On September 28th Steve and I went over to Nirmala’s home to celebrate Navarathi. During conversation with some of the women attending it was explained to me that Navarathi is to be considered a woman’s festival among other things. Navarathi literally means "nine nights." The festival is observed twice a year, once in the beginning of summer and again at the onset of winter. In this case the energy of God is in the female form of Mother Durga- the remover of miseries/shortcomings of life. She is also referred to as "Devi" (goddess) or "Shakti" (energy or power).
The nine days of Navaratri are divided into sets of three days to worship different aspects of the goddess. On the first three days, the Mother is adored as supreme power and force- as Durga the Terrible, the Destroyer. One prays to Mother Durga to destroy all impurities, vices, defects. She is the power that protects your spiritual practice from its many dangers and pitfalls.
Once you have accomplished your task of breaking down unhealthy habits, the next step is to work on and acquire positive qualities in place of the eliminated qualities. Divine (spiritual) qualities have to be acquired and this is where Mother Lakshmi comes in, as one must cultivate and develop all the auspicious qualities. She bestows limitless divine wealth and is the purity aspect of God. Thus the worship of Goddess Lakshmi is performed during the second set of three days.
When one succeeds in removing the undesirable aspects, and develops pure, divine qualities, one becomes ready to receive the light of supreme wisdom and to receive divine knowledge. At this stage comes the devout worship of Mother Saraswathi, who is embodiment of divine knowledge. The music of Her veena awakens Truth and the sacred
The tenth day, Vijaya Dasami, marks the joy /victory of the soul at having attained liberation while living in this world, through the bestowing of knowledge by the Goddess Saraswathi. This was the day we celebrated at Nirmala’s. It was early evening and upon walking into her home we were graced by the scents of feast dishes that had been carefully prepared and set upon a table. Her living room had a large alter comprised of a lifetime collection of deities and dolls, which in front of was placed offerings and flowers- lovely rugs lay on the floor for Naadha Rasa students and the many newcomers who were there to begin their studies under her guidance.
Every year at this festival Nirmala personally gifts the group a new vocal song to learn and sing. This year, as always, her home was overflowing with regulars and newcomers to Naadha Rasa. The song she introduced to them was Mathe; in Kamas ragam, composed by Muttiah Bhagvatar. For Veena students the new Veena composition was by Dikshitar -Namasthe Paradevathe; in the raga Devaranji, Roopak Thalam.
I spent time listening to the singing and having conversation off and on with adults gathered in the kitchen area. The two tiny tots Arjun and Sritan were especially fetching in their outfits. Sritan was in a white dhoti topped by a white sparkly kurta and his pal Arjun was in a fancy burgundy and gold kurta with matching trousers. At one point Kamlakar held both kids so I could quickly snap a few shots to capture the moment. Candice and I sat together basking in each other’s company discussing the meaning of Navarathi, foods we enjoy, along with clothing and color choices. I ate early as I had come straight from work and was starving- many people brought food to share ranging from lentil/ rice dishes, cucumber yogurt to deserts and every single offering was absolutely delicious. Home cooking and the love that goes into it beats any local restaurants hands down!
Raj, Ram and I had a conversation regarding the future of education, discussing the idea of physical colleges becoming redundant as everything will most likely be web-based, thus making college a more affordable proposition for the majority. We talked about the pros and cons of this happening along with discussion of our present economy and job situations. Joe walked in on the college discussion and agreed with my stance that education as we currently know it will be undergoing some major changes in the not so distant future.Towards the end of the evening Nirmala blessed all her students and some associates with kumkum and gifts. To my great surprise she called my name, blessed me for working on this blog and gave me a gift from herself combined with an unbelievably lovely salvar kameeze in all my favorite colors (turquoise, brown-gold greens studded with tiny sparkling mirrors) from Kamlakar and his family. I felt extremely honored and had to compose myself so as not to cry in front of the group. I feel completely blessed to have the Naadha Rasa family in my life and to share the holidays and festivals, the music and visits to the Mandir- to share the joy in watching the students grow and taking delight in their accomplishments. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!! All Blessings to the Naadha Rasa family and friends and the new endeavors in each one’s lives.
Steve and I missed Nirmala’s concert at the
September 26 (Hindu Mandir)
This is the date for the 2009 Saraswathi Pooja at the Hindu Mandir. On previous years for this festival marking the end of Navarthi, the Sathanandan family- as sponsors for Saraswathi -would have been present hosting the event for devotees. With the unexpected passing of Mr. Sathanandan, the family requested Nirmala, Raj and Shruthi to take over the duties of sponsor. Nirmala was already booked to play for this event so she made arrangements to shift timings a bit in order to be present for the entire Pooja.
Steve and I came early to make our rounds with the Dieties and ran into Candice, Ram, Sandhya and Arjun who invited us to be part of their family Abhishekam with Vishnu. One of our favorite priests was doing the ceremony so it made the intimate gathering and blessings all the more special. Earlier, Steve had purchased a pooja offering for Saraswathi and we in turn invited Ram and family to be part of our Abhishekam Archana.
We listened as Anu Krishnan performed a lovely ragamalika leading into the event and then we sat on the floor with fellow devotees and watched as the priests took our collected money gifts from the slotted silver tray and poured water though the tray over the small Deity of Saraswathi which sat before the Saraswathi mini-temple. The representation of our offerings mingled with the energy of water was a beautiful thing to contemplate. Milk, orange juice, rosewater, fire, incense, bananas, bells and flowers in shades of peach, white, yellow, pink and orange was offered during the ceremony while the priests sang and chanted.
Nirmala appeared in the Mandir dressed in a beautiful sari of tangerine-orange with gold and burgundy trim. She, Sriram and Balaji set up their area in front of the Diety and Steve helped with some sound and cord hookups. A tiny little Bharatanatyam dancer in gold and dark periwinkle colored attire performed a new dance she had recently learned for Saraswathi and several elders took turns singing songs. When these folks finished it was time for Nirmala to begin her concert.
She began by saying what a great privilege it was for her to play for this occasion and then dedicated her veena and performance to Saraswathi. During the course of the evening she performed at least seven full compositions to much applause. She mentioned her Guru Kalpagam’s August birthday of 88 years and how she was a woman who GAVE rather than being concerned with receiving. Kalpagam gave Nirmala a new song this year when Nirmala was in Chennai- Saraswathye Bhagevathye Samrakshyoham; Raga- Chaya Gowla, composer Dikshitar. The sahityam say to Saraswathi “You are in every raga.” The feel of this piece of music was ancient and hypnotic as Nirmala’s intuitive talent lifted the souls of those listening to a higher plane in accordance with the devotional aspect of the event. In several of the selections she kept her rhythm section very busy and they performed aptly to much audience appreciation. It was heartwarming to watch the priests sitting over to the side with beaming smiles on their faces, leading me to feel that this must have been a welcome highlight of their Navarathi experience.
Beyond the range of the usual human emotions lies the emotion of peace and serenity. ”Shantha Rasa” represents complete harmony among mind, body and the universe. This is a state where the mind is in rest, a state of tranquility. It was in this state at the end of the evening that we walked out the doors of the Mandir and headed for home.