Navratri -- 9 nights for liberation
Navratri is a Hindu holiday celebrating the Mother Goddess’ triumph over evil. Over the past year, I’ve also been thinking of it as a celebration of the collective action of people to create liberating change in our world.
Navratri is a nine-night holiday my family has celebrated for generations. In their communities back in India, both my mom and dad’s family were Brahmins–a historically established privileged priest caste. My father is from a small farming village in Gujarat. His was the only Brahmin family in the mostly-Hindu village. Families went to his house for pujas, and my dad’s family often led religious celebrations in their community. My mom’s family is from a small town in Gujarat, and her family served a similar role in her community. After immigrating to America, they continued to celebrate Navratri as their parents did, and still do today. It’s the most important holiday of the year in my family.
The mythology around the holiday is a beautiful story of female power, and the collective action of people to create change in their world. In my family’s version of the story, Lord Shiva granted Mahishasura, a devout man, the wish to be more powerful than anyone on Earth and any God in heaven. Over time, Mahishasura became corrupt with his power, and created an army to take control of heaven, and exile the Gods to life on earth. Without any power to take back their land, the Gods put all their best qualities together to manifest a single, powerful, female warrior. She led the Gods to heaven and waged a nine-night war with the Mahishasura and his army. On the ninth night, she destroyed Mahishasura, and the Gods returned home.
My family has mainly celebrated this holiday as reverence to the divine mother. Growing up and celebrating women’s power had an immense influence on my feminist worldview. Celebrating a Goddess, that was much bigger than our world, and fought unfathomable injustice gave me pride in being a fierce ally to my mom, my sister, and all the women-identified people I’m close to. Celebrating the feminine power that lives in all of us is an important part of this holiday for me.
But another aspect of the holiday that I’ve been thinking more and more about over the past few years is the decision of the Gods during a time of turmoil. Being banished from heaven, and individually being powerless to fight, the Gods decide to put their powers together. They decided to put their minds and their bodies together towards one goal to fundamentally change the state of the world they found themselves in.
Particularly over the past few years, we’ve seen many examples of communities coming together to change their worlds. The dynamics of each of these have been very, very different, but they share in common the collective decisions among the people that they wanted change, and they needed to work as a group to achieve it–Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Tibet, Myanmar, Wisconsin. At this very moment, people are gathered on Wall St. in New York and in financial districts in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Baltimore and across the country. In these movements, people without power to create change alone made decisions to add their power to a group of individuals. To demand and create change as a community of voices, as a collection of minds acting together towards a common goal.
In the story of Navratri, what came after the Gods’ decision to act as a group was Ambaji, the Mother Goddess, divine female energy. In the examples we see in our world today, what comes after the collective decision for action is revolution. Ambaji embodies the collective fight for change in our world. She fought a nine-night war, against a massive army that was set up right from the start to win, and she persevered. Just like we have.
Navratri is a special holiday for me, and I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few years about what it means for me to celebrate it, and what my celebration of it should look like. During these nine nights, I’ve been thinking about how I can add my mind and body to the collective actions that are taking place in my own city. I alone may not have the power to change the world today, but collectively, we have the power to do anything.