This year is the fourth year that I was blessed to witness Navaratri celebration here in our Centres of South Africa. Two years back, Mother made me visit all our branches in Northern Natal about which you might have read in this blog here. I have no hesitation to say that of all the functions observed here at our Ashrams, doubtless Navaratri (Durga Puja in Ramakrishna tradition parlance) holds a special charm. At no other time one can witness such a display of devotional faith and fervour as at this time.
Besides Headquarters, the Sub-centres at Chatsworth and Pietermaritzburg in Southern Natal, had clay images of Mother Durga. Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville had also such a murti. All these four murtis are designed to be of ashtabhuja (eight-armed) and simha-vahini (riding the lion). There is no ubiquitous demon King Mahishaasur! Recently I heard from brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji that his Guru and the Second president of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Swami Shivapadanandaji wanted to popularise the benign form of Mother Durga among the devotees.
Each day these murtis were lovingly decorated and dressed, and freshly garlanded. Since every cluster of three nights of the nine-night festival are dedicated to Mothers Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati each, representing the three gunas of prakriti viz., tamas, rajas and sattwa, Mother was appropriately adorned with garments in blue-black, blood-red and milk-white colours. And there She was, in all her divine glory and splendour, silently accepting the adoration of Her devotees, through their soulful songs, the hearty recital of hymns, divinely discourses and purifying pujas.
People ask me often, ‘Swamiji! from where do you get such beautiful murtis? Are they imported from india?’ Well, the murtis are ‘proudly South African!’ diligently made by a lady-devotee, who is a dedicated worshipper of the Holy Trio, very much a citizen of SA.
She considers the preparation of the Durga murti as an act of her special sadhanaa. After making prayers to Master, Mother and Swamiji, she first casts the Foot of the Mother. She confided in me that bowing to the Foot represents the crushing of her ego – the ego that thinks she is the creator of the Image. She would pray with humility, that Mother might bestow Her grace upon the artist. The lady acknowledged that the artist in her was merely an instrument of Mother, performing the act of Mother’s Will.
On Mahashtami day, after Master’s puja at the Temple, we gathered at the Nischalananda Hall where Sri Durga Havan was performed to the chanting of entire Devi Mahatmyam and oblation offered at the end of each mantra followed by recitation of the mantra with vilva leaf oblation– ‘Aum Aim Hreem Kleem Chaamundaayai Vicce’. This was too joined by all the assembled devotees. Long before the 700th ‘svaahaa!’ was chanted in chorus, the minds of the devotees had already begun to soar to great spiritual heights.
The most emotional day for the devotees is the vijaya dashami – when the images that were worshipped with pomp and éclat were immersed in the sea. The day unlike last year found the sun shining, not windy, the sky azure. Like Mathur babu the devotees could not bear to see Her go away. Was the image immersed in the sea of water? yes, and what about She who was worshipped in the image? She was immersed in the sea of thoughts! For the moment, there was only the philosophical consolation that the supreme Devi had returned once again to Her immanent residence in the hearts of the devotees. Did not Master say in the Gospel: “…But you should remember that the heart of the devotee is the abode of God…His drawing room (lounge).”
Every year during Durga Puja, Mathur would invite the Master to his Calcutta residence at Janbazar. The Master passed those days joyfully with Mathur and his family. As a Guru, the Master bestowed his grace on Mathur. On the last day of Durga Puja that year, Mathur said to the Master: “Father, whatever others may say, I won’t allow the Mother to be immersed in the Ganges. I have ordered the worship to be continued daily. How can I survive in this world without the Mother?”
The Master stroked Mathur’s chest and said: Oh, is this what makes you afraid? Who has told you that you will have to live without the Mother? And where will She go even if you immerse Her image in the Ganges? Can the Mother stay away from Her son? For the last three days She has accepted your worship in the worship hall, but from today She will accept your worship constantly, sitting in your heart”. And Mathur was mollified.
The tradition of Navaratri here among the Hindus is a mixture of North-South combination. The days were spent in a blissful mood for which I am grateful to our Sri Thakur, Ma and Swamiji although my tour for 14 days from 1st to 14th october was extensive and hectic. And this feeling of joy is nonetheless due to the gracious blessings of all senior monks and loving vibrations from younger brothers. And finally is the devotional feeling with which devotees like you who are house-holders, always wish for the welfare of the monks!