to attend the function. I expressed this desire to Swami and he told me to approach my college principal and request him to rearrange my schedule so that I could attend the kumkumam archanai on all nine days in the evenings. Accordingly, I went to my principal and he granted me five turns of supervision and told me that I could exchange the remaining with my colleagues so that no one would have any objection. Luckily for me, everyone obliged and I was able to attend the archanai on ail nine days. From that year till the year I retired I was able to attend all kumkumam archanas during the Navarathri functions and get Devi's blessings.