Navaratri means the new night or the nine nights that give deep rest to the body, mind and soul. As it takes nine months in our mother’s womb before we are born, we take these nine days to go back to our source. ‘Nava’ means ‘nine’ and ‘ratri’ is made up of ‘ra’ which also means ‘night’ and ‘tri’ meaning the three aspects of our life — body, mind and soul. There are three types of problems that may affect a person: physical, mental and spiritual. That which gives you relief from all these difficulties is ‘ratri’. ‘Ratri’ or night relieves you of misery and brings comfort. It takes you in its arms and helps you sleep. Even birds and animals go to sleep at night. The night relaxes everybody; whether happy, unhappy or miserable, everybody goes to sleep.
The nine-day period of Navaratri is marked by a series of yagna and homas. These yagnas are not for the sages who perform them, but for the entire Universe — to nullify all the misery, sorrow and pain in the world. They have the power to nullify the negative karmas and create positive vibrations and celebration.
In life, there are positive and negative qualities that affect us. Navaratri tells us how the negativity can be conquered by the inherent positive qualities in an individual so that one can emerge as a Divine being.
Homas are ancient ways of purifying the individual and collective consciousness. They have three aspects. Deva puja, honouring the divine in all its forms; Sangatikarana, hastening the process of evolution by bringing together all the elements in creation; and Dana, sharing your blessings.
During these nine nights, all the aartis are performed for the Devi — the enjoyer of everything. Each day of the nine-day period has special implications and yagnas and homas are performed accordingly. Among the things offered to the fire are hundreds of different herbs, fruits, garments and mantras. Our ancestors felt the inadequacy of words; so they expressed themselves with symbols. For instance, we offer flowers and fruit to God. The flower is a symbol of what we are — so full, attractive, light and beautiful. Fruits symbolise completeness. In the life cycle of a plant, fruits signify completeness. Also, the fruit is the ultimate result. That is how we feel when we offer the symbolic fruit to God with gratitude.
We also light lamps; sometimes tall brass lamps with a swan carved at the top. This is a very beautiful symbol. It means that with the light of knowledge, one attains ‘viveka’, a characteristic of the swan. In Sanskrit, it is called ‘Neerakshiraviveka’: a swan can differentiate between milk and water even when they are mixed. The Devi took nine days to rest. What was born on the tenth day was pure love and devotion.