It's kind of silly when Westerners try to be Easterners. I mean, I'm a white chick from Connecticut. I get that. It doesn't for one minute prevent me from being entranced by Navaratri, though, which is an Indian festival that celebrates nine (nava) nights (ratri) of the goddess. It didn't prevent me from getting fully decked out in a sari while I was in India, either.
It be a little silly but I'm not hurting anyone and I like goddesses and saris.
There are probably as many Navaratri traditions in India as there are deities (three hundred and thirty-three million at a minimum) so bear with me, okay? These are my own brief musings and certainly not definitive. Everything I know about these goddesses I've learned from Douglas, and he is the authority, but I've grouped them slightly differently than he normally does so be sure you catch one of his lectures on the subject.
Navaratri began in the darkness of Friday's new moon. Those first three nights are dedicated to Kali (or Durga but for our purposes let's say Kali), who is always the darkness of potency and all that is possible. Just as the dark night sky allows us to see by starlight, it is the darkness behind closed eyelids that empowers the yogin to discern a light that shines from within.
As yogins might liken Kali to an opening energy, for it is from within her infinite potency that the universe expands into every form that is possible. I've already written about Kali here and here, so I'm not going to say more than that today.
The middle three nights of Navaratri are devoted to Lakshmi, goddess of abundance. Lakshmi is the the goddess who rises from a lotus flower in a red sari, and who spills from her palms an endless, flowing river of gold coins. She signifies abundance, value and beneficence.
Although the festival lasts only nine days and doesn't actually fall over the full moon, I would liken Lakshmi to the full moon anyway. Bear with me. Lakshmi shines generously; it's what she does. She doesn't keep a tally. She's simply generous. Without fail, she gives the best of herself. She gives and gives and gives without ever being diminished. It's her nature.
These final three nights are devoted to Sarasvati. Saras means essence, or flow. Sarasvati is the goddess who is the essence or flow. It's no surprise, then, that she is a river goddess.
She is the one who sips from the inexhaustible resource of her own eternally flowing wellspring. She is the one whose stream of consciousness bubbles up spontaneously from within.
Sarasvati is a goddess of refinement, of literature and poetry, and of mantra and japa (the repetition of mantra.) In one hand she holds a mala of prayer beads which is none other than the very garland of letters of the sanskrit alphabet. One who holds the alphabet in the palm her hand is the mistress of language. She may wield the words of her own choosing.
She is a keeper of wisdom. In her left hand she holds the book of sacred teachings known as The Veda. Sometimes, at this time of year, books are placed upon the altar to be worshipped.
(Seriously, how can I not adore a culture that knows how to properly worship books?)
Artistic by nature, Sarasvati is also a muscian and holds a vina, which is a stinged instrument sort of like a lute.
(I have often mused that it's people who love music, and words, and the musicality of words, who are drawn to love this particular yoga of ours. I mean, I haven't conducted an actual formal study, or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.)
She is garbed in white and keeps a swan for a companion. (The swan is significant. Note to self: write a post about that sometime soon.)
Clad in white, she shimmers like moonlight upon the surface of night water. As such, she is the goddess who reflects upon her own deep waters, and recognizes herself as a revelation, and thus she is the patron of the arts. What is art but an offering of inspiration and deep recognition that arises from self-reflection?
As the goddess of artistic refinement, I'm going to liken her to the waning moon, which pares and whittles itself away during the second half of the month. The artistic editorial process belongs to her. She prunes back everything that's unnecessary, leaving only what is essential.
She is the essential self that seeks infinite expression but has cultivated technique and skill enough to know that great art doesn't happen any old way but must happen in a certain way. She contracts to create something that is ultimately more because it is less.
The point is not to be rigid, though. These goddesses mean to give us glimpses of insight into ourselves and so, when we know how to do it skillfully, we may move them around the board to suit ourselves. Dogma is anethma.
So, Happy Navaratri. Celebrate however you like. If you want to wrap yourself in a sari, stack gold bangles up your arms and light lamps in the dark then your secret is safe with me, even if you live in Connecticut.
I'm certainly not going to tell.