October 22 is Navpatrika Puja or Mahasaptami which is a part of the Sharad Navratri and Durga Puja. Navpatrika etymologically means nine leaves and hence on this day, Goddess Durga is worshipped by invoking her in nine different leaves. Moreover, it is on this day that the idols of Goddess Durga in pandals are unveiled for the visitors to see and worship.
How is it celebrated?
Navpatrika Puja or Mahasaptami is celebrated by inviting Goddess Durga in nine different leaves or stems, each of which symbolises the nine forms of the deity. It is believed that these living things become a medium of communication between the Gods and Goddesses and the devotees.
1. Banana leaves symbolise Goddess Brahmani
2. Kachchi plant symbolises Goddess Kali
3. turmeric plant symbolises Goddess Durga,
4. Jayanti Plant symbolises Goddess Kartiki,
5. Bilva plant symbolises Lord Shiva
6. Pomegranate plant symbolises Goddess Raktdakini
7. Ashoka plant symbolises Goddess Sokarahita
8. Manaka plant symbolises Goddess Chamunda
9. Rice paddies symbolise Goddess Lakshmi
On this day, apart from the regular fast that is observed for nine days in Sharad Navratri, customs like Mahasnan (holy bath), Prana Pratishta and Shodashopachara Puja are also observed. Starting with Mahasnan, a mirror is placed near Goddess Durga’s idol or photo in such a way that her reflection can be seen in it. Then the reflection of the deity is given a holy bath. After this, the custom of Prana Pratishtha and Shodashopachara Puja begins in which the Goddess is worshipped with 16 different puja essentials.
After these rituals, the Navpatrika puja or the worship of the nine leaves signifying the faces of Goddess Durga begins. In this, the nine leaves are given a holy bath, adorned with an orange dress (mainly a sacred thread) and then installed near the photo or idol of Goddess Durga.
Story Behind the ritual
It is believed that Goddess Durga defeated the invincible demon Mahishasura. According to the legends, Mahishasura was a king with a Buffalo face who performed a rigorous prayer and meditation for Lord Brahma. As a boon, Lord Brahma made him immortal and invincible. As per the boon, no man or animal could defeat Mahishasura. However, Brahma did mention that he will be defeated by a woman. But Mahishasura thought there is no woman born on earth who is so powerful that she can match his valour and defeat him.
Mad with power, Mahishasura began destroying the world. Consequently, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh combined their grace and power and gave birth to Goddess Durga who represented feminine energy. She fought with Mahishasura for fifteen days in which he kept changing his forms. Ultimately, when he took on the form of a buffalo, Goddess Durga killed him with her trident.
This legendary battle of fifteen days is widely narrated and hailed throughout the Durga Puja.
From a Feminist lens
Durga Puja is a celebration of the fact that a woman is equal to a man in every aspect, whether it is on the battlefield, workspace, education or home. The festival reminds us of the inception of women’s agency and power in the history dominated by patriarchal culture and narrative. Mahishasura is symbolic of every other person who undermines the femininity of a woman and never considers them as an equal human in society. And their defeat by the uproar of feminine power in the face of the rebellious Goddess Durga is exactly what Feminism aims at. If not the male-butchering par say, but surely the uprooting of patriarchy and toxic masculinity.