What Is Navratri?

Directly translated to nine nights, Navratri festival is an annual Hindu festival where the goddess Durga, the divine feminine, is worshipped for nine nights and ten days.

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Navratri (nine nights)

Navratri Definition

Directly translated to nine nights, Navratri festival is an annual Hindu festival where the goddess Durga, the divine feminine, is worshipped for nine nights and ten days.

Navratri is also sometimes called Durga Puja.

A figure of maa durga.

Navratri Deep Dive

Durga, also referred to as Adi Parashakti, is celebrated every year by Hindus across the globe

It’s a festival honoring the feminine face of the divine, Shakti or Devi.

History & Mythology

The nine nights are also broken up into three:

  • The first day (pratipada) is for Durga’s victory (or Kali) over the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura, in a nine-day-long battle, restoring dharma. She destroys human delusion and impurities
  • The second day is for Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity who graces us with abundance and boons
  • The third day is for Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, knowledge art

As well as the slaying of the buffalo demon, another myth attached to Navratri is that of Sati (Uma) and Shiva.

Side note:

Sati (Uma) is believed by many Hindus to be the same as Durga. As per Shaivism, Bhavani/Durga (wife of Shiva) took the forms of Sati and Parvati. Bhavani or Durga are both two names for the Adi Shakti/Mahadevi.

Therefore Durga, as the Mother Goddess, is thought to be the mother of both Lakshmi and Saraswati.

Hands cupping a candle over a puja offering.

The Story of Uma & Shiva

The story goes that Sati married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha Prajapati.

In retaliation to his daughter and new son-in-law, Daksha organized a huge yagna (ritual sacrifice) and invited all the gods except Shiva.

Though Shiva did not want Sati to attend, she decided to attend the yagna. Ignoring the presence of his daughter, the king publically slandered Lord Shiva which made Sati so furious that she jumped into the fire of the yagna and took her own life.

This was not the end for Sati, however, who was reborn and again took Lord Shiva as her husband.

She was revived as Uma by Narayana, an incarnation of Vishnu, who restored peace.

It is believed that since then Uma comes every year with her four children Ganesh, Kartik, Saraswati, and Lakshmi, and two ‘sakhis’, Jaya and Bijaya, to visit her parent’s home during Navratri.

Seasonal Navratri

There are four Navratris a year, and of these four, the most popular one occurs in Autumn and begins on the first new moon (Ashwin masa, indicating the beginning of winter).

This Navratri is called Sharada (meaning autumn) Navaratri or sometimes the Maha (meaning great) Navaratri.

Let’s take a look at them:

Sharada Navratri

Typically falling in September and October, the exact dates are calculated using the Hindu lunisolar calendar.

During this time, Sharada Navaratri is celebrated differently across the various regions and parts of India, with some choosing to fast1 Apr 12, T.-O. |, 2021 and Ist, 19:30 (n.d.). Navratri Fasting Rules and Food: What to eat and what not to eat – Times of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/religion/rituals-puja/navratri-fasting-rules-and-food-what-to-eat-and-what-not-to-eat/articleshow/82034695.cms., feast, make offerings, chant, prayer, meditate, read the ramayana, or dance.

Gujarat even holds an entire festival-long garba dance celebration, maybe the longest in the world! For each of the nine nights, Hindus gather to celebrate the Mother Goddess, Shakti.

Different traditions also honor different aspects of Ma Durga.

A woman in red dancing garba.

Chaitra Navratri

Chaitra Navratri is also known as the Vasanta Navratri and is named after spring. In Kashmir, it is called Navreh.

Marking the Hindu Lunar New Year and thus the first day of the Hindu calendar, it falls between March and April and marks the first day the Sun beings its journey through the Zodiac cycle.

Some people believe this to be the first day that the Goddess Durga descended.

Some people also call this Rama Navami because it’s thought to be the birthday of Lord Rama, falling on the ninth day of Chaitra Navratri.

Magha Navratri

Observed between January and February.

Saraswati plays a big part in this festival and, in some regions, Kama2 Wikipedia. (2020). Kama. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kama., the Hindu god of love, is worshipped too.

Ashada Navratri

Ashada Navratri, also known as Gupt Navratri and Varahi Navratri, is celebrated between June and July.

It’s observed during the waxing phase of the moon and is observed mostly by the states of Northern Indian.

Historically, many Tantric rituals were observed in private as the path was hugely stigmatized after the colonization of India by the British Raj. Many great sages and yogis were worshippers of Shiva in public and Shakti in private.

This is how this Navaratri got the name ‘Gupt Navratri’, as ‘gupt’ means secret, hidden, or private.

Many use this festival to celebrate Goddess Varahi, one of the Matrikas (created by Durga).

The eyes of goddess durga.

Nine Forms of Durga

Named Navadurga, these are the nine manifestations of Durga that are worshipped during Navratri – each day worshipping a different aspect of the Mother.

These nine phases also represent the nine days that it took for Durga to slay the demon Mahishasura.

1. Maa Shailaputri

Druga as the daughter of the mountain, representing the highest form of consciousness one can reach, and the absolute form of mother nature.

2. Maa Brahmacharini

Durga as a great ascetic, following the path laid out by Lord Brahma so she could marry Shiva.

3. Maa Chandraghanta

Durga as Shakti and the destroyer of demons; in this form, she sits upon a fierce tiger and has 10 hands, nine of which are armed with a weapon.

4. Maa Kushmanda

The eight-handed Durga as Mahashakti, the creator of the universe.

5. Maa Skandamata

Durga during her phase of motherhood and raising children.

6. Maa Katyayani

Durga as a fierce warrior in one of her most powerful forms.

7. Maa Kalaratri

Another incredibly fierce form of Durga in her mode of total destruction. Here, she is the goddess of courage.

8. Maa Mahagauri

Bestowing her devotees with prosperity in this form, Durga mounts a white elephant or bull as she recovers from her most aggressive form of Kalaratri.

9. Maa Siddhidhatri

Durga as the most supreme form of Mahashakti and is believed to be the bestower of all siddhis.

Navratri in your life

A great way to celebrate Navratri is to do a puja, a ceremonial worship to honor the deities. Though there are more complex ways to perform a puja, such as this and this.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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