Navratri rituals

Navratri is one of the most celebrated Hindu festivals. The celebration, which literally translates as “nine nights,” is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Durga, the mother goddess who also represents power. The festival worships Goddess Durga or Shakti, which represents the energy of the universe, in her nine beautiful forms with great reverence.

It is considered to be the most auspicious and unique periods of devotional practice and worship of Shakti, of the Divine conceptualized as the Mother Goddess-Durga, whose worship goes far back to prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age.

It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Navratri takes place at the beginning of October around harvest time and is celebrated for nine days. The nine days represent the nine divine manifestations of Goddess Durga. During these nine nights, the nine forms of Shakti (also known as Navdurga) are worshipped.

During Navaratri, some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. A period of introspection and purification, Navaratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures.

You are welcome to join us as we celebrate Navratri every year at our center in Mazunte, Mexico.
 
In India, the festival starts on the new moon day falling between September 15 and October 15. In East Asia, it starts on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, around the same time period.

Yoni Puja: Worshipping Shakti

The most well-known treatise about worshipping the yoni is, without doubt, Yoni Tantra. As is the case in many other Tantras, this tantric text is a dialog between Shiva and Parvati. It reveals the highly revered sadhana practiced by kaulas (tantrics), the yoni puja.

It is known that the Kaulas (Kaula or Kula describes a type of Hindu Tantra. The Kaula lineage (closely linked to the Siddha and Natha traditions) regarded female gurus very highly and there were many examples of yoginis or female tantrics. Their reverence towards Shakti is beautifully expressed many times in the Tantras (such as Shakti Sangama Tantra and Devirahasya). In both Kulachudamani Tantra and the Brihad Nila Tantra, the Kaula is instructed to recite a mantra inwardly whenever he sees a woman.

In the traditional texts, we find the following references:
“Women are divinity, women are life, women are truly jewels.” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 7)

“Worship carefully a woman or a maiden as she is Shakti, sheltered by the Kulas. One should never speak harshly to maidens or women.” (Kaulajnananirnaya, Patala 23)

“In Kaula every woman is thought of as a manifestation of the Goddess. No man may raise his hand, strike or threaten a woman. When she is naked, men must kneel and worship her as the Goddess. She has equal rights with men on all levels.” (Occult World of a Tantrik Guru, Values Vol. IX)

“Women are heaven; women are dharma; and women are the highest penance. Women are Buddha; women are the Sangha; and women are the perfection of Wisdom.” (Yoni Tantra)

Hari, Hara, and Brahma – the gods of creation, maintenance, and destruction – all originate in the yoni.” (Yoni Tantra)

“The divine yoni is as brilliant as tens of millions of suns and as cool as tens of millions of moons.” (Shiva Samhita, 15th century)

Devi is at the base of the yoni and Naganandini is in the yoni. Kali and Tara are in the yoni chakra, and Chinnamasta in the hair. Bagalamukhi and Matangi are on the rim of the yoni. Mahalakshmi (Kamalatmika), Shodashi (Tripura Sundari), and Bhuvaneshvari are within the yoni. By worshipping the yoni one certainly worships Shakti.” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 3)

“For the sadhaka who says ‘Aim Aim’ at the time of worship, the yoni is fortunate and gives both enjoyment and liberation. A yogin is not a bhogin (seeker of pleasure) and a bhogin is not a yogin, but if one worships the yoni, one is a Kaula, a person who has both yoga and bhoga (enjoyment). All worship is pointless without worship of the yoni, O Durga.” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 3)

“Worshipping this causes Shivoham. Listen, Parvati! Krishna, after worshipping Radha’s yoni, became God Krishna. Sri Rama Janaki Nath worshipped Sita’s yoni. Vishnu, Brahma, the saints, and I myself all were born from a yoni. What knowledge in the three worlds can match the magnificence of the yoni?” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 4)

“The vagina is Mahamaya and the penis is Sadashiva. Worshipping them, one becomes liberated while still alive, there is no doubt about it.” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 5)

“Liberation is achieved through enjoyment. Happiness is gained through enjoyment. Therefore, by every effort, a sadhaka should become an enjoyer. The wise man should always avoid blame, disgust, or shame of the yoni.” (Yoni Tantra, Patala 6)

WHAT IS A YONI PUJA?

A yoni puja is a sacred ritual during which the yoni is worshipped. It is very important to understand that the prerequisite for worshipping the yoni is the purification of the mind from worldly ideas about the yoni. The yoni is the form of the cosmos and encompasses the mysteries of creation. Reverence in front of Shakti’s mystery is the attitude that needs to be cultivated to perform a yoni puja. That is why in Yoni Tantra we find this warning: “Never worship the yoni in front of pashus (males still possessed by their animal nature).”

Outer Yoni Puja

A yoni puja can be performed by using a sculpture, painting, or sanctified natural object representing a yoni as focus of veneration, or by worshipping the yoni in her living form. We can imagine that as a ritual of worship that goes back thousands of years and which is still being practiced today in India, a yoni puja embraces many forms. Despite these differences, there are several ritual elements with very clear symbolism that constitute the core of a yoni puja.

Elements of Outer Yoni Puja:

  • Salutation and reverence in front of Shakti
  • Offerings to the Goddess: Those attending a yoni puja will usually offer five different fruits or other things to the Deity, such as flower petals, rice, ghee, etc.
  • Adoration Stage: general prayers to the Goddess; chanting mantras
  • Sanctifying of the 5 Elements: The five liquids are poured over the yoni. They represent the 5 elements. Generally, such libations represent offerings for the Goddess, but in this case the pouring of the 5 liquids over the yoni symbolizes the universalizing and sanctifying of the 5 tattvas (elements). The 5 liquids are collected in a vessel below the yoni symbol (in a case of a woman’s yoni, the vessel is placed below the thighs). The final mixture resulting from this libation is empowered by the direct and intimate contact with the Goddess. Every participant of a yoni puja will take a sip from this prasad (sacred offering).
    The 5 liquids are: Yogurt (Earth element), water (Water element), honey (Fire element), milk (Air element), and any edible oil (Ether element).
    Note: Yoni puja performed with a woman’s yoni is known as stri puja or rahasya puja. There are some recommendations for choosing the woman for yoni puja because it is considered that the power of Shakti transmitted via the liquids to the devotees depends on the woman’s conscious transparency to the Goddess. That is why it is considered that the best choice for a yoni puja is a yogini. A yogini, by her power to channel the Goddess, creates the best conditions to raise the consciousness of those who take part in the ceremony.
  • Usually, there is a stage called the magic stage during which the worshippers, before the visible yoni, (either of a living woman or an image of the Goddess) beg the Goddess to grant them wishes of all kinds. Such wishes may range from “please cure my mother” or “please give me a son,” to the even more egocentric “let me have success in business and increase my bank accounts.”
  • The meditation stage: Contemplating the mystery of Shakti. Absorption into the womb of the Mother. Tracing Shakti energy back to its Source.

A yoni puja can be performed in mixed groups, although sometimes only women or only men may be in attendance.

What is most important in a yoni puja is the devotion towards Shakti and single-minded attention of the practitioners. It is this combination of love and awareness that enables the raising of consciousness during these rituals. The crucial aspect of being in deep love with and having reverence for the Mother in all Her forms can not be overemphasized. Women are multiple facets of the Supreme Shakti.

Inner Yoni Puja

Inner yoni puja implies that we must as clearly as possible visualize the image of a yoni (a sculpture, a picture, a sanctified object, or the living form of a yoni) and contemplate it as long as possible with devotion and reverence.

Worship of the Shiva Lingam

“Shaivism is intimately connected with the Shiva lingam. This is a beautiful symbol that in the highest sense represents consciousness.” -Swami Satyananda

The Shiva lingam is an ancient symbol consisting of a pillar, column, or standing stone and a ring or circle in which the standing stone is placed. The pillar symbolizes the Shiva principle (consciousness) and the ring is the symbol of the Shakti principle (energy, power of consciousness). The Shiva lingam represents the union of these two principles, a union that governs all of creation. The Shiva lingam expresses the idea that Shiva and Shakti are inseparable and timeless. It is the prime symbol of both Shaivism and Shaktism, and of Tantra in general.

One aspect worth mentioning: The Shiva lingam is not a representation of the human genitals. Rather, the sexual organs are one of the expressions or manifestations of the universal forces (masculine and feminine principles) represented by the symbol.

We can say that the Shiva lingam is a representation of the idea found in Tibetan Buddhism, “samsara (the cycle of rebirth) and nirvana (liberation) are born together.”

The same truth is expressed in the words of Ramakrishna, “Brahman is Shakti; Shakti is Brahman. They are not two. These are only two aspects, male and female, of the same Reality, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss.”

In Shaivism, the Shiva lingam is the symbol of Lord Shiva and the lingam puja helps devotees reveal the light of consciousness that they are. Shiva as a column of light without beginning and end represents the light of consciousness as the background of the entire creation. A Shiva lingam puja is a ritual for honoring the light of consciousness. According to the Tantric tradition, each lingam puja takes the devotee step-by-step to the Eternal Truth.

Worshipping the Shiva lingam at home

  • Purification stage: Before starting the puja, the devotee takes a bath and puts on freshly washed clothes.
  • Opening prayers: The devotee recites hymns praising Lord Shiva or chants the mantra om namaha shivaya or does japa with om namah shivaya.” Then, the devotee sits in front of the lingam and blows a conch or rings bells. This indicates the beginning of the puja.
  • Panchamrit abhishekthe libation of five holy liquids over the lingam: The libation can consist of any five of the following – water from the Ganges River, honey, sugarcane juice, milk, yogurt, ghee, seawater, coconut water or milk, fragrant oils, rose water, or other precious liquids. Usually, only cow’s milk is used. While pouring the liquid, the mantra om namah shivaya is uttered. Some devotees utter the Lord’s name 108 times and some 1008 times. There is no fixed rule. Abhishek is a symbol of the purification of the soul.
  • Cleaning and “cooling” of the lingam: After the panchamrit abhishek, the lingam is cleaned with water from the Ganges. (This might not always be possible, normal water may be used.) After this, the lingam is smeared with sandalwood or vermillion paste and is bedecked with flowers. In some Shiva temples, cooling liquid constantly drops from a pot hung above the lingam.
  • Offerings: Next, fruit, sweets, and coconuts are offered to Lord Shiva. Camphor and incense are lit. The devotees sing praises to Lord Shiva.
  • Conclusion of the puja: The ringing of bells or blowing of a conch indicates the end of the puja. White ash (vibhuti) is rubbed on the forehead and is also distributed to devotees. (In worship connected with Lord Shiva, vibhuti it is a symbol of purity and is one of the main sacraments given during pujas in all Shaivite temples and shrines; another meaning of rubbing the holy ash on the forehead is as a reminder to devotees to cast away selfish, worldly desires and redirect their attention towards the Divine Truth. It evokes the story of how Shiva burned Kama (the god of desire) to ashes when Kama attempted to break Shiva’s focus on the Divine Truth.
  • Prasad: The fruit, sweets, and coconuts used during the puja are distributed as prasad (blessed food).

Shivaratri Puja

During every Shivaratri (new moon), a Shiva lingam puja is performed. According to the Shiva Purana, sincere worship of Lord Shiva yields merits, including spiritual growth, for devotees.

Although different substances can be used for libation, the Shiva Purana says that performing the abhishek of the Shiva lingam with six different dravyas (substances) including milk, yogurt, honey, ghee, sugar, and water while chanting special hymns from the Vedas (Sri Rudram, Chamakam, and Dasa Shanthi) is the best way to worship Lord Shiva. According to the mythology, each of the dravya used in the abhishek blesses a unique quality in the devotees:

  • Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness.
  • Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny.
  • Honey is for sweet speech.
  • Ghee is for victory.
  • Sugar (sugarcane juice) is for happiness.
  • Water is for purity.

In our case, as spiritual aspirants we can pray in this way while we are doing the libation of the 6 holy liquids:

  • While we pour the yogurt, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with a fruitful spiritual life (realization of moksha in this life).
  • While we pour water, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with purity (to purify our negative samskaras and vasanas).
  • While we pour ghee, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with courage and perseverance on the spiritual path.
  • While we pour honey, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with compassionate speech.
  • While we pour milk, we ask Lord Shiva to bless us with the milk of devotion.