Navaratri: Kali and Durga as One, and turning the Key to the Gate of Freedom
Today marks the beginning of Navaratri.
While this 9 night festival is celebrated differently in different parts of India, it is widely considered to be a time to celebrate the triumph of dharma over adharma. Navaratri is a time to honor Duga, in her many forms, and it is specifically an opportunity to honor all of the ways that the sacred lives inside us. Honoring the sacred empowers us to pull us back from and expand beyond all that which binds us: our pettiness, our denial, our self-centeredness, our brooding, our fear.
Navaratri celebrates all the aspects of the divine feminine as she moves through us, and the ultimate triumph of the Goddess in her quest to draw each of us back to the truth. Even if you have no prior relationship to the 5000 year old Hindu tradition, this time could be a potent opportunity to deepen into relationship with your true nature, stirring up your innately courageous heart and fierce compassion.
The first 3 days of Navaratri focus on Kali. Then we turn to Lakshmi for the second 3 days, and the final three days are for Saraswati.
So we begin with Kali. She is the womb, the void, the portal, that gives us entry into a new cycle, into late fall and winter. So we start by looking at our own intrapsychic obstacles and offering them up to the Goddess. Remember that while we can imagine that there is space between us, she is within you as you, looking out through your eyes. Offer up your shame, your fear, your self-abnegation. Offer up all the ways you play small, all the ways you diminish yourself and dim your own light. Offer up your debilitating habits; all the ways you numb yourself. Offer it all up to the Goddess to be transformed.
So much of our lives is spent identifying where there is safety and where there is danger in the outer world. We navigate between our attractions and aversions, our desires and our fears, but we pretend that we are not designing this dance. If we can be honest in the confrontation with ourselves, and harness the sacred energies that are in fact circling all around us and within us, we can turn our own imperfections into our sacred strengths. All our encumbered patterns, of denial, anger, pride, craving, and envy, can be transformed into their liberated counterparts: Spaciousness, Clarity, Equanimity, Discernment, and Faith. We can begin to see how we have placed obstacles before ourselves so that we can evolve through them. But it takes a little willingness.
Take this night, this new moon, to invite the Goddess in.
It is common in this tradition to put a kalasha - a vessel - on the altar, and fill it with water, adding a coin, and sometimes gems. The filled kalasha, sometimes called purnakumbha, is a symbol of abundance, and of faith in the Goddess' love and capacity to provide all that we need. It symbolizes the inert body, filled with sacred life force, and empowered to choose what path one will take. So perhaps you will put a vessel on your altar, but perhaps you will not. Regardless, remember that if we take a non-dual lens, the Goddess on the altar is YOU, expressing through you, as you. There is no Goddess outside of oneself. The sacred lives within us.
While the Goddess is everything, our own agency and willingness is the key to unlocking our relationship with her. Yoga practice teaches us that while we do not need to pay attention to the breath, everything changes when we do. Similarly, we do not need to call our attention to the sacred, but we are free to, if we wish, and when we do, everything changes. Setting our sights on what we are calling in during this Navaratri is key. What is on the altar, tonight? What are you struggling with, and what are you committed to creating? Take a moment to evaluate what is arising in your life, what the obstacles are to your evolution. Ask yourself what you are here for. Let your intention gurgle up out of you; don't force it. It is said that sankalpa (intention) arrives before you do.
One of the classic non-dual stories about the Goddess is that of the vanquishing of Rakta-bija. Take this story in and see if it doesn't apply to the moment we are in.
In this story, Ambika (another form of Durga) and the Matrikas (protector Goddesses) are fighting in vain to destroy the evil, represented by the demon Rakta-bija, whose name means 'blood-seed'. According to the story, Rakta-bija had once received a boon, and thus had the magical ability to produce a double of himself instantly every time a drop of his blood fell to the ground.
Hence the futility of the struggle.
So, while Durga and the Matrikas were a fierce foe, they could not make a dent in their adversary’s strength. They had no shortage of weaponry, as each was endowed with an arsenal, and a classical proliferation of arms with with to yield their tools and implements. However, with all of their struggles, they find they have only weakened themselves, and worsened the situation: as Rakta-bija bleeds more profusely from his wounds, the battlefield gets filled with Rakta-bija clones; each drop of blood transforms into another equally deranged demon.
Desperate, Durga summons Kali, who spreads her notorious tongue across the entirety of the battlefield, and swallows up the whole swarm of blood-born demons. Kali then suckles the very blood from the original Rakta-bija until he falls limply to the ground.
Kali’s vanquishing of Rakta-bija is a potent reminder that our efforts to put a stop to the demons within will fail unless we harness our capacity to sit inside the center of everything. We must see more clearly, for our efforts to hit their mark. It's when we draw upon our deepest understanding, that we actually create change. After all, all the darkness we perceive is arising within our own consciousness, so we cannot assail it without addressing the raw materials that we have stored within ourselves.
Kali’s success is a reminder that without accessing a different level of understanding, we will never arrive where we think we are going. Durga is the mother goddess, the fiercest and strongest of all protector goddesses, and yet she has made absolutely no headway in the battle. She is the full moon, the luminous. But without Kali - the dark moon, she scrambles backwards, and weakens herself.
Kali is the reminder that the outer is the inner, the inner is the outer. We are victorious when we are whole. The battle ends through understanding that at some level, all that arises is a mirror for the deepest self. The good and the bad are tangled together in a messy and beautiful collage of our own imaginations, and it is our deepest, fiercest compassion that allows us to draw back our multitudinous projections, expand beyond separateness, and transcend the tediousness over-simplification of the battle.
Navaratri begins with Kali, and takes us deep into Laksmi and Saraswati, and all the way through to the final day. The final day will be on Thursday, Oct 18. On that day we celebrate the transformations that have arisen. We celebrate the fecundity of the dark, the potency of the dark, and the empowerment that comes when we face all that we can of our own shadow. We celebrate courage, justice, and strength. We celebrate the light we bring into this existence, and the melding of the light with the dark. May Navaratri be deep, rich and fruitful for all of us.
“Everybody has a little bit of the sun and moon in them. Everybody has a little bit of man, woman, and animal in them. Darks and lights in them. Everyone is part of a connected cosmic system. Part earth and sea, wind and fire, with some salt and dust swimming in them. We have a universe within ourselves that mimics the universe outside. None of us are just black or white, or never wrong and always right. No one. No one exists without polarities. Everybody has good and bad forces working with them, against them, and within them. ― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun