Kashi Khand of Skanda Purana mentions Navadurga Yatra to be performed during Navaratri, especially the Sharad Navaratri that falls in October. So, this time in Kashi, I decided to visit the Devi temples that are spread across the sacred city. Actually, they lie on a pilgrimage path followed by the pilgrims, especially during Navaratri.
Many Shakta texts mention the nine forms of Devi that are worshipped during the nine nights of Navaratri. These nine forms are also the evolution cycle, particularly of the Prakriti or nature, of which women are a manifestation. All these nine forms have a temple each in the lanes of Varanasi, not too far from the ghats. You can visit them both from the city side or from the ghats.
Let’s visit these temples and understand these forms of Durga:
The first form of Durga is Shailputri or the daughter of the mountain. Shail also means rock, which means she is not yet in her active state. She has just taken birth. Her journey begins from here. In iconography, she is shown riding a bull, holding Trishul or trident in one hand and a lotus in another.
In Varanasi, her temple is located towards the North close to Marhia Ghat. Most rickshaw drivers would take you to the temple that is located in narrow lanes. It is a small temple complex containing many temples. I reached this temple early morning around 5 AM and had to wait for the Pujari Ji to open the doors of the temple. There are small ancient Shiva temples in the complex along with a Hanuman temple.
The main temple contains a Shivalinga, with a Nandi facing it in the Mandapa. On one side is the Murti of Ma Shailputri. You need to go to the other door to have a clear view of it. Early morning the Murti was completely covered with a yellow cloth, but thankfully the face was visible. I spent some time with Ma Shailputri and since there was no one else in the temple, it felt like a very personal rendezvous, a blessing on a cold winter morning.
Shailputri is visited on the first day of Navaratri. I was told that the lanes leading to the temple are full of people on that day.
The second form of Devi worshipped on the second day of Navaratri is called Brahmacharini. This is the ascetic form of Parvati when she did tough penance to get Shiva as her husband. As an ascetic, she adorns simple clothes and holds a Rudraksha Mala and a Kamadalu or water pot in her hand.
In Kashi, her temple is located close to Durga Ghat or Brahma Ghat. You can approach both from the city side or from the ghats. It is again a small temple, the lanes around it have been recently painted with scenes of Kashi. Outside the temple, a marble plaque has the Brahmacharini mantra engraved on it. The Murti of Ma Brahmacharini is beautiful and is adorned with clothes, flowers, and jewelry. Like every Devi temple, there is a Shivalinga in front of the Devi Murti.
An annakoot mahotsava or festival of the Brahmacharini Devi is held on Kartik Purnima. You can contact the priest if you want to do Puja or Shringar of the Devi.
Chandraghanta is the third form of Devi worshipped on the 3rd day of Navaratri. The bell-shaped moon on her forehead is her distinctive feature. She rides a lion and has ten hands holding different Ayudhas or weapons, and at the same time providing Abhaya or protection to her devotees. In this form, she is a Durga who is ready to fight evil or ensure protection for those who come to her.
In Kashi, her temple is close to Chowk in a lane called Chandu Nai ki Gali. It is a small temple located on the side of the lane. You can have the darshan through the iron grill. I could see the Murti of Ma Chandraghanta and the smaller murtis of the other 8 forms of Durga. The board outside the temple tells you that it is a Chandrghanta temple. It may be one of the smallest temples that you may see.
4th form of Durga is Kushmanda which refers to her as a cosmic egg from which the whole Srishti or creation happened. She is 8 armed, holding many weapons and auspicious symbols, and riding a lion. She is resplendent with golden color as she represents the Hiranyagarbha.
In Varanasi, her temple is huge and famous as Durga Mandir, south of Assi Ghat. The temple tank is known as Durga Kund. Painted in red, this beautiful temple is well known and easy to reach. The story of the temple is mentioned in Devi Bhagwat Puran about an exiled prince of Ayodhya who married the princess of Kashi. The same can be read on a board outside the temple. Another story says that it is here that Durgasur was slayed by the Devi earning her the name of Durga.
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Although on the Navadurga Yatra this temple is to be visited on the fourth day of Navaratri, this temple is always crowded, especially during the nine nights of the Navaratri. Even on other days, you can see a long queue of people visiting Ma Durga. Chandi Homa is performed during this time. It is a very powerful temple.
The 5th form of Durga is as the mother of Skanda or Kartik – the six-headed commander of the Devas army. As a nurturing mother, she is seated on a lion holding her son in her lap and holding two lotuses in her two hands and protecting the devotees with the fourth. Alternatively, she is also shown seated on a lotus as she is also Padmasana.
In Varanasi, Skandamata temple is located in Jaitpura area, close to Jaitpura Police Station, in a temple complex more popularly known as Bageshwari Devi temple. It is a powerful temple where I saw a lot of school children coming and praying to the Devi on their way to school. The temple is at two levels, the lower level has Bageshwari Devi who is actually Ashwarudha meaning she rides a horse. Her temple opens only twice in the year, the rest of the days, people pray through the closed door only.
Skandmata is located on the upper floor and this is where people come and worship regularly. On Navadurga Yatra, this is visited on the 5th day. This temple is unique as it has a female priest too.
Katyayani is the warrior form of Devi, who killed Mahishasur. As she was worshipped by Rishi Katyayan in that form, she received the name Katyayani. In Kashi, there is another story of her in the form of Vikata Devi, who helped a prince of Kashi visit the Swarga and come back. She is worshipped on the 6th day of Navaratri.
Katyayani is a four-armed goddess riding a lion, holding a lotus and a sword in two arms while the other two bless and protect devotees. She is known to remove sufferings of all kinds.
Her temple in Kashi is close to Scindia ghat in a temple complex called Atmaveereshwar Temple. You can approach it from Chowk or from the Ghat. This area is also called Panch Mudra Mahapeeth – a sacred space that is said to multiply the Punya that you gain here. On Navadurga Yatra in Kashi, she is visited on the 6th Day.
Kalratri can mean many things. One of the meanings that I understand is the cyclic night that follows the day. It refers to the end of an era when the creation dissolves and merges back with the Brahman. It is after this night that a new cycle of creation begins. She is also the goddess who emitted fire by merely exhaling during a war. In Kashi, she guards the city like many other goddesses.
Representing the night, Kalratri is depicted with a dark complexion, blood-red eyes, hair flowing everywhere, and a garland of lightning and flames coming from her mouth. She holds a Chandrahasa sword and Vajra or thunderbolt in two of her four arms and rides a donkey. Although fearsome, she bestows auspiciousness and is hence also called Shubhkari. She in fact removes all your fears.
In Varanasi, her Kalratri temple is located in Kalika Gali, which is parallel to Vishwanath Gali and is named after this Devi. It is at a walkable distance from the famous Dashashwamedha Ghat. She is also worshipped as Kali and the temple is treated as a Shakti Peetha. During Navadurga Yatra she is visited on the 7th day.
Mahagauri is Parvati in her most benevolent form and it is evident in her vehicle white bull. In three of her four hands, she carried the Trishul or trident, Damru, and lotus.
In Kashi, the presiding Devi of the city – Ma Annapurna is also the Mahagauri – the eighth form of Durga that is worshipped on the 8th day of Navaratri. Her temple, right next to Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of the most popular temples in the city. There is no way you can miss it. With or without Navadurga Yatra, Annapurna temple is a must-visit as and when you are visiting Kashi. This temple is always full of devotees. Other special days at this temple include Dhanteras to Diwali Amavasya when her golden Murti is opened for darshan on the upper floor of the temple.
On Chaitra Shukla Ashtami i.e., the eighth day of the Chaitra or Vasant Navatari there is a tradition of doing 108 parikramas or circumambulations of Ma Annapurna.
There is another small Adi Annapurna temple close to this temple. Not many people visit it, but it has a very unique Murti. You need to request Pujari Ji to show it to you.
The final and 9th form of Durga is Siddhidatri and in this form, she is the giver of different Siddhis. There are eight Siddhis listed in Puranic literature collectively called Asht-Siddhi. This form reminds us that once we have reached the pinnacle, our role is to enable others by giving them the powers we have. She sits on a lotus and carries Trishul, Sudarshan Chakra, Conch, and Lotus in her four arms.
She is visited on the 9th day of Navadurga Yatra during Navaratri. In Kashi, she is located in Siddhmata Gali in Siddheshwari Mohalla – all of which are named after her. Her temple complex also houses the Chandreshwar Mahadev temple which is believed to have been set up by Chandra or the moon himself and is believed to pre-date Kashi Vishwanath temple. There is an ancient well called Chandra Koop whose water is still used for Abhishek in the temple.
The priest at the temple told me that it is a Siddhapeetha and many rishis are still meditating here in their Sukshma or subtle form. You can feel the peaceful aura of the place that has been worshipped for a very long time.
If you notice, every form of Goddess has Lotus associated with her, either she is holding it in her hand or she is sitting on one. Lotus is the symbol of purity, of growing in mud and yet retaining its purity, of not allowing any impurity to stay on it.
Also read – Navaratri – When Devi Comes Home
I visited all of them in the mornings and it was lovely to see local Kashivasis doing Puja in these temples.
You may find people sitting and doing Sadhana in most of these temples.