On Thursday Oct 7 in Australia the festival of Navaratri begins. The nine nights of the Goddess as celebrated in India, where the power and beauty of the Divine Feminine is celebrated, with the story of Devi Durga defeating dark forces in the world.
We turn towards devotion to the Divine Mother in the form of Goddess Durga, a warrior Goddess of strength and protection. Offer the Goddess the elementals; fire, (candle) water, earth (oil) air (incense) and space (flowers) . To access the transformative power of Durga, as Aurobindo said, we have to call it, ask for it, pray for it.
In a recent before times pilgrimage to India I visited three of the five great elemental temples in Southern India. These are ancient awesome temples full of centuries of devotion, deep sanctuary, beauty and power. In these sacred temples reference to time and space dissolves in the huge dimensions and energies of these spaces.
In the city of Trichy we encountered the feminine in the form of the Deity of the water element, Akilhandisvari, who resides at Jambukeswarer temple. She is a form of Parvati and rides a crocodile on stormy waters. Jambukswarer temple is on Srirangam Island outside of Trichy, and the temple itself is built around a Shiva lingam partially submerged in water. Darshan with the female Deity Akilhandisvari was very overwhelming . Before entering the temple we bought chai and flowers. The ancient temple is entered through a tower or gopuram. There is a beautiful series of enclosures that radiate from a lower inner sanctum. The noise of the world falls away. There are enormous pillared halls of sculpted stone called mandapams. We are in sacred space.
What was unusual about this temple was the large number of women there, all dressed beautifully in saris and flowers. The space felt very peaceful and quiet. We walked around the stone corridors lined with enormous Devi murtis, navagrahas, Ganesh. I was holding in my heart a few women in my life experiencing suffering. Here was the place to make offerings to Akilhandisvari, whose name in one translation means never not broken. A couple of Indian women approached me just outside the sanctum and before their gentle enquiries they assured us making offerings to the Devi will bring deep blessings upon us.
We waited a long time in lines as intensity built amongst the devotees. Finally we were ushered into an intensely hot underground darkened shrine, whose entrance was about 3 feet high. Akilandisvari stood before us draped completely in flowers. Behind us are 9 spaces in the thick stone wall, representing the navagrahas, the nine planets of Jyotish where other devotees are pushed past for darshan chanting and loudly shouting their prayers. A pujari dripping in sweat accepted my flowers and waved light before Her. The whole shrine seemed to be full of flowers and luminous light. I felt the radiance of a beauty and benevolence I have not experienced before. My friend kneeling on the floor in prayer was slapped sharply across the head by the pujari to get up and move out when our time was up.
As we move through the sacred time of Navaratri, reflections of being never not broken, of the many forms of Parvati as the shakti, healing grace and love of the Divine Mother.