Devi and evolution – the meaning of Navaratri

This is the holy day on which we hold the fingers of the tender new generation and initiate them into learning. Vijayadasami is the culmination of the past nine days of Sakti worship. Invoking the blessings of Sarasvati Devi, the Goddess of Learning, children enter the world of knowledge. Holding the index finger of the child, we make them write the mantra hari sri ganapataye namah on rice. It is when the child surrenders its finger to the guru, that it is able to receive the teaching from the guru.

The real explanation behind this is as follows: The guru holds the index finger of the child to do the first writing. The index finger is normally used to point out mistakes in others. We point this finger and say, “He is like this! That person is like that!” It can also be called the finger of the ego. When we point the index finger at someone, three other fingers point back at us. When we point our finger at someone else, we forget that we have made threefold as many mistakes. Surrendering the index finger for the guru to hold is an expression of surrendering the ego. When knowledge dawns, humility follows. A truly knowledgeable person will be humble. Seeing the divine in everyone, he will respect everyone. Everything is God’s creation; only our ego is our creation.

The guru’s love and grace flow to the disciple when the guru sees the disciple’s surrender. On Vijayadasami, even scholars write hari sri ganapataye namah. It marks their rebirth as a beginner. The beginner’s humble attitude “I know nothing” and his desire, enthusiasm and patience to learn to guide him to supreme knowledge. Vijayadasami reminds us to safeguard that humility, enthusiasm and surrender throughout our life.

Many people wonder why Sarasvati Devi is not invoked in the mantra Om hari sri ganapataye namah. In Sanskrit, every letter has a number associated with it. The numbers associated with the letters of this mantra add up to 51. There are 51 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, and the alphabet is considered to be the form of the Goddess Herself. Moreover, the number of Saktipeethas [special places where the Divine Mother is worshipped] in India are 51. So, each letter of the alphabet represents a Saktipeetha as well.

During the nine days leading up to Vijayadasami, Devi is worshipped in different manifestations. Durga is worshipped for good health and success; Mahalakshmi, for wealth; and Sarasvati for knowledge. To achieve material success, each of these is essential: health, wealth and knowledge.

The greatest hurdles in spiritual life are inertia, laziness, and ignorance. When a mind is steeped in tamas [inertia], rajoguna [the quality of action] is often more effective than sattva-guna [the quality of purity] to bring one out of it. A child who has woken in the morning but is too lazy to get out of bed will only curl up once again if you lovingly sing a sweet song to it. But if it knows that it will get a spanking, it will jump right up. Most often, our mind is like such a child; it is in the grip of tamoguna. Inertia is conquered through action. Devi helps us do this.

When a cow is eating vegetables that we have planted in our garden, if we just say, “My dear, dear cow, please stop. If you eat all my vegetables, how will I be able to sell them to make ends meet?” it will just continue eating until everything is finished. We should shake a stick at the cow and yell, “Get out!” Then it will run away. A cow doesn’t have the discrimination to know right from wrong. It just wants to appease its hunger.

Similarly, if the child thinks its mother will soon come with a stick if it doesn’t get up, then the child has no option but to get up. It brings that wakefulness within. This is the role of Goddess Durga.

Once a guru knocked on the door of his disciple. The disciple replied, “Just open the door and come in.” The guru said, “This door cannot be opened from the outside, as the handle is on the inside.” In a similar way, the disciple has to open his heart first. Only then can the guru enter. For this the disciple needs maturity.

Similarly, for spiritual studies to have an effect, the seeker first needs maturity. The seeds of sadhana [spiritual practices] should first be sown in the field of bhakti [devotion]. Once they sprout, they should be transplanted into the field of jnana [knowledge]. Then we will get a good yield.

God talks to us in the language of silence. When thoughts subside and the mind becomes calm, we will be able to hear the melody of God who is constantly residing within us. God sees and knows all our thoughts, actions, silences and everything else because all beings in creation reside in that infinite and supreme Sakti. A mother is able to understand the meaning of her toddler’s glances and garbled words. She understands even the child’s silent moods. Similarly, Devi is able to know her devotees’ desires, even without them telling her. Perhaps Devi prefers the prayer of the mind that is silent and meditative — without thoughts — rather than those of the mind filled with countless desires. Perhaps that is why one of Devi’s names is Mookambika — the silent Mother. She is the supreme energy that silently knows and does everything, yet is unattached, untouched and, like the infinite sky, a witness to everything.

Beyond material prosperity, Navaratri gives the message of a seeker’s step-by-step evolution towards the final goal of Self-realization. Jagadambika removes the impurities and destroys the ego of the seeker who has made God-realization his life’s goal. In the stillness thus created, she awakens one to the Inner Self.

On Durgashtami, we keep our books and tools for worship and take them back on Vijayadasami. This symbolizes offering our lives to the Divine and receiving back what we offered as prasad. It is like making a new beginning after imbibing the ideals of remembrance of God and surrender to the Divine.

When we experience success, we say it is all because of our own capacities and talents. When failures come in life however, we blame God. This shouldn’t be our attitude. We have to see ourselves as an instrument in the hands of the Divine — like a brush in the hand of a painter or a pen in the hand of a writer.

Whatever be our profession — be it a soldier or a tailor or whatever — we place our tools for worship on Durgashtami. The objective here is to remember that God is the real doer and power behind our actions. It is an act of surrender to the Divine. It helps us to be less egoistic in our successes. Remembrance of God and surrender to the Divine are what make our life truly blessed. Through knowledge coupled with the right kind of effort, we become receptive to grace.