The theme for this year's Navarathri Kolu at my mother's residence was "Navarathri Nayaki", based on the Devi Mahatmyam.
The Traditional Kolu:
Devi Alankaram done on a lamp
Devi Alankaram done on a lamp (at the foot of the traditional "padi")
Devi Alankaram done on a brass pot
(Siddalingeshwara Temple situated in Karnataka)
This year's theme was entirely conceptualized by my mother, based on the theme "Devi Mahatmyam". It was a mammoth effort taken by her, after several months of meticulous planning.
Devi Mahatmyam narrates the story of how Devi (Mother Goddess) killed Madhu and Kaitabha as Vishnu Maya (Thamasic form), killed Mahishasura as Lakshmi (Rajasic form-materialistic) and killed Shumbha and Nishumbha in the form of Goddess Saraswathi (Sathvic form-spiritual). This story is also called Chandi in West Bengal and as Durga Sapthasathi in the northern parts of the country including Varanasi. It consists of Chapters 74 to 86 (13 chapters) of the Markandeya Purana and has 700 stanzas.
Devi Mahatmyam describes the slaying of 9 demons, of which, 5 demons are directly slain by Devi - namely, the demons Madhu, Kaitabha, Mahishasura, Shumbha and Nishumbha.
The other 4 demons, namely, Dhoomrakethu, Chandan, Mundan, Rakthabheejan are slain by Devi's assistants, namely, Ranabadra Kali, Chamunda and the "Sapta Mathaas".
There was once a king called Suradha, who was driven out of his kingdom by his own people.
The king met a Vysya (businessman) called Samadhi who was driven out of his home by his wife and sons, in the forest. They discover that though their own people have driven them out, they are both worried about the welfare of their people. It appears to them that this is unnatural.
So they approach Sage Medhas who was also living in the forest. The sage tells them that all this is the illusion created by the great Goddess called Vishnu Maya. They became curious and want to know about this great mother Goddess. He then relates to them the story of Devi Mahatmyam, which consists of three stories in all of which the Mother Goddess kills the enemies of Gods.
We have depicted all the three stories in our theme. These three stories describe the slaying of the nine demons Madhu, Kaitabha, Mahishasura, Shumbha, Nishumbha, Dhoomrakethu, Rakthabheejan, Chanda and Munda.
The first story is that of Madhu and Kaitabha. They take birth from the earwax of Lord Vishnu while he was asleep and start troubling Lord Brahma who was sitting on the lotus originating from the belly of Lord Vishnu.
Lord Brahma prays to the Goddess to help him continue his work of creation.
Tamasi Devi goes and tries to wake up Lord Vishnu from his deep slumber. There is "praLayam" everywhere.
The Goddess appears and takes the form of Lord Vishnu and kills both Asuras after wrestling with them for thousands of years. Since both these Asuras were of Thamasic origin, she also had a Thamasic form. The entire world is in "praLayam", filled with water and there is no land around. Since they can be slain only on land and not on water, Lord Vishnu expands his thighs and creates land there, where the Asuras are ultimately slain.
The slain Asuras become the Earth and since the story is narrated by Sage Medhas, the Earth is also called "Medhini".
Worship of Goddess Durga
The second story is of how the Mother Goddess helped the Devas by killing Mahishasura.
Asuras - Suramban and Ramban perform Tapas in water and on Fire respectively.
As a result of his penance, Ramban is blessed by Agni that he would get a powerful son.
This Asura who had the form of buffalo, drove away the Devas and Indra from their homes.
They all go and approach the holy Trinity for the redressal of their grievances. This made the three Gods very angry and the innate power of the Goddess in them came out. She was equipped with arms by all Devas.
This Goddess is further strengthened by the powers of the various Gods, including the Shoolam given by Lord Shiva.
This Goddess, mainly consisting of the anger-generated power killed Mahishasura.
Goddess Lakshmi (Chamundeshwari) slaying Mahishasura
Celebrations after the slaying of Mahishasura is depicted by the dance of Apsaras.
The celebration of "Victory of Good over Evil" is also marked by Gandharva Gaanam.
This story of Goddess Lakshmi killing Mahishasura has given MYSORE its name.
Dussera celebrations at Mysore Palace are depicted here. Processions of various kinds (on bullock cart, elephants, musical horse) take place.
Playing of the band is an important part of the festivities in Mysore, during Dussera.
The third story is of how the Great Asura brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha are killed by the Goddess. This time the Gods approach Goddess Saraswathi who was wandering in the Himalaya Mountains and told her of their sufferings.
Shumbha and Nishumbha become very powerful and get blessed that they can be killed only by a female.
"Saptha Mathas" belong to Goddess Saraswathi's army and they come on different vahanas.
Ranabadra Kali is black in color.
Out of the body of the Goddess comes Koushiki. Ranabadra Kali kills Chanda and Munda and hence is known as "Chamunda". Ranabadra Kali hands over the slain head of Chanda to Koushiki (Saraswathi)
The demon Raktabhija is also depicted above, whose drops of blood were seeds of hundreds of demons like himself coming up. When the Devi severed the head of one Rakshasa, the blood fell on the ground profusely and from that blood, millions cropped up. And when She killed them, again another million cropped up. So Devi asks Ranabadra Kali to spread her tongue throughout the earth, so that there is no ground at all for the Rakshasas to walk over. And now the Goddess started cutting their heads and when the blood fell, it fell not on the ground but on the tongue of Ranabadra Kali. So she sucks everything.
Sage Medhas then tells of how, the king Suradha and Vysya Samadhi did penance on the Goddess and got the boons that they wanted.
In the twelfth chapter of the Devi Mahatmyam, the Goddess tells that for one, who reads or hears, these three stories of her, there is nothing impossible to obtain including salvation.
Esoteric significance of the Devi Mahatmyam: (By Swami Krishnananda)
Our longings are fundamentally very deep and cannot be easily satisfied by temporary make shift or day-to-day adjustment of outer circumstances. Our desires are profound, our yearnings are very unintelligible to the outer atmosphere of our daily life. We seem to have a root which is deeper than what can be comprehended by our normal understanding of the world. We grow from all sides, and when we long for or desire or yearn or aspire, we do so in a very comprehensive manner. This aspiration of the human being is really the soul's longing for freedom. All our desires are ultimately the desires of the soul.
Though they look like sensory desires, mental desires, intellectual desires, social desires, etc., they are, at the bottom, the longing of the soul of the human being, which ramifies itself into various distracted rays through the operations of the mind and the activities of the senses. Our longings are, therefore, capable of being collected into a single essential power, an inward urge, which we may call the longing for freedom. It is freedom that we ask for and it is freedom that anyone asks for. Varieties of longings and multitudes of enterprises in the world can be collected into a single focus of the soul's aspiration for liberation. And this aspiration for liberation is not merely the longing of the human being, but of all that is created anywhere on earth or in heaven.
The Devi Mahatmyam, in a majestic poetry in Sanskrit, describes to us the Epic of the march of the human soul to its destination, the realisation of this freedom.
The Devi Mahatmyam is a part of the Markandeya Purana, containing thirteen chapters which are grouped into three sections, known as the Prathama Charitra, Madhyama Charitra and the Uttama Charitra.
The march of the soul is graduated into three major steps, though there are many minor steps involved in these three major ones. While we have to rise through various rungs of the ladder of evolution, we come to three points or halting places, we may call them, where there is a complete transformation of outlook, attitude and constitution of our being. These threefold transformations of the spiritual being of the aspiring soul are dominated or presided over by three deities known as Maha-Kali, Maha-Lakshmi and Maha-Sarasvati. These three presiding forces are representative of the powers of the spirit within manifesting themselves in an upward ascent towards freedom ultimate. So, in the description of the Devi Mahatmyam, we are carried forward psychologically and spiritually to our destination of the ultimate realisation.
There are three stages of transformation described in the three sections of the Devi Mahatmyam. The first one is where Adi-Sakti awakes Maha-Vishnu who was asleep, so that He may destroy or overcome the original demoniacal forces, Madhu and Kaitabha. The second stage is where the same Sakti manifests Herself as Maha-Lakshmi and overcomes Mahishasura. The third one is where Sumbha and Nisumbha are destroyed by Maha-Sarasvati. And the nine days of worship comprehend these three stages in three days of worship, each. The final victory is called Vijaya-Dasami, the tenth day. That is the day of Victory, where one masters the forces of Nature completely and one’s goal is reached.
Madhu and Kaitabha, two Rakshasas (demons) are supposed to have come out of the dirt of the ear of Vishnu. The lowest category of opposition is of the nature of dirt, Malaa; and psychologically, from the point of view of the seeking soul, this dirt is in the form of Kama, Krodha and Lobha.
When we manage somehow to overcome this Madhu and Kaitabha, (Kama and Krodha), we get into the clutches of Mahishasura and Raktabija. They represent the Vikshepa Sakti, the tossing of the mind. Every minute the mind changes its forms which multiply in millions. The Devi Mahatmyam tells how Mahishasura kept changing his form. One minute he is an elephant, then he is a buffalo, and then he is something else. His energies are incapable of being exhausted. Similarly, however much one may try to oppose the Vikshepa Sakti, it will manifest in some form or other.
This is described in the form of the demon Raktabija, whose drops of blood were seeds of hundreds and thousands of demons like himself coming up. When the Devi severed the head of one Rakshasa, the blood fell on the ground profusely and from that blood, millions cropped up. And when She killed them, again another million cropped up. So there was no end to it. If we cut off one or two desires, the desire is not over. The root is still there. The branches are only severed. Unless the root is dug out, there is no use of merely severing the branches of the tree. So what did the Devi do? She asked Kali to spread her tongue throughout the earth, so that there is no ground at all for the Rakshasas to walk over. They had to walk over the tongue of Kali. And now the Goddess started cutting their heads and when the blood fell, it fell not on the ground but on the tongue of Kali. So she sucked everything. So likewise, we have to adopt a technique of sucking the very root of desires and not merely chop off its branches.
After Madhu and Kaitabha, we get Mahishasura and Raktabija. Thus Malaa and Vikshepa are the primary oppositions in our spiritual pursuit.
Ancient masters have told us that while Malaa or dirt of the psychological structure can be removed by Karma Yoga, by unselfish and dedicated service, Vikshepa or distraction of the mind can be removed only by worship of God, by Upasana. While Karma removes Malaa, Upasana removes Vikshepa. But even now, we are not fully safe. While Malaa might have gone and Vikshepa is not there, we may have a third trouble, namely, a complete oblivion of consciousness. We will have no knowledge of anything as to what is happening. Ajnana or Ignorance is a subtler opposing power than its effects in the form of Malaa and Vikshepa. Distraction and direct sensual desires are the outer expressions of a subtle ignorance of Truth, Avidya or Ajnana. Why do we desire things? Because, we do not know the nature of Truth. Thus, ultimately, we are not to subdue only our individual nature, but the cosmic Nature itself is to be subdued. This is what is depicted in the Epic of the Devi Mahatmyam.
While Malaa represents Tamas, Vikshepa represents Rajas. Sattva which is also a Guna is indeed an obstacle, though it is better than the other two forces. Even Sattva is a subtle medium of obstruction, which acts in a double form; as complacency or satisfaction with what has been achieved, and an ignorance of what is beyond. These two aspects of Sattva are indicated by the two personalities of Sumbha and Nisumbha. They have to be dispelled by the power of higher wisdom, which is Maha-Sarasvati.
Action, contemplation and knowledge are the three stages through which we have to pierce through the veil of Prakriti or three Gunas.
So, the dance of the Cosmic Spirit, in its effort at self-transcendence, is majestically described in the beautifully worded verses of the Devi Mahatmyam, where we are given a description of what Maha-Kali did, what Maha-Lakshmi did and Maha-Sarasvati did in bringing about this evolution, transformation of the whole range of Prakriti from Tamas to Rajas, from Rajas to Sattva and from Sattva to Supreme Vijaya, mastery in the Absolute, God-realisation.
So, through the worship of Maha-Kali, Maha-Lakshmi, and Maha-Sarasvati, we worship Mula-Prakriti, Adi-Sakti in her Cosmic Dance - form of transformation, prosperity and Illumination. In the first stage, it looked like a hell. Afterwards, in the second stage, it looks like heaven, when Maha-Lakshmi begins to work. But this also is not sufficient. Knowledge should dawn. We want the realisation of Truth. Sarasvati comes to our help and a flood of light on Truth is thrown. These are the truths esoterically conveyed to us through the Mantras of the Devi Mahatmyam.