I love how the trigunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) are tied into the significance of Navaratri, so thought I’d share it with you all! I heard this beautiful explanation, based on the Vedas, from my beloved Guru, Sri Sri Ravishankarji, a few years ago. These practices may be termed as religious – but if you dig deeper, you will see many Ayurvedic principles in action here!
Navaratri is a grand festival celebrated twice a year to usher the onset of fall and spring. “Nava” literally means “new” or “nine”. “Ratri” means night. So, Navaratri means “new night” or “nine nights”.
Every night, all beings rest, and sleep to recover from the stresses of the day, to wake up rested, relaxed and rejuvenated. Similarly, this period of nine nights is for rest, detoxification and renewal of sorts. Hence the terms “new”, “nine” and “nights”.
Nine was the chosen number most likely to bring out the similarity with the nine months that are spent in the mother’s womb for the fetus to grow and develop. So, nine days of Navaratri for bodily purification, mental stabilization and spiritual growth.
Ayurveda talks about the 3 levels of existence: physical (body), subtle (mind) and causal (soul). This again can be tied to the meaning of Navaratri.
“Ratri” can be broken down into “ra” which means solace and “tri” which refers to the three levels of human existence – physical (body), subtle (mind) and causal (soul). So, Navaratri is also a time for bringing about solace and rest at all levels of our existence.
Navaratri Practices and their Relation to Ayurvedic principles:
Ayurveda talks about fasting as a good way to detoxify the body. Fasting is also known to digest ama (toxic build-up) in the body, re-ignite the agni (digestive fire) and in general, to help with maintaining good health. Fasting is a key component of Navaratri – fasting on fruit and water, water alone, juices or certain select foods only etc. Also, look at the timing of Navaratri – it occurs twice a year during “ritusandhi” (between seasons), which is the optimal time according to Ayurveda to detoxify the system.
The practice of silence, and mediation – of consciously withdrawing our energy and attention from outer distractions – has been used in different traditions including Ayurveda and Yoga, throughout time as a pathway to physical, mental, and spiritual renewal. Navaratri is a time for celebrations – but also a time for deep silence, inward focus and meditation.
Satsang is the another practice that has always been revered by Ayurveda, Yoga and the ancient holistic sciences. It is an important part of Navaratri celebrations. Satsang is association with truth, which in practice translates to, among other things, communing with other like-minded aspirants of truth and sattva.
Trigunas and Navaratri:
The nine days of Navaratri are further broken down into 3 day periods. Each three day period is attributed to a particular guna (mental quality). The focus is to overcome tamas and rajas (in that order), to finally bring and increase sattva within ourselves and our environments. Each three day period is dedicated to a particular Goddess. Now, here the association with religion is a bit strong – probably was a way to connect with the people by giving them a godly figure that they could relate to. But even in these times, whether we are believers or not, we can still get the import of the message, without getting fixated in the religion aspect of things, if we so desire.
The first three days are for the tamo guna or tamas – when we overcome any dullness, lethargy, shake off our ignorance and fear, work towards releasing our stagnant and blocked emotions and energy, and work towards getting rid of all negative addictions and mind-body tendencies. This first three-day period is dedicated to Goddess Durga, who symbolizes freedom from fear, instilling determination, will-power and courage!
The second three day period is for the rajo guna or rajas – when we overcome distraction or turbulence of the mind, transcend our egos, anger, desires, greed, envy, and impatience and turn inward to seek peace, rather than outward for stimulation. This period is for Goddess Lakshmi who symbolizes abundance of not just wealth, but of other things like food, progeny, talents, courage, and prosperity in general. Overall, the message is that of “abundance” in both spiritual and material terms to bring prosperity and well-being.
The last three day period is for the sattva guna – when calmness, clarity and harmony prevails, when we have moved our focus and consciousness inward. In this state, we see the good in everything and look at life, in general, as a learning experience. This period is for Goddess Saraswati who symbolizes knowledge, arts and purity. Overall, the message is of the free flow of wisdom, and consciousness.
Once Navaratri is over, Vijayadashami (the tenth day – the day of victory) is celebrated. This is the day of culmination in the awakening of our heightened consciousness and knowledge. In many parts of India, new learning is initiated on this day which is called “Vidyaarambam” (beginning of knowledge).
Our consciousness needs to transition from tamas to rajas to sattva, in which it blossoms. The message during Navaratri, is to harmonize the three gunas and elevate sattva in the atmosphere. Whenever sattva dominates in life, victory follows.
In this day and age of nuclear families and fast-paced living, many of us celebrate our religious festivals, even miles away from our homelands. We do this for various reasons – one of them being to keep the spark of culture alive even for our kids. I hope these extra tidbits of information are useful to you – some of these you can pass on to your kids and some of this can stay at the back of your minds and who knows, where or when you will start seeing a transformation in motion!