Sharada Navaratri

I’m going to be totally honest, I forgot all about Sharada Navaratri, which started this week.  This fall equinox Navaratri, usually twenty days before Diwali, has different significances depending on what part of India you’re from. I grew up with Navaratri as a celebration of light over darkness and the battle of Dussehra.

It’s my nineteenth Navaratri and I still don’t know things like good and evil, or darkness and light– I don’t understand them, and often find those gray spaces in between the loudest of all– but when I think of Rama flying over dark & cold waters away from the demon land of Lanka, received with light and fervor by his loving people, I think of my grandfathers. So this year my nine days and nine nights are for them.

My maternal grandfather, Govinda Rao, who passed away a few years ago, is probably one of the biggest reasons I felt so deeply about Hinduism in the first place. He came to America with literally twenty dollars in his pocket and used them to take a taxi to the hospital where he had a job; he educated his daughters even when that wasn’t the norm; he loved God and loved scripture intimately. But these are only stories to me. I have only one memory of my grandfather before his stroke, and the rest are of us learning Sanskrit together, of me reading the Mahabarata to him over long long afternoons with breaks for water. His prayer beads, always wrapped around his wrist in his final days; singing bhajans with, and eventually to him when he could no longer speak. He sought out his homeland in every way he could, and in doing so he taught me everything I know now. In music, in prayer, and in devotion. My brave grandfather who traversed the ocean to give his children a better life. I’d like to think, over the course of the years, he came to know God through seeking only peace.

My paternal grandfather, Devraj Gupta, is also an incredible man who I love dearly. Although I don’t know a lot about his religious life, my Babaji unknowingly taught me how to distinguish my Hinduism from Hindu nationalism. From him I am one quarter Punjabi, and I treasure this inheritance because of his bravery, his love, and his peace. When India and Pakistan cleaved in two my grandfather was forced to flee the border further inland. He was around my age at the time. He has only ever said one sentence about it to me– perhaps because I am still, at nearly twenty, the youngest grandchild– and even that shook me to my core at the horrors of it. My Babaji saw the dark dark side of Hinduism and saw the outpouring of religious violence. He fled from it. Did not partake in any sort of sacrifice through blood shedding; condemned it even. And not only did he survive but he remained a good, peaceful man. This showed me that no matter how people act in the name of Hinduism there is purity and there is light. I love my Babaji for his wisdom and his resilience, two qualities that shaped me in my spiritual and daily life as a Hindu.

I hope that we can all take time to reflect on light and dark, on homecoming, on sacrifice. I hope these nine days and nine nights we recognize the Ravanas of the world and that we can embody the spirit of Rama as we set out to conquer them. Shubh Sharada Navaratri my friends!

One Comment

neda.ya posted on June 7, 2023 at 2:51 am

All these rituals are good when they lead us to God alone…
Otherwise, I’m very sorry to say this, maybe they are wasting time…

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