Disclaimer: Different cultures within Hinduism follow a variety of practices during Navratri. These traditions will vary depending on the part of the world they are practiced in. This piece focuses on my personal experiences, having roots as a Hindu in Tamilnadu.
The story of an arrogant demon
Legend has it that there was a powerful demon named Mahishasuran. He was half-bull, half-demon, powerful, and enormous. He hated that good always won over evil and wanted to rule all three worlds: Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Mahishasuran decided to pray to Lord Brahma, the God of creation. He knew that Gods did not discriminate and would reward uninterrupted meditation with one wish.
Mahishasuran prayed for a long time and Lord Brahma finally appeared in front of him. Lord Brahma acknowledged Mahishasuran’s dedication and asked him what he desired. Mahishasuran replied that he wanted to become immortal. However, Lord Brahma informed him that it was impossible to grant immortality and to ask for a different request. Mahishasuran asked Lord Brahma to gain the power of never being killed by a man or a God. He requested that when it was time for him to die, a woman should kill him. Lord Brahma agreed and gave the demon what he asked for.
Mahishasuran believed this to be a clever move. Since he never imagined a woman to have the strength of killing an enormous and powerful demon. In other words, he now thought he was guaranteed immortality.
Knowing this, he gathered an army of powerful demons so he could become the ruler of all three worlds. Mahishasuran and his army went on a disastrous rampage throughout Earth and Heaven. The Gods did not know what to do.
The Gods then decided to ask the Goddesses for help:
Goddess Parvathi, the Goddess of determination and power, Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and victory, and Goddess Saraswathi, the Goddess of arts and wisdom. These three Goddesses decided to combine their powers to create Goddess Durga. She was strong, talented, and strategic; equipped with a variety of weapons to kill the demon.
Goddess Parvathi, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi stayed awake for nine whole days, focusing their combined powers to help Goddess Durga battle with Mahishasuran. They fought a very tough battle with the ignorant demon. Goddess Durga even provided Mahishasuran with multiple opportunities to stop the chaos he was causing on Heaven and Earth to avoid death. However, Mahishasuran did not listen. On the 9th day, Goddess Durga transformed into Goddess Kali, the Goddess of death, and ends the demon’s life.
As a child, Navratri was always my favorite Hindu festival to celebrate. The feminist in me loved hearing the stories of how three Goddesses combined their powers to kill a sexist demon.
As I grew older, I realized that this was the only major festival dedicated to celebrating female Goddesses. Which made it even more significant to me!
In Tamilnadu and some other parts of South India, people arrange Golu in their homes for Navratri. This is a display of idols on a set of makeshift stairs. The idols consist of Gods, Goddesses, animals, human figurines, and many more. During the nine days, we visit our friends and families to see their Golu. We also prepare gifts to give guests who visit our homes. Additionally, we sing, dance, play instruments, and say prayers as an ode to Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi.
On the final day, we lay down the idols on the stairs. This symbolizes that the Goddesses can now rest and go to sleep after defeating Mahishasuran and staying awake for nine consecutive days. On the 10th day, we always start a new activity to celebrate the victory of the Goddesses. This includes learning a new song or reading a new chapter of a book.
As someone who has grown up in Canada, I sometimes found it difficult to stay connected to my South Indian roots. However, festivals like Navratri definitely helped me relate to my feminist values. Moreover, the reason behind why we celebrate Navratri encouraged me to face my fears with confidence, like the Goddesses. I hope this story will help young girls everywhere feel empowered by the immense strength, intelligence and power women have, just like it helped me!