I have been watching the celebrations of the Navaratras from my childhood. All along the talk has been about the Goddess, in Her nine different manifestations. It is concluded by feasting the girl child of pre-puberty age. Somehow I always had a different take on the subject. I have always felt two things: one that it is a celebration of femininity and the power of the female principle in the creation. I felt like this because of another childhood learning about the principle of Ardhanarishwar or 50% female ( Lord Shiva has this name and it means he is half male & half female). Now, in the Age of gender debate this principle is significant: who is or should dominate? Are the man & woman equals or complimentary or supplementary or dominant in comparison etc? Like several other examples of variations, the chemical composition of male & female minds of the Homo Sapiens also have enormous variations depending on what percentage of the male or female principle has gone into their composition. That defines their nature, personality, individuality and speciality. But the power of femininity doesn’t lessen in any way- when it manifests itself it can vanquish even the greatest demons. Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasur represents that power. Provoked or challenged, the woman can be very dangerous. So always keep her in a happy frame of mind. And the woman too is expected to practice divine virtues befitting her superior power over the male counterpart. The world grows around the woman. That is proven by the practice of feasting the girl child- celebrating not only her birth but development into a fine woman in life. She is a valuable asset of society. She promises continuation of life. She is the source of happiness & hope. Feed her, give her gifts and show respect to her (by touching her feet by the Lady of the House: males are permitted to touch her feet only at the time of her marriage).
That was what I used to see from early childhood. That is what I heard about the Navaratras but felt differently. The nine aspects of the Goddess in a nutshell represent knowledge, wisdom, kindness, affection, respect, benefaction,motherly love,kindness, bravery.The woman has all of these qualities and can put any of them in use according to the necessity. Those who have mistaken her for the “weaker sex” might like to correct themselves. The situation has changed drastically but tradition continues. It is a healthy sign.
It has another aspect relating to maintenance of balanced demographic ratios. In the creation, the number of females is less than that of males. To take care of the girl child, such scientific studies were wrapped in traditions and customs, so that each household practiced them with religious fervour. With the skewed sex ratios in India, such healthy social practices raise hopes of a healthy social evolution and development. Scholars devoted to women’s studies need to examine the issues in greater detail. I will attempt a detailed article some other day.