The quest of seeking Mother in 9 nights

The quest of seeking Mother in 9 nights

The quest of seeking Mother in 9 nights

The rulers of different kingdoms of Karnataka used the Navaratri celebrations to consolidate their hold over land and people. Soon, the nine-night observation found a place in the heart and hearth of each Kannadiga, drawing in overseas guests as well, finds Puneeth Nagarajaiah.

Science has proven that all existence is nothing but energy, always transforming from one form to the other, be it humans, plants, animals, a table, a chair or even the gigantic planets and stars.

In India, energy has been termed as Shakti, the dynamic energy that is responsible for all creation and that exists in all of us subtle, hidden, unrevealing.

Energy has two facets, potential and dynamic. In India, we refer to potential energy as Shiva—the masculine and dynamic energy or kinetic energy as Shakti—the feminine. The transformation of the potential through the dynamic force gives rise to all existence. A simple example is that of a tree that exists in a seed. The seed has the potential to become a tree through transformation, which is the function of the dynamic energy, by which the seed becomes a tree.

Energy or shakti is symbolised as mother, because, is it not the mother who nourishes and gives birth to new life? The entire universe then is through her and in her, latent. In India, we worship this mother as the very embodiment of the entire cosmos, as a path to realising the nature of existence, and through that the fulfillment of all of life’s goals.

This worship of the divine as feminine is not only restricted to India, but is largely prevalent across the world. The goddess Sekhmet of Egypt, the Roman goddess cybele and many others can be cited here. But nowhere in the world has this worship been elevated to such heights as in India, where the motherhood of god is considered the highest expression of human devotion. This system of worship is called Shaktism and is prevalent across the country, a strong unifying factor in an otherwise diverse nation.


The mother is worshipped in her ten great forms called the Dashamahavidyas or the ten great wisdom goddesses. Wisdom here signifies the experience of Brahman or the ultimate reality as signified by the Upanishads. The goddesses therefore are paths that lead to the absolute and are hence called Brahma vidyas. They are Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhair­avi, Chinnamastika, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika.

Each of these mahavidyas represent an aspect of nature, Kali represents time; Tara—space; Tripurasundari—beauty of pure perception; Bhairavi-transforming heat; Chinnamasta—force of lightning; Dhumavati—primordial darkness, void; Bagalamukhi—speech; Matangi-spoken word and Kamalatmika—prosperity. These goddesses further branch out into innumerable other deities to such an extent that even certain diseases are considered one of the forms of the mother goddess.

In North and East India, the worship of Kali, Tara, Bagala, Dhumavati and Chinnamasta are predominant, while the mother is worshipped as Sundari, Lalita or Rajarajeshwari in South India. The worship of Sundari is called Sri Vidya and the goddess is symbolised by the Sri Chakra and the mantra used for her worship is called Shodashakshari.

The 8th Century philosopher, mystic and an ardent devotee of the goddess, Adishankaracharya, is said to have concretised the worship of the Sri Chakras by installing them in select locations across the country. The most important sites for the worship of the goddess in Karnataka are Sringeri and Kollur. Another famous temple under the lineage is that of Kanchi Kamakshi. However, the worship of the goddess as a mahavidya is usually restricted to monks and renunciates as the procedures and rituals involved are too demanding for a householder.

Navaratri tradition

Hence, householders usually worship her during the nine most auspicious nights called Navaratri (nine nights and 10 days) or Dasara. This tradition was popularised in Karnataka by the Vijayanagara rulers who patronised Navaratri celebrations. Navaratri denotes the victory of good over evil, represented by the goddess Durga, the mother in her aspect as a warrior, slaying the demon Mahishasura.

Harihara and Bukkaraya laid the foundation for the Vijayanagara empire on the Tungabhadra doab in present day Bellary district under the guidance and blessings of Sri Vidyaranya, the 12th Sankaracharya of the Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Mutt, in 1336. The earliest reference to the goddess worship during Navaratri is made by Persian traveller Abdur Razzaq during the reign of Devaraya II in 1442.

It is said that Devaraya erected a tall structure atop which he sat and witnessed the processions, the dance, wrestling, acrobatics and other events that marked the grandeur and splendour of the festivities. Devaraya also held an evening durbar during Navaratri.

During the reign of Krishnadevaraya (1509-1529) of the Tuluva dynasty, under whose rule the empire reached its zenith, Navaratri celebration reached new heights, as described by Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes in 1520. The festivities were held in the royal palace. A golden image of the goddess was kept opposite the throne which the king worshipped before ascending the golden throne covered with silk and lion figurines made of gold, rubies, diamonds and pearls on either side.

Evenings were more spectacular. Feudatories and nobles used to touch the King’s feet and gift him riches from their lands. After dusk, the capital was lit by lamps of several hues, so bright that it seemed like day.

This was accompanied by fireworks. On the day of Vijayadashami, the 10th day, the King reviewed his army, thereby exhibiting the preparedness and the military might of a powerful empire.

Krishnadevaraya also built the Mahanavami dibba, an elevated stone platform to commemorate his victory against the Gajapati rulers of present day Odisha. It was from this platform that the king used to reward dancers, singers, wrestlers and all participants and the people in general during Navaratri festivities.

The beginning of the decline of the empire in 1565 and its eventual end in 1646 resulted in a vacuum. Several vassal states declared independence. One such state was Mysore, near the River Cauvery with its capital in Srirangapatna and ruled by the Wadiyars, which literally means “the owner or the king”. Raja Wadiyar I, who ruled Mysore from 1578-1617, used the opportunity to consolidate his rule.

Wadiyar I resumed the tradition of celebrating Navaratri not only as a matter of faith but also to celebrate his kingship.

Initially, the festival was not as elaborate as that of the Vijayanagara rulers and was considerably a low key affair. The festivities continued even during the annexation of Mysore by Hyder Ali and during Tipu Sultan’s rule (1761-1799).

After the death of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna during the fourth Anglo-Mysore war, Mysore was restored to the then Wodeyar king, Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

The capital was shifted to Mysore city from Srirangapatna and Navaratri or Dasara, as it came to be known, was celebrated with greater grandeur.

The Europeans and the masses took part in the festivities and its popularity reached the west. The festival had become a tradition of the Wadiyar household and reached its height during the rule of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (1902-1940).

The Goddess is worshipped on each of the nine days as Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhida. On the first day, the king first worships his family deity, Goddess Chamundeshwari, in the palace along with the worship of Lord Ganesha. He then enters the durbar hall. This tradition was introduced by Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

The king also worships the navagrahas, or the nine planets. After worshipping the throne and circumambulating it thrice, the king will ascend it at an auspicious moment. This is followed by the worship of weapons and the royal insignia, ending with a 21-gun salute. The itinerary is followed throughout the nine nights accompanied by performances by some of the best artistes in the evenings.

On Vijayadashami, the world famous Jambu Savari, the traditional procession of the King in a howdah on an elephant, marks the end of the festivites.

One of the highlights of the festivities is the illumination of the palace by nearly 1 lakh bulbs from 7 pm to 10 pm on all the days.

The last king, Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, a Sri Vidya practitioner himself, continued this grand old tradition in letter and spirit till India got its independence in 1947 and all princely states were taken over by the Union government.

Since then, the state government has continued to celebrate Navaratri or Dasara as the Nadahabba or state festival. Even after 500 years, Navaratri continues to receive patronage.

This year will mark the 403rd Dasara celebrations by the Wadiyars that will be executed by the state government in the presence of the current royal family scion Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar. At present, during the Jambu Savari, an idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari is taken out in procession on the golden howdah.


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