We are in the middle of the Hindu festival of Navaratri (September 28-Oct 6, 2011) meaning nine nights. There are several Navaratris and this one is the most celebrated. It is a time of mental clean-out!
Shiva is Supreme Consciousness and Shakti is Cosmic Energy in yoga. Shiva has no form of expression without Shakti and Shakti cannot exist without Shiva. Shakti is worshiped in rituals (vary throughout the country) in the form of a goddess. The female form can be as divine as the male. Shakti takes many forms and in this Navaratri, she is generally celebrated as Durga/Kali, Laxmi, and Saraswati.
In the Fall Navaratri, the first three nights are for ritual worship of Durga. She is a fiercely compassionate form of divine energy who overcomes the asura demon Mahishasura. The demon is all the negative or tamasic qualities of the mind. The tamasic elements keep us inert to realization of the absolute reality and keep us grounded in the illusion of apparent reality. In yoga meditation, the first step is seeing, confronting, and eliminating the toxic qualties of our minds. Their clouded mental veil blocks our vision of our true selves. Homes are vigorously cleaned, decluttered, and debts are settled.
The next three days are devoted to Laxmi. The radiant goddess of wealth and abundance enters the fied mind. She bestows monetary wealth and all other forms of postive wealth and signifies rajas (active energy). Tamasic inertia has been eliminated to be replaced by rajasic activity that can achieve the desired goal of a vision and realization of the absolute reality. In yoga, the right effort is made in meditation. Homes, shops, towns are lit with colorful lights, handmade clay butter lamps, and decorated with beautiful geometric designs of rangoli made with colored rice flour (like mandalas). This is to invite and welcome Laxmi. She cannot enter a dirty and dark place.
The last three days are devoted to Saraswati. She brings the wisdom of insight and right knowledge. She signfies sattwa (purity). She enables the realization of the absolute truth or reality. The essence of absolute reality is peace and joy.
This victory of realization is celebrated with food and dances on Vijayadashmi, the tenth day.
Navaratri is a time of cleaning homes and cleaning minds. There is fasting, worship, spiritual reading, meditation, followed by joyous dancing and feasting. Gujarat is well-known for its colorful dances of garba and dandiya during the nine days of navaratri.