Sanatana Dharma is all about celebration and we have numerous celebrations all through the year. Navratri is a celebration of Devi Shakti as Navadurgas in particular and that of feminine divinity in general. We celebrate Devi Durga in Her nine forms and all three Devis Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati during the course of 10 days. The first three days are for Devi Durga, next three for Devi Lakshmi and last three are for worshipping Devi Saraswati.
Mahakala Samhita says that there are 4 Navratris in a Hindu year; namely Chaitra, Sharad, Magha Gupt Navratri and Ashada Gupt Navratri. Depending on the Yuga each of the Navratris becomes significant during that Yuga. Chaitra Vasant Navratri is the most important one in Satya Yuga, Ashada Gupt Navratri in Treta Yuga, Magha Gupt Navratri in Dwapar Yuga and Sharad Navratri becomes the most significant of the four during the present Yuga i.e. Kali Yuga.
Navratri is a nine-night-and-ten-day Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of Devi Durga over the Asura Mahishasura. Although different texts mention different forms of Devi slaying Mahishasura; according to some it is Bhadrakali, according to some other it is Ugrachandi and yet others say that it is Devi in the form of Katyayani who slayed Mahishasura. Whatever the form the most important thing is slaying of the demon and victory of Devi that we celebrate. Vijay Dashami or Dusshera celebrates both the slaying of Mahishasura by Devi Durga and Shri Rama’s win in the battle against Ravana.
Vasant Navratri falls in the Hindu month of Chaitra, the first month in the Hindu calendar. Rama Navami, birth of Shri Rama, falls on the Navami tithi during Vasant Navratri. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Magh and mostly in the Northern parts of India. Navratri that falls in the Hindu month of Ashada is known as Ashada Gupt Navratri and also as Gayatri Navratri. Sharadiya Navratri, celebrated during Sharad Ritu of the Hindu month Ashwin, is the most significant among all four. Hence it is also known as Maha Navratri. It was in the period of Sharad Navratri that Shri Rama prayed to Devi Durga seeking Her blessings before going into battle against Ravana.
Depending on the Sampradaya nine forms of Devi Durga are worshipped during the nine days. Shaiva Sampradaya lists the forms of Devi as Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. Other Sampradayas follow their own lists of deities to be worshipped through the nine days of Navratri festivities. Whatever the forms we may worship, all are but various manifestations of Devi Durga who is ultimately Devi Parvati or Devi Shakti Herself. It is said that Devi sat on the tip of the needle to do Tapas for nine days and nights so as to acquire the necessary powers to slay Mahishasura.
Nine forms of Devi Durga worshipped during Navratri are: Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri. These nine forms correspond with the different life phases of Devi Parvati.
In the beginning of the universe when Shakti was needed for completing the process of creation Mahadev separated Adi-Shakti from the left half of His body and Devi then appeared in the form of Siddhidatri to help complete the process of creating the universe and all life forms contained within it. Kushmanda means one who has the ability to dwell inside the sun. When Devi took the form of Siddhidatri she dwelled in the centre of the sun and hence the name Kushmanda. Shiva is incomplete without Shakti which is detrimental to the universe. Therefore, Devi had promised to be reunited with Him at the appropriate time. To fulfil this wish She took birth as Sati in Daksh Prajapati’s house. The unmarried form of Devi Sati is worshipped as Devi Brahmacharini.
After giving up Her life as Sati, as a result of Daksh’s insult of Mahadev, Devi was reborn as Parvati so as to be ultimately united with Shiva. Parvati was the daughter of Himalaya and hence She is known as Shailputri meaning daughter of the mountain. The next form of Devi is Mahagauri. She acquires this name because of Her fair complexion. After marrying Lord Shiva, She begins wearing ardh-chandra on Her forehead which gives Her the name Chandraghanta.
When Lord Skanda (Kartikeya) is born She is given the name Skandamata meaning mother of Skanda. Devi Parvati takes the form of Kalaratri to kill Asuras Shumba and Nishumba. Since Her skin is dark in colour She is called Kalaratri. In order to fight and slay Mahishasura, Devi Durga took the form of Katyayani. She is a warrior goddess who is a combination of the energies of all Devas. It is said that She was pleased with the years of Tapas of Rishi Katyayan and incarnated as his daughter. Therefore, She was given the name Katyayani.
Just as varied as our Bharatvarsha is, so do the celebrations vary!!! Devi is invited into the homes of Bhakts where She is worshipped for nine nights and ten day. Sarvajanik Pandals install images of Devi Durga as per Vedic rituals and conduct Puja until Dusshera/Vijay Dashami. In Maharashtra Gatasthapana, a ritual inviting the goddess (avahan) is done on Pratipada i.e. first day of Navratri. In Gujarat, ras and garba are performed during the nine nights. In South India, dolls are displayed in a number of steps (odd numbers such as 3, 5 etc) known as Golu in Tamil Nadu and Bomme Habba in Karnataka. In Assam and West Bengal Durga Puja celebrations begin from Shashti and conclude with Durga Visarjan. Navratri is the time when Ramlila is conducted in North India Many people observe fasts and do Kanya Puja during this time.
The first three days are for worshipping Devi Durga who is an embodiment of Shakti. The next three days are for Devi Lakshmi who represents wealth and prosperity and the last three days are dedicated to Devi Saraswati. This implies moving from materialistic to spiritual realm which comes from acquiring knowledge.
Whatever be the form of Devi that we worship and the style of celebration that we undertake, the ultimate goal is to realise that it is from Shakti that all creation emerges and it is into Shakti that everything will be withdrawn ultimately. Hinduism is the only religion that celebrates the feminine in all Her glory.