The Navratri is the celebration of the Mother Goddess cult in India. It involves the worship of the primordial female energy, the energy which gives birth to new life and generative power. The worship of mother goddess cult can be seen all across the world in different forms.
Egyptians worshipped Mut, Isis and a few others, the Babylonians worshipped Tiamat, and the Sumerians worshipped Innana. The Greeks had the cult of Cybele, besides the worshipping of Gaia and Rhea. Similarly, the Irish, the Nordic and all the major cultures of the world had the concept of a mother goddess cult. So what is behind the cult of Mother Goddess that is so prevalent across the world which has some cultures still following the rituals associated with it?
In all major cultures, creation was either by a single unidentified (or not so distinctly clarified) principle or a male principle with the help of a female principle, but the initiation was by a single dominant force which ‘seemed’ to be male. But the successive generations came with the help of a female principle for both human beings and other living organism. Even if science had not proven that this union was necessary, this had been assimilated well by the primordial man, and thus emerged the significance of the cult of a goddess who soon took the form of a Mother Goddess. The concept of mother goddess was also similar to the concept of Earth goddess in many cultures, which takes one back to the principle of fertility and the concept of fertility goddesses and rituals associated with it.
Here, this Navratri, let us understand the different forms of the goddess –
The fourth day of the Navratri is associated with Godess Bhuvaneshwari – Bhuvaneshwari is one of the important forms of the Mother Goddess, who is responsible for giving a form and shape to the universe. She gets her name from the words ‘bhuvan’ meaning universe and ‘eswari’ meaning the ruler. She is invoked by uttering “Hreem” which is considered to be as powerful as the “Om”. She is always depicted as smiling and two of her four hands are always in the blessing form. She is bedecked in gold jewelry and is supposed to be residing in “manidwipam”, a land of gold, silver and jewels, which is guarded by powerful gods like Agni, Vayu amongst others. She is a giver of boon, which not only includes material forms, but also knowledge, health and happiness. She thus seems to be the embodiment of later goddesses like Saraswati, Lakshami and even Parvati.
The fifth day of the Navratri is associated with Chinnamastaa – Chinnamastaa or Chinnamastika is a ferocious aspect of the Mother goddess cult. The depiction of Chinnamastaa is often quite gory and repulsive as it is shown as a self-decapitated goddess holding her severed head in one hand and a small sword in the other hand with jets of blood flowing from her neck, which again is being drunk by two of her attendants (Dakini and Varnini) and herself! She is often depicted as standing on a copulating couple. Chinnamastaa is associated with the Tantrik form of worshipping and is seldom associated with individual worship, and temples of her are found in the Northern parts of India and Nepal. The ferocious and the gory form are associated with self-sacrifice and self-control – self-control of sexual energy at the same time as the epitome of sexual energy, depending on the interpretation. There are different versions to this form of the goddess. According to one, Parvati was once having a bath in the river Mandakini and while bathing she gets so aroused sexually that she turns black. Around the same time her attendants feel very hungry. Parvati tells then that she would give them food when they reached home, but later relents to their hunger, by severing her head and feeding the attendants with her own blood. The myth brings out the element of motherhood curtailing the sexual hunger of her own self. There are different versions to this myth, but this seems to be the most apt, if we go with what the goddess stands for. The significance of the copulating couple can be seen as the concept of sexual energy giving birth to life, along with the urge to suspend the energy for the call of motherhood which needs to be able to sustain even if it meant to satiate that urge with one’s own blood! (There may be many more esoteric and philosophic explanations besides this, but let’s keep the matter sweet and simple)
The sixth day of the Navratri is associated with Bhairavi – Bhairavi is another terrifying form of the goddess which sometimes gets confused with the Kali form of the goddess. Bhairavi is also referred to as Baala or Tripurabhairavi and as part of the nine day battle waged by Goddess Durga, when she entered the battle field, the asuras ran away in fear. She however, killed the two fearsome asuras Chanda and Munda and thus is also referred to as Chamundeshwari. Besides the two, she is also supposed to have killed two of the most important asuras - Shumbha and Nishumbha. Bhairavi, is shown on a donkey when angry.
At the end of the day, these are different form of the same Mother Goddess, i.e. Goddess Durga.