Spring is in the Air, A Nine Nights Fair!!!
Spring is here at last and I am delighted. I think I have had enough of sub-zero temperatures to last a lifetime. And now, finally Mother Nature has woken up, the roads and trees and gardens blooming and glowing with the joy of spring. Oooh, I love this.
The ever tropical climate in India has not deterred our ancestors from celebrating this season of joy. With spring comes a whole new life, a whole new year. And every year a number of festivals fall around spring, glorifying the happiness that comes along with it. Baisakhi and Holi are two grand scale celebrations of the colours and bounty of the season. Filled with fun and laughter, these festivals bring out the celebrative mood in a very vibrant way. Bhangra, gulal and Holika-dahan are widespread words of talk in the northern parts of India.
In the south, however, the people celebrate the dance of spring through a less vibrant worship of the divine Mother, the fountain head of all creation. For nine days and nine nights they worship Her in her various forms and thank her for all that she has given them and all that she will give them. Yes, they celebrate Vasantha Navarathri, a version far less known than the Ashada Navarathri that comes later on in the year in autumn, but just as potent.
The illustrous clan of Ikshavaaku that ruled over Ayodhya had given birth to some of the best kings of the land. King Dhruvasindhu was one such person. He was kind, benevolent and strong. He ruled over the kingdom of Kosala with dignity and integrity. Unfortunately he met an untimely end when he was killed by a lion as he hunted in the forests adjoining the capital.
Now this put the kingdom in a very tricky situation. The king had two sons, Prince Sutrajith from Queen Lilavathi and Prince Sudarshana from Queen manorama. Sudarshana being the eldest was the obvious choice for the next king. However, King Yudhajith of Ujjain, Sutrajith’s maternal granfather, wanted to see his grand son on the throne. Lesser to no one, King Virasena of Kalinga, Sudarshana’s grandfather, publicly announced that that would never happen as long as he was alive. So, the inevitable happened. War broke out between the armies of Kalinga and Ujjain, to claim the throne of Kosala.
As luck would have it, King Virasena was killed in the battle and the victorious Yudhajith (undefeated in war), true to his name had won once again. He marched to Kosala to crown his grandson as the king of the mighty Kosala empire. The moment he stepped into Kosala, Queen Manorama, fearing the life of her son, left with him and a trusted eunuch and retreated into the forest. There they took refuge in the aashrama of Sage Bharadwaja.
Sutrajith was crowned the king of Kosala amidst much fanfare, but Yudhajith was not satisfied. Gathering an army, he went in search of Manorama and her son. Eventually he reached the sage’s aashrama.
“Baradhwaja Maharishi”, the king bowed to him humbly, ‘I have come to take away Queen Manorama and her son. They pose a threat to my grandson’s reign and need to be eliminated. Its Kshatriya dharma to vanquish your enemy. Please dont stand in my way. Hand them over to me”, he ordered.
Bharadwaja just smiled. “It maybe Kshatriya dharma to vanquish your enemies”, he said, “but it is a common dharma to protect the one who has taken refuge in you. I am not going to hand over the people who have seeked me for help. It is highly recommended that you turn back lest you want to feel the wrath of a brahmana”, he ended calmly.
Yudhajith was furious and raised his hands to attack the rishi, when his ministers pulled him back and reasoned out the correctness of Bharadwaja’s words. Having no other go, Yudhajith returned to Ujjain.
Years passed and lady luck smiled on Sudarshana. One day, a hermit’s son came to the aashrama and called out to the eunuch using the sanskrit word for the same, Kleeba. The young prince was fascinated by this new word and using the first syllable kept mispronouncing the word as Kleem. Little did he know that it happened to be the Beeja Mantra of the holy Mother. One of the most sacred and potent mantras ever recited. The prince kept repeating the syllable playfully and unknown to himself, he achieved a never before experienced calmness. All of a sudden, a bright glow materialised in front of him and Shakthi stood there, in all her glory, shining with resplendence. She blessed him full heartedly and endowed upon him a number of divine weapons and a quiver that remains unexhausted. Blessing him once again, she disappeared, just as suddenly as she had come.
Just about the same time, the King of Benares was searching for a suitable groom for his daughter, Princess Sashikala. He sent messengers far and wide to the remotest to kingdoms to invite their princes to his daughter’s swayamvara. When the messengers passed through the forest, they were pulled by an unknown force towards the aashrama of Bharadwaja. And even more weirdly they handed one of the swayamvara invites to Sudarshana, who by his general appearance was no more a kshatriya than the sage himself. The prince however decided to attend the swayamvara.
At the grand scale swayamvara that had been arranged at Benares, Princess Sashikala stood, with a garland ready in her hands. Dressed in her finest, she shone like the rising moon. By the blessings of Devi, she garlanded Sudarshana, as was destined. Hearing Sudarshana’s childhood escapade from Koshala, the King of Benares was only all the more happy to marry of Sashikala to Sudarshana.
The marriage was a grand affair and all the attendees of the swayamvara were present. Among them were the archrivals of Sudarshana, Sutrajith and his grandfather Yudhajith. The moment the sacred knot was tied around Sashikala’s neck, they pounced on Sudarshana to kill him. However, by the grace of Devi, Sudarhsana and his father-in-law were able to fight back the attack. Yudhajith was sharp and noticing the Simha Mudras (lion seal) on the arrows that came from Sudarshana, he understood that it was Devi herself who was fighting for them. Instead of withdrawing from the battle, Yudhajith ridiculed the divine mother. “You call yourself a goddess? How dare you interfere in the war between us? You are afterall but a woman. Now move away”, he growled.
And that was the end of Yudhajith and his army. Devi gave a subtle breath in their direction and in a moment the entire army was in ashes.
Sudarshana, along with his newly wedded wife and his father-in-law prostrated in front of the divine mother. They sung her praise and worshipped her repeatedly with songs, matras and words. Devi was happy beyond measures. “Sudarshana, I am extremely pleased with your devotion. My grace will always be with you. Every year, with the birth of spring, honour me with similar worship for nine long nights. Your clan will achieve immeasurable success.” Smiling upon them, Devi once again returened to her heavenly abodes.
Sudarshana along with Sashikala, returrned to the aashrama of Bharadwaja to seek his blessings. The sage was extremely happy at the turn of events and immediately escorted them back to Ayodhya along with Queen Manorama. There he installed Sudarshana on the throne and crowned him as the regent of Koshala. Everything turned out well once again.
Sudarshana and Sashikala performed the nine day pooja for Devi on a grand scale year after year. The King of Benares too popularised the worship of the Mother in spring for the welfare of all. The splendour of the Ikshavaaku clan spread all over the nation. All the descendents of Sudarshana also upheld the custom of this spring festival and Shakthi worship. And true to Devi’s words, Shri Vishnu himself was born in their clan as Raama who immortalised the glory of the solar dynasty.
So was started the tradition of Vasantha Navarathri, by the command of the goddess herself, and true to her words, people who observe the rituals of Vasantha Navarathri do achieve success in life, both materialistic and spiritual.
This year, Vasantha Navarathri starts today, 27/03/2009 and continues for nine days. The goddess is worshipped in her three forms of Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Parvathi for three days each. Kalasha pooja, chandi yagna and mantra parayana also form an integral part of the celebrations. It is customary to invite unmarried virgin teenage girls into one’s dwelling, and honour them as Devi herself, feed them and then send them away with gifts of clothes, kumkum, bangles and other stuff. The parayana of Devi Bhagvatha is also highly recommended.
So what are you waiting for, lets sing with the spring song, nine days long.