The Hindu festival of Navratri begins on 17th October and last till October 25. It is a time of celebration as well as of reflection for Hindus across the world. The story of Navratri (“nine nights”) is commonly told as the story of Durga, a fierce incarnation of Parvati (the wife of Shiva), and how She defeated the buffalo demon Mahiśasura.
Yet the story of Durga is in fact only one episode in the greater saga of Shakti, the divine feminine in Hindu traditions. The story begins not with Durga or Parvati, but Sati, the daughter of Daksa.
The Story of Sati
Sati is the incarnation of Shakti, or specifically Adi Parashakti (“The primeval, supreme force”), who takes birth as the daughter of Daksa in order to coax Shiva into marrying.
Sati falls in love with Shiva, and after a number of austerities and developing her meditative prowess, Shiva is impressed by her dedication and recognizes her as an equal. However, Daksa refuses to approve the marriage because Shiva sleeps at a cremation ground, wears a garland of skulls, is covered in ash and keeps the company of ghosts and spirits. He openly chastises Sati for choosing such a man as her husband, yet she pleads with him that she be allowed to find a husband of her own choosing, whoever he may be.
Daksa still does not give in and says that he will never see Shiva as his son-in-law. Sati is deeply wounded but decides to leave her father’s palace to live with Shiva on Mount Kailasa. When a yearly yajna (sacrificial ritual) comes around, Shiva tells her that he will not attend because he is not welcome. Sati goes alone to get her father to recognize Shiva but instead is humiliated by her father in front of all the participants of the yajna and Daksa proceeds to disown her. Overcome with grief and anger at her situation, Sati proceeds to immolate herself in the fire of the sacrifice to rid herself of all mortal attachments. In an act of protest, Sati declares that when she is born again, she will be born to a father whom she can respect, invoking the Goddess Ādi Parasakti.
The Navadurgā as Sacred Process
When Sati died, she invoked the Supreme Goddess to realize her wish to be with Śiva on her own terms and to be free from oppressive patriarchy. In doing so, it is believed that she realized her oneness with Shakti, and so was able to freely take nine different incarnations, each of which symbolizes different aspects of the divine.
The nine manifestations of Durgā or Śakti serve to illustrate the process and help us understand the connection between ourselves, our communities, and our world. Each stage in the process is one that we continually refine, return to, and pass through on the journey to liberation.
The nine forms of Maa Durga are Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandmata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, Siddhidatri.
Emerging from the insight of non-duality, interconnectedness, and an infinitely plural divinity latent in all creation is the means to liberation. It is by these principles we are moved to have faith in Devi in her many forms, and so remember her during Navratri and at all times.
During this Navratri, wish all your friends and family the best in the pursuit of knowledge and fulfillment. Let us encourage each other to live beyond the limits, let us remember that the seeking of liberation is a process of continuous learning and insight, and let us be kind to ourselves and to others in untying the knots of grief and stay strong, proud, and happy.
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