Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nine Nights and a Thousand Names – The First Night of Navratri


The First Night of Navaratri
Aditi, Aparna, Malini, Nalini, Nandini, Sandhya, Medha, Ranjani, Rajni, Gauri, Nirupama, Savitri, Madhumati Yashasvini Sandhya, Vidya, Damini, Jaya, Sridevi, Meenakshi, Mohini, Lalita, Jayanti, Sita, Uma, Madhavi, Prabha, Indrani, Shalini, Arundhati, Nidhi, Sudha, Amruta, Shraddha, Radha, Tara not to mention Saraswati and Lakshmi. Just think of how many girls or women you know who have one of these names. All names of the Goddess. It’s my guesstimate – and probably a conservative one - that over half of all the girls in India have been named after Her. I recently heard a beautiful explanation about why we name our children after our deities.
Other than because it is auspicious etc., etc., it is also so that if in no other way, then in each time we call out their name, we have remembered God!
Today is the 1st  of those 9 days in the year that we dedicate to the Goddess. Navratri. Though there are different nuances to this festival in different parts of India, everywhere for these nine days, we celebrate and exult in the Goddess, in her many forms and manifestations. But “Goddess” is a miniscule description of She whom we so often call “Devi.”
Because it is with her that everything began, begins and will begin. And so, nothing, not even a million names and descriptions would ever suffice to describe the infinitude of Her. But the Lalitha Sahasranama is a beautiful place to start. “Lalitha” meaning one the Devi’s most beautiful incarnations and “Sahasranama” meaning a thousand (sahasra) names or descriptors. The sage Agastya dismayed by the way people had become steeped in ignorance and in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, worshipped the Devi Kamakshi at Kanchi for a solution. Lord Hayagriva (an incarnation of  Lord Vishnu) appeared before him and  gave him the Lalita Sahasranama as the best way to worship the Devi.
When you first hear it, just the sound of the Lalita Sahasranama being chanted, even if you didn’t understand a single word, grandly rumbling and resounding like a symphony of some distant, divine drums have a strange effect – calming, yet energizing; washing over you in wave after wave. But after a while, the meanings begin to filter through. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar, but even to me, who could understand just a few of the thousand names, the awesome beauty came through.
So, this Navaratri, every day, I would like to share with you a few small glimpses of the Devi through extracts from the Lalitha Sahasranama, in the hope that you will be both touched and blessed by Her …..
Tonight is the first of the three days dedicated to Goddess Durga. The name “Durga” in Snaskrit means invincible. Just before the start of the Mahabharata way, Lord Krishna asked Arjuna to pray to the Goddess Durga for victory…..

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