This article is a chapter from the book The Devi Mahatmya.
Religious observances, traditional worship and Vratas at times have more than one significance. Apart from being the adoration of the Divine, they are commemorative of stirring bygone events, allegoric when interpreted from the Occult standpoint, and lastly deeply significant pointers and revealing guides to the Jiva on his path to Realisation.
Outwardly, the nine days’ worship of Devi or the Mother is in the nature of a Vijaya-Utsava. These nine days’ triumph are offered to the Mother for Her successful struggle with the formidable demons led by Sumbha and Nisumbha. But to the spiritual aspirant in his life of Sadhana, the particular division of the Navaratri into sets of three days to adore different aspects of the Supreme Goddess has got a very sublime yet thoroughly practical truth to reveal. In its cosmic aspect it epitomises the stages of the evolution of Man into God, from Jivahood to Sivahood. In its individual import it shows the course that his spiritual Sadhana should take.
Now, the central purpose of existence is to recognise your eternal identity with the Supreme Spirit. It is to grow into the image of the Divine. The Supreme One embodies the highest perfection. It is spotless purity, Niranjana. To recognise your identity with That, to attain union with That, is verily to grow into the very likeness of the Divine. The Sadhaka has, therefore, as the initial step, to get rid first of all the countless impurities, and the undivine elements that have come to cling to him in his embodied state. Then he has to acquire lofty virtues, auspicious Divine qualities. Thus purified and rendered full of Sattva, Knowledge flashes upon him like the brilliant rays of the Sun upon the crystal waters of a perfectly calm lake.
This process of Sadhana implies resolute will, determined effort and arduous struggle. In other words, strength, infinite Sakti, is the prime necessity. It is the Divine Mother, Supreme Sakti of Brahman, that has to operate through the aspirant. Then consider how on the first three days Mother is adored as Power, Force—Durga the Terrible. You pray to Mother Durga to destroy all your impurities, your vices, your defects. She is to fight with and annihilate the baser animal qualities in the Sadhaka, the lower Asura in his nature. Also, She is the Power that protects your Sadhana from its many dangers and pitfalls. Thus the first three days, marking the first stage of destruction of Mala (impurities) and determined effort and struggle to rout out the evil Vasanas in your mind, are set apart for the worship of the Destructive aspect of the Mother.
Once you have accomplished your task on the negative side, that of breaking down the impure Vasanas, propensities and old habits, the next step is to build up a sublime spiritual personality, to acquire positive qualities in place of the eliminated Asuric qualities. The Divine qualities, Daivi Sampat that Lord Krishna enumerates in the Gita, have to be acquired. The Sadhaka must cultivate and develop all the auspicious qualities. He has to pile up immense spiritual wealth to enable him to pay the price for the rare gem of divine wisdom (Jnanaratna). If this development of the opposite qualities (Pratipaksha Bhavana) is not undertaken in right earnest, the old Asuric nature will raise its head again and again. Hence, this stage is as important in an aspirant’s career as the previous one. The essential difference is—the former is a ruthless, determined annihilation of the filthy, egoistic lower self; the latter is an orderly, steady, calm and serene effort to develop purity. This pleasanter side of the aspirant’s Sadhana is depicted by the worship of Mother Lakshmi. She bestows on Her devotees the inexhaustible wealth of Daivi Sampat. Lakshmi is the Sampat-Dayini aspect of Brahman. She is Purity Itself. Thus worship of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set of three days.
Once the aspirant succeeds in routing out the evil propensities and in developing Sattvic, pure qualities, he becomes an Adhikari. He is ready now to receive the Light of Supreme Wisdom. He is fit to obtain Divine Knowledge. At this stage comes the devout worship of Sri Sarasvati, Who is Divine Knowledge personified, the Embodiment of Brahmajnana. The sound of Her celestial Veena awakens the notes of the sublime Mahavakyas and the Pranava. She bestows the Knowledge of the Supreme Naada and then gives full Atmajnana as represented by Her pure dazzling snow-white apparel. To propitiate Sri Sarasvati, the Giver of Jnana, is therefore the third stage.
The tenth day—Vijaya Dasami—marks the triumphant ovation of the Jiva at having attained Jivanmukti through the descent of knowledge by the grace of Goddess Sarasvati. The Jiva rests in His own Supreme Self of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-knowledge-Bliss Absolute). This day celebrates the victory, the achievement of the Goal. The Banner of Victory flies aloft. Lo! I am He! I am He!!
Chidananda Rupah Sivoham, Sivoham, Chidananda Rupah Sivoham, Sivoham.
This arrangement has also a special significance in the aspirant’s spiritual evolution. It marks the stages of evolution which are indispensable for every Sadhaka, through which every one should pass. One naturally leads to the other and to short-circuit this would inevitably result in a miserable failure. Nowadays many ignorant Sadhakas aim straight at the acquisition of Knowledge without the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of Daivi Sampath and complain that they are not progressing in the Path. How can they? Knowledge will not descend till the impurities are washed out, and purity is developed. Nor can the Sattvic plant grow on impure soil.
Follow this arrangement, your efforts will be attended with sure success. This is your path. Naanya pantha vidyate ayanaaya, no other path is known for salvation. Destroy one evil quality, develop the opposite virtue. By this process you would soon bring yourself up to that perfection which would culminate in that identity with Brahman which is your Goal. Then all Knowledge will be yours; you will be Omniscient, Omnipotent, you will feel your Omnipresence. You will see yourself in all. You will be a Jivanmukta. You would have achieved eternal victory over the wheel of birth and death, over the Demon Samsara. No more of pain, no more of misery, no more of birth, no more of death. Victory, Victory be yours!
Glory unto the Divine Mother! Let Her take you step by step, to the top of the spiritual ladder and unite you with the Lord!!