Guest Blog by Alx Uttermann: What is Navarathri & Why Should You Care About It?

Navarathri is coming!

It's a powerful time, The Nine Days Of Mother Divine festival that happens twice a year, once in the spring, and once in the fall.

Why is this important?

Nature - the doorway between the natural and the supernatural

In the Vedic tradition from India, the cycles of Nature's energy are observed, and interacted with, in a dynamic fashion -- bringing the constant presence of the supernatural into the natural world through ancient spiritual technologies ranging from specific meditations to fire homas (yagyams, agni hotras, havans or fire ceremonies).

In our world, the summer and the winter are the two extremes of the seasons -- the seasons of dual polarity, between the light and heat and height of summer's brightness, and the dark, cold, short days of winter's darkness.   the two seasons are literally day and night, in the big picture.

In between the night and day of winter and summer, are the in-between times, like the dawn and dusk times, of spring and fall.  as transitional times between the two poles of light and dark, the dawn and dusk are considered a little shaky, unstable -- a time when the energy of nature, of humanity, of the supernatural, is flowing between the cracks of the more fixed poles (summer/winter)... and as such, during this time, Mother Divine (responsible for all of this manifest creation) is a little more prone to throw illusions, tricks, games, smoke and mirrors, and purification challenges to humanity at large, global-wide.  (whether we notice it or not).

Sooooooo -- the Vedic saints and seers figured out that by observing The Nine Days Of Mother Divine, the Navarathri, in both the spring and the summer, honoring the Mother and Her Nine Planets (those astrological grahas, or 'pulls', on humanity) in a beautiful way, they could -- we could -- help to calm down Mother's wild maya and illusions during this time, and extract the nectar of Her blessing and love and pure compassion instead. even in the face of the maya -- going through the illusions of nature to touch Her supernatural creation abilities and blessings, and bring them INTO this nature in a focused, profound way.

And soooo, voila, we have Navarathri  

Nava = nine (think the Catholic tradition of "novena," nine days of saying the rosary - which contains high-level prayers to Mother as Mary).  Rathri literally means 'evening', or 'night', so the festival's real name is the Nine Nights Of Mother Divine.... but somehow the convention in English has become about the days.

Mother as Durga, riding her tiger into battle, with all her weapons

On the Navarathri in the fall (the one my tradition observes every year), there is a 10th day -- the Victory Day, or Vijaya Dashami, or Dassara (in South India).

This auspicious day is the day upon which the Mother in a fierce form as [insert name here - there are many - like Kali, Durga, Mahisasura Mardini, Chamundi, etc.,] defeats the worst negativity as epitomized by Yet Another Demon run amok, trying to dominate the planet (and other realms) through a boon obtained by Shiva, God the Father.   (yes, even the demons worship god -- it's an interesting twist in the Vedic understanding of the forces of light and dark in this planet. more about that some other time.)

Who is this Mother Divine & why is She important? 

In the Vedic system, the divine energy of god is viewed as kind of a yin yang, with both the divine masculine (God the Father) and divine feminine (God the Mother), inextricably entwined and working together, dissolved into one being yet retaining separate energy identities as well.

The God the Father, Shiva, in his transcendental (formless) state as Paramashiva, is the Silence, the primordial bliss of the nothing, the space, that lies behind and within everything in this creation.  (think about how much space is between all the molecular, atomic and sub-atomic particles in your own body -- in fact, you are composed of more space than solid matter! -- and you have an idea of Shiva. or -- the space between the stars in the sky -- same.)

The God the Mother, Shakti (meaning 'power'), is the movement, the creation energy, in this universe -- She is the one who creates all the different forms of the energy (using Shiva's silence to do so), and the different souls.  from a blade of grass to an elephant to a human being, everything in this creation is coming from the Mother.  because all living things are temporary in their life-cycles, they are considered to be 'illusion,' aka 'maya,' in Sanskrit -- meaning these forms are not eternal.  they are here for a while, then dissolve back again into creation.

As Hamlet's mother tells her son so brilliantly in Shakespeare's colossal Shiva-lila play, Hamlet:  "Thou know't 'tis common. All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity." this is the essence of the illusion-creation of Mother's nature in this world.... ultimately everything dissolves back to the eternal, immortal silence/light that is Shiva.
"This creation is nothing but a romance between Shiva and Shakti." - Sri Kaleshwar 
I often think of the dance between Shiva and Shakti, Father and Mother, as the way sub-atomic particles operate -- in an atom, we are told, the nucleus is stable, unmoving, composed of neutrons and protons... but the electrons that are in orbit around the nucleus are in constant motion, a swirl of energy, and can bond with other atoms to create molecules.   Shiva is to me like the unmoving core of the atom, while Mother's wild movement, always abuzz with the energy of creating, creating, creating, is like the electrons flying around, just wanting to connect and create. 

How can we understand Her? 

Understanding the Mother and Her ways is a key cornerstone in spiritual awakening.  how She operates the maya, the illusion, (like the Matrix, or the 'veils' that some traditions talk about), is a huge concept and chapter of human awareness.  Her maya -- this world -- isn't a malevolent thing, or a bad deal in any sense, although the dramas are gripping enough that sometimes it seems like it's a bad thing.

The maya, the big illusion, is simply a part of Her nature -- 50% Mother is a huge loving Mother, who will drop everything when Her children cry out in need, and take care of their every wish.  but the other 50% of Her nature is the maya -- the smoke and mirrors of testings, of reflection in the mirror of nature (via the vehicle of karma), and can seem challenging, painful, even tragic when we look around the world and see so much, so much, suffering everywhere.

One of the deep levels in advanced spirituality lies in grokking enough about Mother's operating system to be able to handle and negotiate through Her maya, while keeping the focus and internal awareness on Her loving nature, Her pure heart, Her only real quality as a loving Mother who wants to help each soul wake up to itself as equal to Her.
Like any human mother, the Divine Mother only wants to see Her children grow up and be functional adults.  in the divine reckoning, 'functional adult' means a siddha -- a supernaturally aware, enlightened character who knows the Mother directly because they've encountered Her, in person, directly, and interact with Her on that level repeatedly (for the benefit of humanity).  She needs her enlightened souls as much as we need Her -- and so, the balance and symbiosis of the spiritual evolution of this world is partly in Her beloved hands.

When you want to know the Mother, deeply, She is extremely interested in you and will -- must! -- reflect Her energy and blessing to you.  eventually, if you're versed in the right spiritual techniques and meditation practices, and linked to a spiritual guide who already knows Mother well, you can have the experience of meeting Her, in a 3-d form, in the flesh, as it were, in a darshan ('seeing directly') experience.

pages from an ancient palm-leaf manuscript,
showing Shiva's structure (left) and Mother's (right)

Many great saints of recent history, from Sri Ramakrishna to Paramahansa Yogananda, wrote beautifully about their experiences in darshan and communication with Mother Divine as Kali, a fierce form of Her energy structure.

My master, Sri Kaleshwar, also was in constant communion with the Mother Divine, and was able -- through Her grace and the help of the ancient saints -- to introduce many of his students to Her, also as a form of Kali, over the years. (you can see the poem I wrote about one such experience with Mother Kali here on this blog.)

Mother is universal 
"Mother is Mother, to every soul in the universe. She doesn't belong to any religion." - Sri Kaleshwar
Finally, it doesn't matter what name you call Her -- from Kali to Nature, Kuan Yin or Mother Mary or Magdalene, Isis or Fatima or Shekinah, Hecate or Athene -- the Mother is the Mother.  She is a primordial part of our creation, in all Her feminine forms... and through every human female, as well.

On Navarathri, we are recreating the way that Mother Kali -- a fierce, peak form of Ma -- was created time and again, throughout recorded (and Vedic) history... if you read the Devi Baghavatam, the puranas (epic stories) of Mother Divine, you'll see the same theme over and over, replay itself along the lines of a familiar script:

A demon, a powerful negative soul, gets a boon from Shiva (god the father), and then runs amok in the creation, killing everything divine through the superiorness the boon lent him. the divines alone -- male and female gods, angels, rishis, avatars, etc., -- are no match for this evil force, powered as it is by a divine boon -- and so need to band together, each putting a piece of their soul essences together into a big fire homa, and out of that blinding, blazing primordial fire comes a fierce, intense form of Mother Divine. She is then the sum total of ALL the divinity in the creation, and armed with the weapons of the various gods and goddesses, She goes onto the battlefield and destroys the otherwise invincible demon -- the intense, cumulative negativity that's been building up -- in a fierce, final battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  

Only a female character can defeat the worst negativity.


Because ultimately, everything is going back to the womb of creation, the womb of the Mother Divine's energy -- She made the lion, She made the lamb, and all light and all dark is coming from Her.  She is the only one who can absorb, dissolve that peak negativity back into Her cosmic womb.

The Nine Days Of Mother - Navarathri

During the Nine Days, then, we create this creation of the Mother -- each day bringing another form of Mother into the holy fires.  though traditions vary in their approach to Mother Divine's Nine Days, ranging from the Durga puja in Bengal, to different traditional ways of seeing Mother's energy form, in our tradition we are going for the supernatural mechanisms, writ large.

We begin with the first three days dedicated to Maha Kali -- the Destroyer Mother, in the G-O-D formula -- god/goddess as Generator-Operator-Destroyer.   I love these three days the most -- feeling the fierce Kali/Durga energy build up, and come into form.  She has so much love, so much fierce protection feeling, that She will come to right the wrongs of our world, and re-balance the creation again (she appears on the 10th day, neutralizing the demon energies on the last day, in the Dassara, or Victory Day). Mother Kali comes to destroy our crazy negativity and blocks, first, so that we can go through the rest of the Navarathri in a clear, clear way, able to receive Her blessings in the more gentle, beautiful forms of Mother.

Lakshmi fire homa, Los Angeles, 2015 Navarathri

The next three days are dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance (both material and spiritual). She is the mate of Vishnu, the Operator, in this illusion creation -- responsible for all the dualities of the material world, the ups and downs of poverty vs prosperity, good health vs illness, attachment and detachment in relationships, spiritual awakening or ignorance.

Finally, the last three days are dedicated to Saraswati, the pure goddess of knowledge, of the arts, and of sadhana.  She is the Shakti, the power, linked with Brahma, the Generator energy in this world -- in the formula of G.O.D., Generator-Operator-Destoyer -- She is the knowledge of HOW the whole thing gets created in the first place. and how the illusion operates.  and who is Mother, who is Father, for real. once we've been through the destruction of our crazy negativity from Kali/Durga, and the gentle, pure blessings flowing from Lakshmi, we can then absorb/implement the knowledge of how the consciousness works, to bring it to this world, to help heal and uplift humanity.

As within, so without - the microcosm is the macrocosm

All of this discussion of Mother and Father, Shakti and Shiva, the different forms and energies of the Mother, and of the negativity, is really talking about the internal mechanisms that each of us is experiencing as we walk through the journey of our lives.

Jagadambe, Mother of the Universe,
with the three deities representing the forces of the G-O-D,
Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva

We describe these forms of energies, these forces in the world -- as external forces (and sure, they are!) -- while at the same time, we are also containers for the Mother/Father energy, we also have negative impulses and behaviors that spring up in us (or blossom into full-blown character defects) like those the demons represent (especially egoism, greed, pride, arrogance, feeling left out, insecurity, etc.), and we also have a fierce divine consciousness inside, that can (and does!) rise up to destroy the negativity we're self-creating in our own heads, hearts, and lives.

So the promise of Navarathri -- and the beauty of it -- is that the whole creation is engaged in this rise-and-fall cycle of negativity run amok, then the creation of the Mother in a peak form to destroy it. while She is coming into that fierce form, Nature itself (inside and out) is swirling through negativity, anxiety, a feeling of divine instability, like not quite knowing what's happening or how to feel grounded/sensible.... and then, omg, the intense relief of the Dassara, or Victory Day -- when all is -- for a while -- peaceful, restored, harmonious, clean and clear again.

Holy Navarathri fires in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz 

During this auspicious time, I will be doing (through UCBK) powerful fire homas, one for each of the three days of the Navarathri and the culmination of Dassara, here in Los Angeles.  each fire brings the forms and blessings of the Mother, and the concomitant upliftment associated with that given form.

(a taste from a recent Ganesh fire homa in Los Angeles)

Even if you're not in Los Angeles or Santa Cruz -- in fact, wherever you are in the world! -- you can still receive the blessing, healing, awakening energy from these fires, by sponsoring the fires (either individually or as a major 10-in-1 discount) on your own behalf or for a loved one(s) in need.

You can see the details on the UCBK web page, for Los Angeles-based holy fires, about the fires, the times, the dates and the rates.

Offerings going into the holy fire to receive Mother's blessing

And if you're not inclined to sponsor a homa specifically, you can still receive the blessing of Navarathri fires by 'tuning in' at the listed times and praying/meditating on the Mother, however you call Her or think of Her, opening your heart to Her energy and love, in front of a candle flame.

Enjoy this blessed time of Navarathri!  may Mother's blessings and love pour into your heart, your life and your times...

If you have any questions about how Navarathri or Mother Divine, feel free to email me here.

Jai Ma!