Navratri: The Nine Nights of the Divine Mother

On the auspicious occasion of Navratri, I am happy to share the knowledge Sheet that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had dictated in 1996. Navaratri celebrates the nine nights of the Divine Mother in Hinduism. The following knowledge sheet speaks about its significance and relevance to our modern lives.

Weekly Knowledge #70

 09 Oct 1996

Mumbai, India

NAVRATRI

Navratri means the nine nights and also the new night. Creation happens in the darkness. In the womb of the mother and underneath the soil. Nine months in the womb are like nine long nights where the spirit takes human form.

Night provides rest and rejuvenation. At night, the entire creation goes to sleep including the ashram night watchman! (Laughter) People working come home at night and they celebrate, rejoice and pray. These Nine nights are precious as they have subtle energy. The subtle is enriched.

There are 64 Divine Mother impulses which govern the subtle creation. These are responsible for restoring all earthly and spiritual benefits. They are simply part of one’s awakened consciousness. These nine nights are celebrated to rekindle those divine impulses and celebrate the innermost depth of our lives.

Jai Guru Dev

Cleanse your body and cleanse your soul. Cleanse your body with water and your soul with knowledge and your spirit with pranayam and kriya. There is no penance higher than Pranayam. It is the greatest penance.

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Manifestations of the Divine

Once upon a time, there lived a King, whose daughter was both beautiful and intelligent. She often engaged the scholars of his court in debate and defeated them through her brilliance. This made the scholars frustrated and they were eagerly waiting for an opportunity to seek their revenge.

The time came, when the King consulted them to find a suitable husband for the lovely Princess. The scholars secretly welcomed the opportunity to teach her a lesson and offered to find a good husband for her.

After a long search, they found a fool of their choice. They promised good food and shelter for the poor and lazy fellow, if only he kept his mouth shut unless prompted by them. Though a little scared, the fool accepted the offer since it meant wages without work.

The scholars then dressed him up appropriately and presented him before the King and the Princess as a great and wise Pundit. The King was impressed by his appearance, but the Princess wished to test his depth of knowledge.

The scholars were prepared for this and they told her that the wise Pundit was observing silence and hence could only respond in sign language. The Princess was amused, but agreed to tackle him in silent speech.

Looking at him for a while, she slowly lifted her index finger and showed it to the fool. Soon one of the scholars sitting behind the fool gently pressed two fingers behind his back and prompted the fool to lift two fingers. She raised three fingers and the fool lifted four, after being secretly prompted.

A little surprised by this, the Princess however showed five fingers and waited for his response, which he did with six. She followed it by seven fingers and he replied with eight. When, with hesitation the Princess raised nine fingers, the fool (after secret prodding again), lifted all his ten fingers. The entire assembly was watching this silent battle of wits with surprise and curiosity.

The Princess was at a loss and slowly lifted one hand questioningly. The fool raised both his hands crossed one over the other. The lady now lost all her composure and could not stand the suspense.

She then appealed to the scholars, “If your colleague does not wish to speak, at lease one of you could tell us what he means.” “Surely Princess,” said one of the scholars, “but please do tell us what you meant by your signs.”

“All right,” said the Princess, “by lifting one finger, I indicated the all-pervading, omnipotent, ultimate nature of the Divine. But what did he mean by two fingers?”

“Princess,” said one of them, “Divinity also manifests in dualistic forms, such as right and wrong, high and low, truth and untruth, and so on…”

“Hmm… that is really good,” said the Princess. “When I raised three fingers, I was referring to the three GunasSattva, Rajas, and Tamas; the concept the three times – Past, Present, and Future; the three worlds – Heaven, Earth, and Hell; the three Divine functions – Creation, Maintenance, and Dissolution…”

“He responded with four,” said one scholar, “to indicate the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva; the four directions – North, South, East, and West; the four divisions – Infancy, Youth, Maturity, and Old Age; the four stages of Brahmacharya (Studentship), Grahasta (Family life), Vanaprastha (Seclusion), and Sanyasa (Renunciation), and so on…”

“I fully agree with him,” said the lady happily. “By five fingers, I pointed out to the five elements – Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth; the five senses – Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste and Touch.”

“He responded,” said a pundit, “with the six hurdles to Enlightenment – Desire, Distress, Miserliness, Jealousy, Anger, and Arrogance (the Arishadvargas). He also pointed to the Six virtues of Bliss such as Patience, Perseverance, Compassion, Courtesy, Love, and Laughter.”

“My word, he is really wise!” said the princess and the assembly echoed her words. “My basis for the seven fingers was the presence of Divinity in the Seven Great Saints (the Saptarishis); the Seven Seas; and the Seven Colors of the Rainbow.”

One of the Pundits said, “He revealed through the eight fingers the eight limbs of yoga (Ashta angas); eight types of wealth (Ashtalakshmi); the eight basic Afflictions, and so on.”

“When I lifted nine of my fingers, I was referring to the nine forms of the Mother Divine; the nine planets; the nine doors of the human body; the nine types of precious gems.”

“By showing all ten fingers – opening his hands completely,” said one Pundit, “he meant that the Divine is the substratum of the entire creation. The Divine is the one and only ultimate source and resource for everything. Amidst all the different functions and forms, diversity and divisions, the Divine is Sublime, Supreme and Single.”

“Such wonderful wisdom!” remarked the princess. “I bow to his superior knowledge. I have one last question, why did he cross both his hands, when I raised only one hand in question?”

“Oh! That is simple. Since he had to attend to his spiritual practices, he indicated that it was not the time to ask or to answer any more questions.”

“That settles it! I accept him as my husband,” said the princess. The scholars reveled in their mind, thinking that they had finally had their vengeance. Soon the marriage ceremonies were conducted, and the timid fool kept his mind shut till they were alone.

Soon enough, the intelligent lady found out that the extent of idiocy of her husband, and the extent of deceit played on her by the inimical scholars.

Instead of giving way to anger, anxiety, or animosity, she calmly pacified her fear-stricken husband, and advised him to go to the nearby temple of Divine Mother and sincerely pray for knowledge.

Without another word, the fool ran to the temple and offered truthful prayers to the Divine Mother and obtained Her blessings. He later became one of the greatest poets of ancient India.

He composed immortal classics in Sanskrit literature and was known as ‘Kali Dasa.’

This poignant story reveals the essence of ancient wisdom in India and explains the adage “Sarvam Brahma Mayam” meaning the Divine is everything and everywhere.

In one broad sweep, this attitude also accepts and accommodates all people into one large human family, under one umbrella of belongingness – a One World Family. This approach has been echoed by Saints throughout the ages, and more recently by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

This story was adapted from Acharya Ratnananda’s More Light on Less Known: Compassion, Courage, and Confidence, Volume 3