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On 14 Oct this year, Hindus celebrate the festival of Durgáshtami, the worship of Goddess Dúrga. From 7 to 15 October they celebrate Navarátri, the Nine-Day-Festival, during which the great battles of the Goddess against the forces of evil are commemorated. Ashutósh Várdhana, a Hindu writer who lives in England, explains what the festival means to Hindus.
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The ancient stories speak of battles with chariots, lances, arrows and magic weapons, of good kings and bad demons, but what is really meant is the battle between good and evil in our hearts. The stories are meant to encourage us to live better lives. The battle fields are within us.
There was once a demon king so powerful that none of the gods (all male) could oust him. Therefore all the gods came together to create a 'supergod' with the combined power of all of them. That supergod was a woman, the Dévi.
The Dévi went into battle against the demon armies. They despised her because she was a woman, a weak woman, as they thought. But she, who was in fact identical with Bráhman, the Absolute, defeated all of them.
Navarátri, the Nine-day-Festival, commemorates the battle. During this period we worship the Dévi (God in its manifestation as a woman)
Navarátri is celebrated differently in different parts of India. In Bengal it is the greatest festival of the year.
On the ninth day of Navarátri we celebrate Durgáshtami, the high-point of the worship of Dúrga.
Apart from the personal lesson to fight evil within us, the festival also teaches us something about relations between men and women.
They gradually change over the centuries in society and in our religion, which reflects and informs that society. That is good. Our religion grows organically (like a tree) and adjusts itself to the needs of our society.
The story of the Dévi shows woman far superior to man. That is a useful message, especially in view of the fact that many other ancient texts suggest that woman is inferior. Today we must renounce that notion. Navarátri teaches us that woman is ***equal*** to man.
When an ancient Hindu scripture said, 'Treat your parents as God, treat your husband as God, treat your teacher as God, treat your guest as God,' today we have to add, with equal vigour and authority, 'treat your wife as God', which is another way of saying: 'Treat every woman as God.'
An ancient Sanskrit verse puts it quite plainly: