Growing up in India, I observed my parents perform puja everyday in the morning and evening. It was nothing elaborate. There was a little wooden temple that had a few pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. My mom and dad would light a ghee diya and incense and just read a few simple prayers and give us little prasad everyday.
As a teenager my mom told me to read Durga Kavach from Durga Saptasati. I found it so hilarious; Goddess with strange names and strange bodies with even stranger weapons ; how could the Goddess protect me in all directions everywhere; a Goddess for each direction, exotic vehicles etc. The battle between buffalo demon Mahishasur, Nishumbh, Shumbh, Dhumralochana and the Goddess Durga, all seemed like stories out of a silly comic book.
I did read it mechanically with thoughts wandering away all the time. I kept my skepticism for years, looking at the pictures of the deities, which were of course just pictures made by another human artist, how could they be God?
A few years later I had a sudden realization that the form did not matter, it was the essence we are praying to. Also if I could exist in this human form, how difficult is it for the divine to take any form like the Hindu Gods and Goddesses? It is a problem only if we narrow our mind and say that God is only in this picture, in this temple or cannot exist except in this form.
It would take me a few more years to understand that every character in the text reflected the ego, thoughts and struggles in our own human life. Also that, Divine Mother is nirakara, which means “without form.” Her bija mantra has the energies of the three qualities of nature ~ creation, preservation, and transformation.
After reading a few spiritual translations in English, did I understand that Saptasati is a Way. It is a metaphysical manual to transform our consciousness on all levels .
The Durga Saptasati or Chandi Paath, is a sacred Puranic text having 13 chapters and 700 verses in Sanskrit. “Chandi” comes from the Sanskrit word “Chand” which means “Tear Apart.” The Goddess Chandi is described as “She Who Tears Apart Thought”.
In its beginning and end are the two Rig Veda hymns, Ratri sukta, “Praise of the Night of Duality” and the Devi Sukta,” Praise of the Goddess of Unity”. Its essence is to get rid of the night or darkness of being separate consciousness to the realization that “I” am one with the divine and my true nature is infinity.
By daily chanting the verses, we drop at the feet of the Mother all our thoughts, pain, misery and anxiety – even the ego itself. Mysteriously, the Divine Mother dissolves all these thoughts and purifies them with the vibrations of her mantras.
To bring the real benefit of Chandi Paath which is to expand our consciousness, we have to devote our whole life to this quest. This devotion does not happen overnight. But if we begin, things can keep progressing. Just trying to sit and chanting the verses is a beginning. Do not worry about not understanding or pronouncing the sanskrit perfectly. Do not worry about anything. If you study translations of the verses and recite with some faith, the cosmic energies will start revealing their knowledge to you. The one who knows completely is Lord Shiva, and to the extent we make this our total quest in life, we become Him.
To invoke the blessings of the Divine Mother this Navratri, one can listen to the Chandi Paath.
Here is a link to the 700 verses of Chandi Paath recited in Sanskrit by Pandits of Benares on the banks of River Ganga.