Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - May 2013  

Navaratri at SRSG

We share with you Navaratri as it was celebrated at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. Part 1 of the article was written by Daniela Citti, a student in Swami Rama Dhyana Gurukulam. Daniela shares with us her experience of the Mother Mary Puja. In Part 2, Silvia Baratta, an SRSG resident and longtime SRSG Hospitality Services Director, writes of “The 10th Devi.” Part 3 was written by Joanne Sullivan (Divya), an SRSG resident from the United States.

Mother Mary Puja by Daniela Citti

On 19th of April at SRSG, we celebrated the end of Navaratri Durga, the nine nights dedicated to the nine main aspects and representations of the Divine Mother.

This involved also a small puja at the Mother Mary statue.

This statue is placed just below Swami Veda’s residency, in a small corner. She is not exactly on your way like the Buddha statue, so you have to want to visit her and make your way to her. Like other statues in the Ashram when she was put in place the ceremony of Prana Pratishta was performed; the statue got infused with the Vital Force and a deity was invoked to inhabit in her. And you feel there is a presence there, that she is not just a piece of marble beautifully shaped, that she is alive and inspiring. At the time of installation, Swamiji washed the feet of both Mother Mary and baby Jesus with mixed holy water coming from the Ganga and the river Jordan.

The puja was celebrated at 7 pm after our evening meditation with Swami Veda. A small group gathered there, and our priest, Harshanandji, performed and recited the mantras accordingly to the Vedic tradition. Swami Ma Radha and Swami Ritavan performed the main part in the ceremony. First, symbolically you wash your hands, then you drink the holy water, and then you are ready to worship the statue. Many small candles were put all around the statue. Swami Ma Radha and Swami Ritavan lightened them one by one making her shine in the night that was approaching. Mother Mary was shining beautifully. A garland of flowers was put on her and two on the small baby Jesus, and they were decorated with flowers and petals.

Maybe for some it may have seemed weird to see a Christian statue celebrated in a Vedic way, but for me it was so natural! It was the celebration and worshipping of a deity, and when your love and faith are there, there is no difference at all.

As we do for every puja, each one of us could perform the fire offering; you hold in your hands a vessel with flowers and a burning flame, and you offer it to the deity, usually performing three circles in front of the image you are worshipping.

Then flowers were offered: everyone was holding in praying closed palms a flower, which was then placed at the feet of the statue, or wherever your heart tells you to do so.

Closing the ceremony, guided by Swami Ritavan we recited “Hail Mary” two times. I did it in my own language, in Italian, “...Ave Maria...” and such moving memories came up from my childhood…   One of the (many) gifts I have received from this Tradition has been the reconciliation within myself of every division between Christianity and Hinduism and any other religion, making my heart peaceful accepting and loving all the manifestations of the One Single Reality.

And as for every puja in India, the happy end is always the distribution of Prasad, a nice sweet given to everyone.
Two days later… on Sunday morning… the worshipping of Mother Mary was not finished yet! We had two Catholic Brothers (Catholic Priests in their training) from Delhi visiting the Ashram. It happens quite often that groups of Catholic Priests and Nuns come to visit the Ashram and stay for some days, mainly to improve their meditation. We organized an Abhishek of the statue: Mother Mary and Jesus were lovingly and carefully washed and wiped by the Brothers and then decorated with rose flowers and petals. All the kids of the Ashram were present during the Abhishek; then they ran away in their joyful laugh.

The 10th Devi by Silvia Baratta

On April 19th of this year The 9 night (nava ratri) worship of the divine feminine at SRSG came to its traditional, celebratory conclusion.   It also birthed a new tradition for that day, in the form of worship to Sadhaka Grama’s 10th Devi, Mother Mary.

After 9 days of all day activity and vigilance of the Hindu rituals, our beloved Pujari, Pandit Harshanand, still enthusiastic and exuberant with loving energy for the divine feminine, ordained a sweet and simple ceremony of mantras, flowers and candles to the Holy Mother. Ashramites, who had gathered after the nightly silent meditation with Swami Veda around the equally (and beautifully) silent statue of Mary and divine child, participated, witnessed and enjoyed the puja. Swami’s Ma Radha and Ritavan acted as yajamanas to initiate, contain and lead the worship which delightfully included a recitation by all of Hail Mary, full of grace, guided by Swami Ritavan.

Two Catholic brothers, present as guests on a yoga/meditation programme, were touched and illuminated by the heartfelt melding of rituals offered to “Sri Ma Mary”.

The ashramites present were inspired and motivated to continue the new tradition at SRSG.

Navaratri at SRSG by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

April 19th, marked the last day of Navaratri this year, the 9 nights of the goddess. In Sanskrit, nava means 9 and ratri means nights. In the springtime in North India, it begins during the lunar month of Chaitra in March or April of the Roman calendar. Here at SRSG it commenced with the round-the-clock chanting of Shri Lalita Sahasranama, the 1000 names of the goddess Lalita Devi by priests for the full 9 days. Others often joined in recitation or by just sitting in stillness and enjoying the pleasure of fullness in the Tara Devi Temple.

Many people fast on Navaratri and the fasting customs vary throughout India. Our dining hall offered traditional North Indian fasting foods for those who were fasting, in addition to the usual fare. Navaratri is a special time of Durga, the great goddess usually depicted astride a tiger. She is worshiped by Indians each day of Navaratri in Her 9 forms, one for each day with that particular focus. She is regarded as Shakti and the universal mother. Subhamoy Das has placed a slide show online of each of the 9 forms of Durga Devi:  http://hinduism.about.com/od/godsgoddesses/ss/navadurga.htm

In North India, Navaratri is celebrated both at the start and end of winter.  In South India, Navaratri is only celebrated before the advent of winter or Sharad. This autumnal celebration is often called Sharad Navaratri, winter Navaratri. It is also known as Maha-navaratri and begins in the lunar month of Ashvina in September or October of the Roman calendar. It was Swami Prayag Giri who is originally from South India and resides in Uttarkashi who pointed this out. She is here to offer a course on the Sri Ishopanishad. She kindly explained to me at our Navaratri  bhandara (special meal) that in South India, only the Maha-navaratri is normally observed. She also said that the 9th day, the day of special celebrations where Swami Veda washes the feet of the 9 little devis, is also the birthday of Lord Rama, who was born at noon on this day of the lunar calendar. At noon on the 9th day, Swami Veda was making his pranams and offerings to each of the 9 devis in the Shiva lingam temple, where they enjoyed a feast of food and gifts. While Rama was born at noon, Swami Prayag Giri explained, Krishna was born at midnight in the monsoons of summer.

Actually, there are 5 Navaratris throughout the year, but the two which occur in the autumn and in the spring are regarded as the most important in the North as they occur at auspicious junctions of the sun and seasonal change. As such they are considered a holy time to worship Durga Devi.

At 11 am on April 19th, the 9th day, many of us gathered at the Tara Devi Temple at SRSG in anticipation of Swami Veda’s arrival. All the priests were chanting the Shri Lalita Sahasranama, the 1000 names of the goddess Lalita Devi, as we absorbed the fullness of the vibrations. Then, we offered the sacred fire to the goddess and the guru (by the photo of Swami Rama) as the priests chanted more mantras, elevating the event as they do with the shakti-filled rhythms of these syllables of liquid light.

There is a tradition on this last day of Navaratri to exalt 9 little girls as the devi. Swami Veda kneeled as he does every year at this time to wash the feet of 9 little girls. He washed their feet, moving from child to child down the row, and bowing deeply inwards, awakening in them the innate divine light. These children became sanctified as devas and devis in the process. Swamiji also prayerfully covered their heads with sparkling gold and red cloths.

Afterwards, Swami Veda went to SRSG’s crystal Shiva Lingam Temple to make offerings to the children, where now more than 9 little devis and devas sat attentively to receive the blessings and prasad of Swami Veda. Others assisted him in serving more food to these devas and devis. Swamiji made another round to offer them gifts. After this, Swamiji sat with them in the temple where he seemed to be brimming with peace as the devas and devis enjoyed their prasad. I did not know at the time that it was also the hour and day of Rama birth.

After awhile, when the meal was complete, Swami Veda made his gentle parting while the devis and devas brought their gifts home and resumed their joyful play. Then the priests who had offered akhanda japa (nonstop mantra recitations) of Shri Lalita Sahasranama over these past 9 days gathered briefly in the Tara Devi Temple for the formal conclusion of their duties. Swami Ritavan, in his usual gracious and selfless manner, bowed to each of them and they took their leave.

This reminded me of the way in which Swami Rama often ended a satsang by asking “May I take your leave now?” It is usually not the Indian custom to just get up and go. As with the respectful Namaste (I pray to the divinity in you) upon meeting, there is the mutual blessing of Namaste as the parting occurs. With elders and swamis or great teachers, pranams (bowing deeply and touching the other’s feet) are offered upon meeting, just as Swami Veda offered his pranams to each of the 9 little devis. He once remarked after such a celebration that these are not merely cute little girls. They have been sanctified and honored as goddesses and should be regarded as such.

Photos courtesy of Daniela Citti and Michelle Kinsey.


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