A quick post today on the Devi.
At present, this is the Hindu Ashwin month and the bright fortnight, Shukla paksh. The first 9 days of this month from the first day, Pratipada to the ninth day, Navami are dedicated to the worship of the Devi Shakti. She is the active energy of the Tamo-gun the wife of Mahadev-Shiv.
On each day, one of her forms is worshipped and on the tenth day, Dasera/ Vijayadashmi the puja comes to a conclusion. This puja is called the Nav-ratri, the nine-nights and also called Durga-puja. The theme is that Devi fought against the armies of the demons, killing their army-generals on each day and killed their King, Mahishasur on the tenth day. This story is described in the book Durga Saptashati/ Devi Mahatmya.
These nine day/nights are full of joy and power as everyone worships the Devi in whatever form they feel drawn to. If you are drawn to the Saumya forms you will worship these, Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidhatri forms of the Devi. Regular people should do pujas of only these forms of the Devi.
(The Ugra forms of the Devi are the 10 Mahavidya-s, Kali, Tara, Shodashi, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Matangi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi (Valagamukhi) and Kamala. Normal people should not worship these as these are quite Ugra, very strict and terrifying. Make one mistake in their pujas and you will be in serious trouble. There are some astrologers who give mantras of these Devi’s as remedies to clients. Avoid. It can backfire quite spectacularly.)
In West India, people play Garbha, it is a dance to songs in praise of the Devi. This is performed at night for the Devi. In North India people do puja of Vishnu in his Ram form at night and celebrate by enacting his Ramayan story in public performances called Ram-Lila. Which to my mind makes no sense as this period should be utilized to the max for personal spiritual growth. But then Garbha and even the Ram-Lila is good for the general public.
Now a secret, there are actually 4 Nav-ratri in a year. All four of them have a different energy character. The real aspirant of the Devi will know how to use each one of them differently. The first 9 nights, Nav-ratri of the bright half, Shukla-paksha of the four months named Chaitra, Ashadh, Ashwin and Magh are brimming with energy. One should use them actively, not waste even one single night.
The navratri in Chaitra month (March-April) is full of solar energies. The energies go outward, radiate. You can feel the lightness and the golden radiance during these days/nights. Most people worship Ram/ Vishnu and some worship the Devi during this period. The Indian new year also starts with Chaitra, the first day of this navratri. (This was the day Shri Ram was crowned the King of Ayodhya as per the original Sanskrit Ramayan). This Navratri ends with Ram-navmi, dedicated to worship of Ram/Vishnu. The Devi is in a mature and happy form here. So any pujas you perform with her in mind are very successful.
Then the Ashadh month is the monsoon (June-July). The Navratri which falls in this month is called the secret/ Gupt navratri, ordinary people do not even know about this. This period is highly conducive for all types of energy manipulations, tantra and secret pujas. The Devi is in her contemplative form here, rather serious and silent. Here her pujas are also secret and serious. If you worship a Ugra/terrifying form of the Devi this navratri would give you the best results. This is just for information, do not attempt these things without a proper Guru.
The Ashwin navrati is full of lunar energies so is the best for Devi puja. So if you really want to get that push, do not waste even one night of these nine nights. The Devi is in her benevolent form, ready to be pleased. So whatever simple pujas you perform with intention, she will accept as a doting mother does. This is going on at present and everyone is doing something special for Her.
Then is the Magh navratri (January-February). This is a highly auspicious period. On the fourth day/chaturthi of this navratri, Ganapati is worshipped. This is one of the best days in the year for any puja of Ganapati. (The other is the Bhadrapad Shukla chaturthi). Ganapati is the energy who allows the aspirant entry into the Brahmanadi. He is the pratham-pujya, the one who is worshipped first. Then on the fifth day-panchami of this Nav-ratri, the Devi in her Saraswati form is worshipped. This day is called Vasant-panchami and is exclusive for Gayatri mantra sadhana. The seventh day-Saptami of this navratri, is for worshipping the Sun, it is called Rath-saptami. These three days of this navratri are very powerful in themselves, all Hindus will do pujas on these days. But if you are performing some Devi puja in the background for the nine days, your power will be enhanced even more.
So what Devi puja should you do? Most families/cultures have their own system for worshipping the Devi, so follow whatever your culture, home-tradition does. Some set up a kalash for the pujas, some will bring an idol of the Devi and then immerse it in the sea on the tenth day, some people fast etc. It is all very joyful and full of energy. Keep your intention clear and your faith pure.
But for the more serious aspirant, read the Devi Mahatmya /Durga Saptashati. Read it in Sanskrit, not some translated version. Even if you do not understand what you are reading the mantra-s will do their work. There are some rules on how to read it, in which order the chapters should be recited and the use of the Nav-avarna mantra etc. There are typical ways of reading it and also for doing other types of rituals using mantras from it, but these things are not for general people. So do not over-think and get confused. You should read the Devi Mahatmya just as you would read a book, from page one to the last page with full intention and faith. (Use the Gita press version of the book, pdf link here.) Or if you cannot read it (most of us have forgotten our real mother tongue Devbhasha Samskrutam), this is a very beautiful rendition by Premprakash Dubey, perfect pronunciation and voice, it is for 2hrs 20mins. Listen to it in its entirety, everyday of the Navratri if you can. Or if you cannot spare the time, listen to one chapter per day (something is always better than nothing).
Now again for the serious aspirant. The real Devi puja is always performed at night, from 9-pm to 3-am. This period is very useful for doing any sort of practice where you need to still your mind and focus. The dominating gun during this period is called the Vishuddha-Tama-gun. It is enveloping, still and very dense, so the mind cannot wander much. So when you give your mind a mantra and focus it will follow your Will more easily. Try it for yourself.
There was a question in the Contact form on using the mantras from the Devi Mahatmya book. Do understand that these are quite powerful and their detailed use cannot be described through a blog. But if you do even this much with intention, the Devi will give you what you desire and if you need to do more complicated pujas, She will arrange it for you.
Indian festivals are full of joy and happiness. There is energy radiating everywhere, whatever you do, do it with all your heart. Even if you offer Her one single flower with your full intention she will accept it. She is not outside of you, She is your own conscience. If you are satisfied with what you have done, so will She. So enjoy the Navratri and may the blessings of the Devi be on you.
(Edit: The names of the names of the 4 Nav-ratris are Kaal-ratri, Maha-ratri Moha-ratri and Darun-ratri. These are described in the Tantrokta Ratri sukta from the Devi Mahatmya. This is my favourite sukta, have listened to this rendition for hours on a loop and also performed its homa.)