Navaratri is coming up.
Literally translating to “nine nights,” Navaratri is an all-out celebration of the divine feminine (Shakti) and occurs twice a year in the spring and autumn. The charged energy of the particular planetary positions during this time is especially conducive to inner growth and transformation.
Who is Shakti?
Let’s start at the very beginning. Before there is creation, there is only undifferentiated potential. We can call this Shiva-Shakti or the divine masculine and divine feminine in communion. The first stir of creativity within this potential is self-recognition. It is like looking in a mirror and recognizing our own face – Shakti is Shiva’s self-recognition, his “I Am.” With this separation, time, space and other physical laws come into existence.
Shakti is Shiva’s dynamic force of creation. Everything in creation, from the planets, galaxies, black holes, gravity, magnetism, inanimate objects, to all life forms, physiological processes, thoughts, emotions, moods and states is a form of Shakti. She is the good and the bad, the terrible and the beautiful, the scary and the sweet. There is nothing in creation that is not her.
Although it seems that Shiva and Shakti are separate, they are not. Shiva is the awareness that supports all of Shakti. Shakti forms the container for Shiva’s absolute bliss consciousness to be expressed in the universe. Even though she becomes all the objects of creation, Shakti remains in communion with Shiva as the underlying bliss of existence.
Through her innumerable forms, Shakti conceals our true nature and we forget that who we really are is that absolute bliss consciousness. We become so engrossed in the drama of our lives that we mistakenly take our limited bodies and minds to be our identity. We get carried away in the ups and downs of life, never fully satisfied and always seeking to find completion in relationships, status, power, wealth and recognition. Even on the spiritual path, this endless seeking keeps us occupied in chasing various mind states, emotional highs, special powers or non-materialistic ways of improving self-worth.
The Path of Shakti
The path of Shakti requires us to become completely and unequivocally engaged with our lives and examine our life experiences with curiosity, joy and interest. If everything is her (including me), why do I experience separateness and isolation? What makes me love one and hate another? Is there a reality that is separate from my experience? If so, where is the proof for this?
With questions like this, we dive into the core of our beings, systematically unearthing the truth.
The requirements for this path are openness and nondogmatic, critical inquiry.
The Gift of Navaratri
Navarathri is celebrated in innumerable ways, pulling from the rich regional traditions of India. A common thread in these festivities is the joyful celebration of Shakti in every possible way, from dressing in colorful silks to serving delicious meals, displaying a collection of dolls (known as golu or kolu), gathering with family and friends in music and dance, or chanting various hymns.
For a yogini (or yogi), however, this is an incredibly precious time of the year, not to be wasted in frivolous activities but to dive deep into the journey of self-discovery. Whether augmented by the worldwide celebrations or the uniquely charged atmosphere created by the particular planetary positions, the energetic boost of Navaratri is unmistakable.
This is the perfect time to break away from our usually hectic lives and the “go, go, go” mode of operation, and bathe in Shakti’s presence.
How To Prepare
It helps to prepare for Navaratri a bit in advance, so that we can take advantage of this magical time.
- As much as possible, finish your urgent work projects before Navaratri begins.
- Declutter and clean up your physical space.
- Prepare a room or a part of a room for your sadhana for the duration of Navaratri. If you feel called to it, set up an altar, inviting Shakti, your teachers and ancestors to it.
- As far as possible, turn down invitations to parties and gatherings during this time that sap you of energy for inner work.
Of course, it may not be possible to achieve all of these goals in the context of busy work and family lives. More important than the preparation is the intention to use this time wisely.
The Inner Journey During Navaratri
- If you already have a meditation practice, stick to it as prescribed. Inner silence is the platform for meaningful transformation and awakening.
- If you don’t, start meditating. Navaratri is a great time to start new spiritual practices. Check out the Bliss Meditation Course for an easy and effective core meditation practice.
- If you already have a japa mantra, practice with it – try to recite the mantra in increasing numbers through the ten days of Navaratri.
- Read or listen to the Devi Mahatmyam, which is a beautiful text describing Shakti in her three main forms of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, and her victory over evil. The most significant aspect of the Devi Mahatmyam is its symbolism. The evils in these stories don’t refer to distant monsters, but to our own shadows. I particularly recommend the version by Devadatta Kali (link here).
- Alternatively, if you don’t have time to read the entire Devi Mahatmyam, read my summary posts on the three forms of Shakti with specific exercises and inquiry prompts (see here, here and here).
- Read or listen to the Lalitha Sahasranama, the thousand names of Lalitha Tripurasundari, who is the form of Shakti symbolizing her many actions on the universe and on our psyches as time, space, will, knowledge, action, concealing our true nature and revealing it. Here is my version on SoundCloud.
Although not conventional, I reflect on the Dasha Mahavidyas, the ten great forms of Shakti during the ten days of Navaratri. My book, Shakti Rising, is an exploration of the Mahavidyas with practice and inquiry prompts for each deity, and could be used as a study guide.
Ultimately, there is no need for elaborate procedures during Navaratri. It is enough to have a steady intention to move steadily toward light and truth. When the intention is clear, Shakti takes care of manifesting it!
Shakti: Creative Commons
Kali: Navarathri Golu Dolls by VinothChandar