The end of summer and beginning of winter, and the end of winter and beginning of summer, are two very important junctions of climatic conditions and solar influence in the year. Our bodies and minds undergo change on account of the changes in the outer nature. In India, the two occasions are considered opportune times to commence sadhana and worship the divine, indicated by the Chaitra Navaratri (in April) and Ashwin Navaratri (in October).
The Navaratri celebrations objectively portray the inner spiritual life of the world. The central purpose of existence is to recognize your eternal identity with the supreme spirit. It is to grow into the image of the divine, into spotless purity, niranjan. The aspirant has to therefore, as the initial step, get rid of the blemishes that have come to cling to him in his embodied state. Then he has to acquire the auspicious qualities. Thus purified and rendered full of sattwa, knowledge flashes upon him like the brilliant rays of the sun upon the crystal clear waters of a still lake.
This process of sadhana implies resolute will, determined effort and arduous struggle. In other words, strength, infinite shakti, is the prime necessity. The Divine Mother, the supreme shakti of Brahman, has to operate through the aspirant. Therefore, during navaratri pooja, nine nights of worship, the Creatrix is worshipped in Her aspects of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, representing the properties of tamas, rajas and sattwa respectively. This is the stuff of which the whole universe consists. Transformation, preservation and manifestation are the cosmic functions of the Mother. She is all that goes to make up the entire cosmos in its gross, subtle and causal realms.
As with the individual, so it is with the cosmos; nothing is possible without the Mother. Your progress, material and spiritual, is bound up inextricably with your mother, human and divine. A person is moulded almost entirely by his human mother, which is why the shrutis (scriptures) enjoin upon us to treat the mother as God. This is even more so in the spiritual field. Without the help of the Divine Mother, no spiritual progress is possible. She is the higher spiritual power that continuously meets the lower urges in battle and overcomes them completely in the end.
During Navaratri, on the first three days the Mother is adored as power: Durga, the terrible one. In the process of sadhana, what is conquered and transformed first is tamas. Thus Durga, the divinity behind the tamas-shakti, is worshipped first. You pray to Durga to help destroy all your impurities, failings and defects. She is to fight with and annihilate your baser qualities. She is also the power that protects your sadhana from its many dangers and pitfalls. Thus the first three days, marking the first stage of destruction of mala (impurity) and determined effort to rout out the many vasanas (cravings) in the mind, are set apart for the worship of the destructive aspect of the Mother.
Once you have accomplished the task on the negative side that of breaking down the cravings and old habits, the next step is to build up a sublime spiritual personality, to acquire positive qualities. The divine qualities, daivi sampat, that Lord Krishna enumerates in the Bhagavad Gita, have to be acquired. The aspirant must cultivate and develop auspicious qualities, pile up an immense spiritual wealth so he can pay the price of the rare gem of divine wisdom.
If development of the opposite qualities is not undertaken in right earnest, the old demonic nature will raise its head again and again. This stage is as important as the previous one. The difference is: the former is a ruthless, determined annihilation of the lower self; the latter is an orderly, steady and calm effort to develop purity. This pleasanter side of sadhana is depicted by the worship of Lakshmi. She bestows the wealth of daivi sampat. Lakshmi is the sampat-dayini (wealth-giving) aspect of Brahman. She is purity itself. She is also the goddess superintending the force of rajas, the guna that must be overcome after tamas. Thus worship of Lakshmi is performed during the next three days.
Once the aspirant succeeds in getting rid of the negative propensities and developing sattwic, pure qualities, he becomes an adhikari. He is now ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom. At this stage comes the devout worship of Saraswati, who is divine knowledge personified, the embodiment of brahmajnana. The sound of her celestial veena (lute) awakens the notes of the sublime mahavakyas (great statement or profound aphorism, usually referring to the great proclamations of the Upanishads) and the pranava (mantra Aum; primordial sound vibration). She bestows the knowledge of the supreme nada (psychic or internal sound) and then gives full atmajnana (self-knowledge) as represented by her pure and dazzling white apparel. She is also the Mother in her sattwa guna, and transcending sattwa is the last rung of sadhana. To propitiate Saraswati, therefore, is the third stage.
The tenth day, Vijaya Dashami, marks the triumphant ovation of the jiva (individual) at having attained jivanmukti (liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth) through the descent of knowledge by the grace of Saraswati. The jiva rests in his own Supreme Self of sat-chit-ananda (existence-knowledge-bliss absolute). It marks complete victory over the threefold force of the universe. The day celebrates the achievement of the goal. The banner of victory flies aloft!
The arrangement also has a special significance in the aspirants spiritual evolution. It marks the stages of evolution that are indispensable for every aspirant, through which everyone should pass. One naturally leads to the other, and to shortcircuit this would inevitably result in a miserable failure. Nowadays many aspirants aim straight at the acquisition of knowledge without the preliminaries of purification and acquisition of daivi sampat, and complain that they are not progressing on the path. How can they? Knowledge will not descend till the impurities are washed out and purity is developed. Nor can the sattwic plant grow on impure soil.
Follow this arrangement and your efforts will be successful. This is the path. Destroy one negative quality, and develop its opposite positive quality. By this process you will soon bring yourself up to that perfection which will culminate in identity with Brahman. All knowledge will be yours. You will see yourself in all. You will be a jivanmukta. No more pain, no more misery, no more birth, no more death. Let the Divine Mother take you step by step to the top of the spiritual ladder and unite you with the Lord.