The science and practices surrounding Navratri

8 FAQs to start your Navratri puja

Navratri is the biggest event celebrated every year at the Art of Living International Center which draws thousands of people. Ancient vedic pujas are conducted for nine days with clockwork precision and a lot goes on behind the scenes.

As the Principal of the Ved Agma Samskrutha Maha Patashala at the Art of Living International Center, a lot depends on A.S. Sundarmurthy Sivam, who is also the head priest at these pujas.

He hails from a family of priests and has conducted 1005 Kumbhabhishekhams and more than 2100 Chandi homas all over the world. Having conducted Navratri yagnas at the Art of Living International Center since 1994, here are some in-depth questions answered by the head priest himself:

What is the background to the Art of Living Navratri?

There are two main types of Navratri. One is conducted in the month of Chaitra in April and is known as Vasantha Navratri and it is mainly celebrated in North India. And in South India, Sharan Navratri is celebrated in the month of Ashwija in September – October.

At the Art of Living, Sharan Navratri is celebrated by the blessings of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the welfare, peace and prosperity for every living being on the planet. Divine blessings are invoked so that everyone obtains wisdom and the following three shaktis:

  • Ichcha Shakti – Willpower
  • Kriya Shakti – Power to perform right action
  • Jnana Shakti – Knowledge of right action

We see everything happens on time in the puja mandap. So what is the significance of time in Navratri?

Navratri pujas and rituals are conducted with perfect precision as prescribed in Shaivagama and Shaktatantras and holy scriptures like Rudrayamalam, Shradatilakam, Parashurama, Kalpasutram, Sri Vidya Tantramand Mantra Maharnavaand Devi Mahatmiyam. These texts prescribe the precise way of conducting the rituals and pujas and the precise auspicious time or muhurtham. The guidelines are followed in detail and precisely executed by the expert priests. The students of our Gurukul are trained vigorously in this discipline to assist the senior expert priests so that all the rituals are completed precisely on time.

Could you share an insight into the preparations that go into the Navratri pujas?

Pujas are conducted on the last five days of Navratri from Shasthi Thithi onwards, i.e. the sixth day.

Following are the steps that go into the preparation of the pujas:

  • First and fore most is collection of materials – Dravya Sangrahana and the quantity of materials required – Dravaya Pramana. These materials are sourced mainly from the state of Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and also from Jammu.
  • The Second important step is preparation of the area of the Yagnashala which is done in accordance with Yagnashala Lakshana. The procedure is known as Yagnashala Nirmanaand Mandala Lepana(creation of scientific diagrams). Some of the mandals are Ganesha mandala, Vastu mandala, Navagraha mandala and Sudarshana mandala.
  • The panchabhootas or five elements are worshipped.
    • Water element in kalasha (pot),
    • fire element as the kinder in the havankunda,
    • Air element through chanting of mantras,
    • Earth element is worshipped through the mandalas.
    • All this worship happens in the interface of the space element.
  • Then the Panchasana Vedika, the stage to place the main kalasha of the Chandi Yagna is created.
    • The base of the stage is the Koormasana (tortoise, which signifies stability). Above the Koormasana are a series of symbols in the following order:
    • Above that is Simhasana (lion, which signifies veerya or strength).
    • Simhasana (lion, which signifies veerya, or strength).
    • Yogasana (figures of eight siddhas or perfected beings, which are indicative of the Ashtanga Yoga – eight limbs of yoga).
    • Padmasana (lotus, which represents the state of enlightenment, and full blossoming of consciousness).
    • Kalasha Sthapana or placement of the pot of water is done into which the energy of the Mother Divine is invoked in this pot.
  • Preparation of kalashas or the pots is done by threading of the kalasha into which water from holy rivers and medicated herbs are filled. At the top of the kalasham, mango leaves are placed and coconut is placed above the leaves and decorated with sandal paste, Kumkum, Darbha grass and specific scented flowers.
  • Before the beginning of the yagna, Vaastupuja is done where earth is worshipped and Ankuraarpanam is done wherein nine varieties of food grains are planted all over the Yagnashala on all four sides. This is done to respect the food grains and farmers. These prayers are conducted for increasing the fertility of the land.
  • Preparation of the Homa Kunda: Homa Kunda is constructed in the east direction of the Yagnashala.
    • Padma Kunda is the type of Homa Kunda which is constructed in our ashram for conducting Chandi yagna.
    • The other type of kunda is Yoni kunda. The type of Kunda constructed is dependent on the quantity of Dravyas offered for ahuthis, i.e. the quantity materials offered into the sacrificial fire.
    • Chatusthambha puja or four pillars (Dharma, Gnana, Vairagya and Ishwarya) are erected in the inner portion. In the outer portion, Shodasha Sthamba puja or 16 pillars are erected, which are the 16 aspects of the human life.
  • Ashtadhwaja, or eight flags, are installed in the outer portion of the Yagnashalas, along with eight patakas or flags, which have elephants on them.
  • Ashtamangala, or eight equipment, are installed in the inner portion of the Yagnashala. These are Darpanam (mirror), Poornakumbha (pot), Vrishabha (diagram of bull), two Chamaras (hairy fans), Srivatsam (a diagram), Swastikam (a diagram), Shankha (conch) and Deepa (lamp).
  • In the inner portion decorative drawings or rangolis are drawn and the Yagnashala is decorated with mango leaves, banana stem, sugar cane and lamps are also lit.
  • The borders of the Yagnashala are also decked up with sown seeds of the food grains, which sprout quickly. The sprouts have the ability to absorb the mantras – Aushadhi mantras. Prayers are done for the food grains to sprout well and bless the smooth conduction of the Chandi yagna.

What is the significance of Navratri for a spiritual seeker?

Navratri is celebration of the principle or tattva of Shakti. It is celebrated in Sharad Ritu and shakti is worshipped in 3 different forms – Ichchashakti, Kriya shakti and Jnanashakti as per the agamas. As per the kalpas (or Puranas), shakti is worshipped as Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Maha Saraswati. On all the nine days, Devi Mahatyam and Srimad Devi Bhagavatam are recited.

This is a unique festival where in on one hand, celebration happens and on the other, one can delve deeper to gain knowledge of the self.

Moreover, there are six distortions, or vices of the mind:

  • Kama (desire),
  • Krodha (anger),
  • Lobha (greed),
  • Moha (infatuation)
  • Mada (arrogance), and
  • Matsarya (jealousy)

These distortions can go out of control in any human being, and become an obstacle on the spiritual path. They can be dissolved during these nine days of Navratri, with the grace of Shakti.

Tapasya or upasana are, therefore, performed during these nine days, along with meditation. With the blessings of Pujya Gurudev, we have a ready-made and easy-to- follow spiritual path. By following his guidance, we can attain Siddhi or perfection, through Anima, Mahima, and Lagima.

What is the significance of sankalpa during Navratri?

For any puja, a commitment is required. In order to obtain success in achieving our goal, we pray to the divine at the beginning of the pujas and this is called sankalpa. When a yagna of such a great magnitude is being conducted in the ashram, by taking a sankalpa, benevolence is showered on us and the whole world, the mind gets purified and we obtain clarity.

When sankalpa is taken by an individual for his/her family, it is called Atmartha sankalpa. At the same time, when sankalpa is taken for the benefit of the whole world, it is called Parartha sankalpa.

Is it true that the Chandi homa has 1,008 parts during the puja?

The Chandi homa is of two types – Laghu Chandi homa (the shorter version) and Maha Chandi homa (the long version).

In Laghu Chandi homa, Avahana or invocation of the Devi is done and is followed by the Navakshari mantra japa. The homa is followed by Devi puja, and is done one time, only for a few hours.

The Maha Chandi homa can be done nine times, and is known as Nava Chandi homa. When performed 100 times, it is known as Shata Chandi homa; when performed 1,000 times, it is known as Sahasra Chandi homa; and, when performed 10,000 times, it is known as Ayuta Chandi homa.

i. What rituals are followed before the commencement of the yagna?
Puja begins with

  • Guru Anugraha: This is for seeking the guidance and blessings of the Guru.
  • Devata Anugraha: Here, divine permission is sought.
  • Vigneshwara puja: This is a prayer to Lord Ganesha, for the removal of all obstacles. It is followed by the Poorvanga pujas.
  • Acharya anugna: The blessings of the senior-most priest are sought; he heads the whole yagna. The senior-most priest is known as Brahma.
  • Maha Sankalpa: This intention is taken where in the day, time and place, where the puja is being conducted, is recited. The name and purpose of the homa is also mentioned; the puja begins hereafter.
  • Graha Preeti: We offer prayers to the nine grahas, or planets, so that the homa can be conducted smoothly without any obstacles. The prayer invokes the blessings of the nine planets, so that the defects, if any, in the nakshatra, rashi and lagna, in which the puja is done, are resolved.
  • Nandi Shobhanam: Prayers are offered to seek blessings from the rishis and elders.
  • Madhuparka puja: Milk, honey and ghee are mixed, and a specific mantra is chanted. The priests, who perform the homa consume it, so that they are in a sweet state of mind while performing the puja.
  • Gaudaana: This involves gifting of a cow, after Gau puja or worshipping of the cow.
  • Punyahavachana: This purifies the venue where the puja is happening.
  • Panchagavyam: These are the five elements through which the body is purified.
  • Vaastu Shanti: This is a prayer to the Bhoomi Devatas.
  • Mrut Sangrahana: Mruthyu is taken from sand or wood.
  • Ankurarpana: This involves sowing nine types of grains in pots, which are soaked in milk and water.
  • Raksha Bandhana: This is the Aacharya’s sankalpa for the puja by tying the sacred yellow thread on the right hand.

These are the rituals (Poorvanga puja) before the commencement of the yagna.

ii. What steps need to be followed as the yagna commences?

There are various steps to be followed once the yagna begins:

  • Deepa puja: Two types of lamps are placed on either side of the main kalasham. On the left side, the Durga lamp is lit with til (sesame seed) oil and on the right side, the Lakshmi lamp is lit with ghee.
  • Shodasha Mathruka puja: 16 Mathruka Devis are invoked.
  • Acharya and Ritvik Varana: Here, acharyas or priests specialised in different branches of the Vedas, Shastras and Agamas, are appointed. The four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva, and the Ethihasa Puranaas and Shaivagamas are chanted.
  • Acharya anugna: The blessings of the senior-most priest are sought. He heads the whole yagna. The senior-most priest is known as Brahma.
  • Maha Sankalpa: This intention is taken, wherein the day, time and place, where the puja is being conducted, is recited. The name and purpose of the homa is also mentioned; the puja begins after this.
  • Chandi Maha Yagna Mantapa puja: 53 varieties of main pujas are conducted and the gods of all the 10 directions are worshipped.
  • Dwara, Thorana, Dhwaja, Pataka, Sthapana: These specific leaves are tied to the mantapa, in accordance with the specific directions.
  • Acharya Aasana puja: The head priest, appointed to perform the yagna, now, begins Devi puja and does japa of Navakshari mantra.
  • Gaudaana: Here, a cow is gifted after Gau puja i.e. worshipping of the cow.
  • Padyaadi Paatra Pari Kalpana: Offerings are prepared.
  • Kumbha Stapana: The main kalasham, in which the holy water from rivers are filled, is placed.
  • Pustaka puja and Parayanam puja: Puja is done for the Devi Saptshati book followed by chanting of the Devi Saptshati, which is the Devi Mahatmiyam.
  • Avahana of Devi: This is the invocation of the Devi.
  • Agni Karya: A fire is lit by creating friction between the sticks of Aruni wood – Agni Manthana. The Devi is invoked into the fire and then offerings or ahutis are given to the fire. Ahutis are given according to the specific homa being conducted – 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 ahutis, etc. Saptshati is divided into 13 parts, and there is a specific form of Devi for each part. All the 13 Devis are invoked by chanting of mantras specific to them, and specific ahutis are also given to them. This results in obtaining specific effects by the blessing of that specific Devi.
  • Yogini and Bhairava Puja: The Puja is done for the 64 yoginis and 64 bhairavas to worship them.
  • Kadambari puja
  • Vaduka Bhairava puja
  • Gau puja (Cow worship)
  • Gaja puja (Elephant worship)
  • Ashwa puja (Horse worship)
  • Kanyaka puja (Puja of little girls)
  • Suvasini puja (Puja for married women)
  • Dampati puja (Puja for couples)

Several offerings are given to all of them with mangalarati.

  • Soubhagya Dravya Samarpana: 108 varieties of medicinal herbs and fruits are offered into the main Homa Kunda, along with the chanting of Srisuktha mantra.
  • Vasodhara: The Chamaka mantras are chanted now.
  • Maha Poornahuthi: This is the final offering of a red saree, ghee, and honey in a dry coconut, Navaratnasor nine precious gems, and Panchalohas or five types of metals.
  • Samyojana: The effects and vibrations of the puja are transferred to the main kalasham or pot.
  • Rakshadharana – Raksha is taken from the Homa Kunda and applied to the main kalasham, followed by puja.
  • Kalashabhishekam – The sacred water from the main kalasham is now offered to the idol of the Goddess.
  • Special prayers are done, and blessings are given to the whole earth. The sacred water is now sprinkled by Poojya Gurudev on all those who have assembled there.
  • The Guru then gives prasadam, and blesses everybody.

How is training given to the Veda boys to ensure this clock-wise precision?

  • The students of Veda Agama Samskrutha Maha Patashala practise yoga, Sudarshana Kriya and meditation every day, which keeps them physically and mentally alert. Additionally,
  • They follow the system of Gurukul’s Training Program’s rules and regulations.
    They are also given Mantra Deeksha to enable them to perform the Chandi homa. They are well trained in each and every step of the homa, and this helps in maintaining the precision as far as time is concerned on the day of the Chandi homa. The students are given training in a practical Chandi homa, at the Agama Patashala, a week before the Maha Chandi homa.
  • About 12 weeks of practice of the chanting of Devi Mahatmiyam also takes place.

What are the six yagnas performed, and what is their effect on a person’s life?

(a) Ganapathi homa – For any work to be accomplished, positive and negative energies come into play. These energies need not always be external; they can be in our body and mind also. Hence, we pray to Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. It is a tradition to perform Ganesha homa and puja before we begin any yagna.

(b) Subrahmanya homa – Lord Subrahmanya is the god of victory. To succeed in any endeavor, Jnana Shakti, or the energy of knowledge, is needed. So, Bramhanya mantras are chanted and Lord Subrahmanya is invoked.

(c) Navagraha homa – Navagrahas, or the nine planets, are important, and their movements or Grahagathi influence the whole earth and every individual living on it. So, the nine planets are honored by offering nine different varieties of ahutis. This is accompanied by chanting of the mantras, which are specific to each planet. Specific planets influence specific parts of our body and they also influence specific grains and gems.

Planets have an influence on every happening on earth. We pray to the nine planets to decrease or ward off their negative influence on us, and to further enhance the positive influence they are, already, exerting on us.

(d) Rudra homa – The Rudra homa gives us peace, and removes all the sadness from our lives. Rudra mantras, including Namaka and Chamaka mantras, are chanted during this homa. Honoring Rudra mantras helps us go deep in meditation and brings a balance of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Rudra mantras dissolve the three gunas and help us enter the state of nothingness in deep meditation. At The Art of Living International Center, 11 priests perform the Rudra homa by chanting the Rudra mantras eleven times; and this is known as Ekadasha Rudra homa.

(e) Sudarshana homa – The Sudarshana homa wards off the evil eye and negative influences, and leads us to bliss. The Sudarshana mantra and Vishnu Sahasranamam are recited during this mantra. Lakshmi mantra and Sri Sukhta mantras are also chanted during the Sudarshana homa.

(f) Rishi homa – This homa is done on the last day of Navratri. Rishis are the Drishtaaraha – those who have entered deep samadhi and downloaded the mantras from the Vedas from space. We perform the Rishi homa to express our gratitude to the rishis who have given this sacred knowledge for the upliftment of mankind. Prayers are done for the Saptharishis and other important rishis, and this begins with the Guru Puja.

To my knowledge, by the grace of Poojya Gurudev and as per his vision, this happens only at The Art of Living International Center.