Yesterday was the beginning of Navaratri (“nine nights”), an important Hindu festival that concentrates on the worship of Shakti (the divine feminine), devoting each of the nine nights to a different form of Shakti/Devi. While getting little attention from the mainstream press in the West, in India festival coverage, ruminations, and meditations, are everywhere. The Economic Times connects the festival to the recently-released Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world list, the Times of India explores the regional differences of the festival, and the Press Trust of India explores Kolkata’s effort to “go green” this year by encouraging eco-friendly statuary and employing the goddess Durga in the effort.
Durga Puja organisers have been encouraged to use solar power and LED lights to illuminate their pandals while eco-friendly paints worth more than Rs. 3 lakhs have been doled out free of cost to hundreds of artisans making Durga idols in the city. “Possibly we are the first state in the country to have been successful in controlling the usage of lead paints in idols during festivals. Almost two-thirds of all idols made in the state this season are from eco-friendly paints,” Biswajit Mukherjee, chief law officer of the state’s environment department, told PTI … over 50,000 idols are immersed into various water bodies each year in the state, it leads to contamination in water making it unfit for the survival of aquatic life and drinking purposes.”
Similar efforts were also made involving the god Ganesha as well (in a related note, be sure to also check out the NYT piece on the environmentally focused Bishnoi tribe in India). Here in the West, there is one prominent Navaratri-related effort. The Hindu American Seva Charities is initiating the ShaktiSeva campaign to “highlight the strength in the woman and bring in the forefront the energy within oneself”. The Washington Post’s On Faith site has a guest essay from Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu Pujarin, Unitarian Minister and Manbo Asogwe (Priestess of Vodou), on the initiative.
“This month of October, this season of autumn and Navratri, Hindu American Seva Charities is encouraging women to take the time to find, explore and express Shakti. You don’t have to be Hindu to take part inShaktiSeva service to the feminine principle, whatever that means to you. Talk the talk. Walk the walk. Reach out. Create. Heal. Celebrate in a way that is meaningful to you. Nine nights in a row, observe a ritual: it may be traditional, invented or a combination of the two. Call a friend. Light a candle. Help someone…or, ask for help. Just as you already know what Shakti is, you know, deep inside, who you are. This autumn, tend the light that glows within.”
This sounds like it could be an excellent initiative for Pagan and Goddess-oriented groups to participate in. As Saumya Arya Haas points out, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month and National Breast Cancer Awareness month, not to mention the lead-up to Samhain for many Western Pagans. Perhaps a Navaratri ethos could grow here, making the entire month of October the “Month of Goddesses”? A time of interfaith outreach, cooperation between different polytheistic and divine feminine-honoring faiths, activism, good works, and a joint re-framing of the October “silly season” into something more robust and serious-minded? Just a thought.
A joyous Navratri to my Hindu and Indo-Pagan readers! Hail to Devi/Shakti in all her forms! May the nine nights be full of blessings.