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TEN days...stories and legends

Ah! It’s the start of the festive season... Let’s begin with Navaratri, and read about some of the legends surrounding it.

Mahishasura Mardini

In the east and northeastern states like West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam, Navaratri is celebrated as Durga Puja or Durgotsava. It commemorates the victory of goddess Durga over the buffalo-headed asura (demon), Mahishasura. Asuras were the mortal enemies of the devas, gods and demigods of heaven.

The legend goes, that Mahishasura prayed to the god of creation, Brahma, for immortality. While Brahma refused his request, he granted Mahishasura the boon that he could only be killed by a woman. Mahishasura assumed that this was as good as immortality, as he believed his strength could far surpass that of a woman.

All seemed to be going well for Mahishasura, as he confidently led a battle against the devas and defeated them. But, the desperate devas approached Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma for a solution. Goddess Durga was born of the combination of their powers. With a weapon in each of her 10 arms (foremost, her trident), and her lion, she set off to conquer Mahishaasura. She succeeded after a nine-day battle (see the connection?), acquiring the name Mahishasura Mardini — the destroyer of Mahishasura.

Ram lila

In other regions, such as some northern and western states, Navaratri marks the defeat of demon-king Raavana, by Ram. We know the popular story of the Ramayana — how Raavana abducta Ram’s wife, causing Ram and his army to cross a sea to Lanka, to rescue her.

During Navaratri, actors depict different scenes from the story, in what is known as Ram lila (play of Ram). But what’s interesting, is how this connects to goddess Durga. Some say that Ram worshipped goddess Durga, and her nine different forms, for nine days, to gather strength and courage to defeat Raavana. On the tenth day, he prevailed over Raavana. And as you might have already guessed, these nine days came to be celebrated as Navaratri.

Vanvasam

Mahabaratha too, has a Navaratri legend — the story behind day nine, Ayudha Puja, and day 10, Vijayadashami. When the Pandavas lost a game of dice to the Kauravas, they were ordered to go into exile (vanvasam) for 13 years. The first 12 were to be spent in the forests. In the final year, the Pandavas were to assume false identities, and live undercover. If their identities were revealed, they would have to repeat another 13 years of exile. The Pandavas used the 12 years to prepare for war against the Kauravas. In the last year of their exile, they served in the Virata kingdom.

Before donning their disguises, they hid their weapons in a shami tree. When the thirteenth year was up, they retrieved their weapons, and returned home, demanding that their kingdom be returned. The Kauravas refused, and the Kurukshetra War was fought. As we know, the Pandavas won this epic struggle. It is believed that the Pandavas returned home and began preparations for the war on Vijayadashami, which is why we now use this day to start something new. Similarly, when they retrieved their weapons, they worshipped it. This is said to be the reason we celebrate Ayudha Puja — to worship the implements integral to our lives.

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The thread that connects the legends of Navaratri, is the triumph of good over evil. Not to forget, it is a prologue to Deepavali, which is just around the corner.

Hey, the more (festivals), the merrier!

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Printable version | Nov 19, 2020 10:57:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/ten-daysstories-and-legends/article19733994.ece

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