The Hatha Yogi Journals, Part 6: Of Devi and Devotion
In the 6th installment of the Hatha Yogi Journals, the teacher trainees experience Devi and taste the sweetness of devotion during the nine nights of Navratri.
Navratri - nine nights of worshipping Devi, nine nights of dressing in elegant sarees to attend her poojas, nine nights of fiery dances during Maha Arati at the Dhyanalinga’s door, nine nights of leaving the temple feeling the energy of the Goddess pulsing through my veins.
To describe the festival in mere words is a daunting task, as it was a complete sensory experience. First we took a dip in the Chandrakund to prepare our bodies to be most receptive to the divine feminine energy. Hair wet and heart pounding, I exchanged my Navratri pooja ticket at Devi’s doors for a basket of offerings to her and a red shawl. I wrapped myself in the consecrated cloth and entered the sanctuary to a sea of red-covered devotees soaking in her energy, some doing sukha kriya, some swaying from side to side enjoying the live sangeetham music, and some simply sitting, smiling. The fragrance of sambrani wafted through the air and filled us with a sense of calm and contentment. There was no place I’d rather be.
I offered a small bowl of kumkum, turmeric or sandalwood (depending on which color the Devi was adorned with that day) to the collective pile gathering near the trishul. The first three days were for the fierce Durga Devi, the next for the benevolent Lakshmi Devi, and the final for the enlightening Saraswati Devi. As I took my place on the red carpet amidst the other devotees, I could feel my heart begin to beat out of my chest. It seemed to synchronize with the Sanskrit raagas being sung beautifully. We waited for the Bhairagini Maas to open the curtains so we could be beheld by Devi.
And behold she did. Her gaze reached my core and seemed to stay with me long after the pooja ended. When I closed my eyes during practices those nine days, her piercing eyelids were etched on the back of mine. They beckoned me from afar. No matter what I was doing, at the end of the night, I found myself running back to her temple to have one last look at my mother. She and I would part with my total surrender stretched on her floor, her sweet prasadam offered at her door, and an embrace that was even sweeter.
If that wasn’t enough, instead of having a session at night, all the trainees would gather for garbha dance in Adiyogi Alayam. It was so fun to be with all the other trainees and just enjoy the atmosphere of Navratri.
Warm winds carry me to your shrine,
Vast energy fills my mind.
I walk in and bow to you.
The night sky reflects your hue.
Not the absence of color,
But one of cosmic fervor.
How can I describe your gaze?
Two bright embers through a haze
Pierce my heart, break it open,
I bleed love, breathe devotion.
Held in my mother's embrace,
I feel heat rise to my face.
Emotion erupts in tears
Falling, like my walls and fears.
I can trust you with my soul,
What was broken, you make whole.
It's not hard to surrender.
The divine father sent her,
This magnanimous power,
She's as sweet as a flower.
Forever fresh and fragrant,
Strong and firm like the pavement
She carries me as I walk.
Dear ma, I pray that you talk.
To me, through me, just be me.
I am your child, that I can see.
Still, I long to embody thee.
With lots of love,
Nothing made sense but everything was beautiful
A devotee speaks about her first encounter...
Even though I had the privilege of being raised within the mystical Indian subcontinent, I was a rebellious atheist turned confused agnostic who vehemently dismissed ritualistic practices and traditional poojas very early on in my childhood. I would be parked outside temples along with the footwear, refusing to budge when my family made their annual pilgrimages. Logic failed to unravel the mysteries of blind faith and devotion, thus ensuring I remained untouched by the non-physical dimension of life for most of my life.
But this changed sometime last year. I was out working as a relief volunteer and journalist in Nepal during the earthquake and was a witness to people losing families, homes, limbs, hope and faith in a matter of seconds. Their worlds had come crashing down and I wanted to do everything I could to make life easier for them. If not their lost family, I wanted to at least return a glimmer of hope. Our team worked long hours collecting money, procuring tents, food and medicines, organizing and distributing it across to the remotest villages in Nepal. While we successfully reached hundreds of affected people, I had not experienced a moment of tenderness; not a single tear nor one smile that could bring hope to their reality. This affected me more than my experience of being in the midst of a natural calamity. Had I become so hard that I could not feel any pure emotion, I wondered. I searched frantically for tenderness and compassion within my being, but all roads were paved with cold, brutal logic.
I revisited the ashram shortly after this, and this time I sat before Devi, still not knowing what exactly I was doing inside a temple. Unsure about how to place my hands or hang my head, I just sat there unspeaking and unmoving. Nothing dramatic happened in those few minutes, but that evening when I walked out of the temple, Devi walked too - not with me, but within me. I could feel her grace and presence in everything I touched, in the very way I existed. It was not the same face I saw when I looked into the mirror; there she stood in all her glory, staring right back at me through my own eyes. Oh, the fierceness, compassion and stillness that she brought within me! I recall my sister telling me that everything about me had changed just overnight, leaving an unexplainable glow all around me. Nothing made sense, but everything was beautiful, and that was my first encounter with the illogical madness of devotion.
I am transfixed in the temple for hours at a stretch; spellbound by her beauty, grace and energy. Devi is not a mother, goddess, deity, guru or guide for me; she is me. I feel her fierce fire-like passion that could burn anything in sight with its intensity, as well as her compassion that encompasses all that comes before her. But the form of her that I experience the strongest is of absolute stillness. By being devoted, I saw myself dissolving into her till no trace of me was left and only she danced before my eyes. Rationality, logic and reasoning all together could not grapple how an oval-shaped mercury piece was driving me this crazy. This became a pathway for me to transcend beyond to a place of indescribable silence where time and space melted into nothingness.