This is a holy season for many religious traditions. Last night at sundown, the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah (L’Shanah Tovah to all my Jewish readers and friends!) began, kicking off the period of the High Holy Days that culminate with the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur on the evening of October 8; this new year is the year 5780 in the Hebrew calendar.
Yesterday also began, for the 1 billion+ adherents of Hinduism around the world, the 9-day Festival of the Goddess Durga known as the Navratri. These are among the most auspicious days of the year in the Hindu religion, and while the whole country of India celebrates the Navratri, the festival is celebrated with a particular fervor in the Indian states of West Bengal (home to the Kali-centric city of Kolkata) and Gujarat.
I have been a devotee of the Goddess Durga for many years and in May of 2017, I became ritually recognized as such and underwent a Hindu ceremony to be placed under Her protection at the Shree Ganesh Temple of Chicago. Long-time readers of this blog will recall my first puja (devotional group ritual) I led in Her honor under the auspices of the Fellowship of Isis. My shrine to Durga is one of the most active ones in my Polytheist home and every morning, the pre-dawn skies bear witness to my practice of chanting japa before Her consecrated, awakened images.
As in the practices of approaching the Neteru, the Mighty Goddesses and Gods of ancient Egypt, there are edicts of ritual purity that have to be observed when coming before this beloved Warrior (Her very name means “Invincible”) and Mother Goddess of India in prayer and meditation. Physically bathing yourself (a quick shower is fine) first and then donning clean clothes is a must; I wear a natural, off-white-colored, linen ritual robe. Be barefoot. Offer Her flowers, powdered saffron or vermillion, clean water, ghee (Indian clarified butter, a staple in Indian grocery stores), and quince (Indian bel patra). Ensure that Her shrine is free of dust and clutter.
I highly recommend the mantras on this website for finding situation-specific Words of Power to chant to evoke Durga’s aid and celebrate Her glory. Her qualities of purity and righteousness become very palpable to me as I pray. Many people in contemporary, post-industrial Western Paganism and Polytheism, I’ve noted, like to disparage the concept of “righteousness,” which usually has negative connotations for them of the Abrahamic religions that they’ve fled, and I think that’s a shame. Burning brightly with a holy fire of righteousness is not a Deity attribute cornered by the Judeo-Christian market: many Holy Powers of other lands exude such a flame. Sekhmet (Egyptian) is righteous. Apollo (Greek) is righteous. Tlazolteotl (Aztec) is righteous. Obatala (Yoruban) is righteous. Heimdall (Norse) is righteous.
But no other Holy Power that I’ve devotionally encountered paradoxically combines this phenomenon of the attainment of peace through the exercise of righteous power like Durga does. Jai, jai Maa!
Two weeks ago, perhaps as a way to prepare me for this year’s Navratri, I had a strange dream. I was sitting on the front stoop of a brownstone building (the location could have been Chicago’s posh Lincoln Park neighborhood or mid-town Manhattan) with a friend and we were discussing the Goddess Durga. My friend wanted to know why Durga sports 10 arms and what the symbolic significance is of the objects (conch shell, trident, etc.) She holds in each hand.
I stood up to demonstrate the item held in each arm and as I did so, I magically sprouted an arm on my own body and manifested the object in my hand! By the time I extended my tenth arm, I transformed wholly into Durga Herself! The metamorphosis was lightning-quick (a lightning bolt is one of the items She holds!) and I simultaneously felt exhilarated and terrified as arms two through nine popped out of my body and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the mere act of lovingly describing Durga to my friend was magically resulting into my total transformation into Her. Sarava mangala mangalye! Sat nam!
One of my favorite coworkers in my department hails from the Indian state of Rajasthan and she is a devotee of Durga. This morning we wished each other a Happy Navratri and I told her about my dream. “Oh wow, She is looking out for you!” my coworker exclaimed. “Keep calling out to Her—who knows what good things She’ll help you manifest in the next 9 days?” I’ll keep you all posted!
I’d like to close with an excerpt from the 1909 Hymn to Durga composed by Sri Aurobindo:
Enter our bodies in thy Yogic strength. We shall become thy instruments, thy sword slaying all evil, thy lamp dispelling all ignorance.
Fulfill this yearning of thy young children, O Mother. Be the master and drive the instrument, wield thy sword and slay the evil, hold up the lamp and spread the light of knowledge.
Make thyself manifest.
And so it is!