The Divine Within

“The Divine Within”
Guest contributor: Gargi Chattopadhyay

Images: প্রতিমা বিসর্জন by Gaganendranath Tagore

Goddess worship, as a religious tradition, seems to be a significant feature of many of the world’s major cultures. Be it Gaia, the earth mother in Greek Mythology, Sedna, the female deity of the Arctic region, Atum, the great “He-She” of Egyptian mythology, Hine, the goddess of death and the netherworld in Maori mythology or Indeed Madonna, the Virgin Mary, the divine feminine power features as part of the human tradition.

The concept of Devi or the Goddess in Indian culture dates back to the recorded human history. Though the Rigveda mentioned some feminine deities; the central position was enjoyed by Agni, Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Rudra as major forces of nature. In that sense, it apparently betrayed elements of chauvinism.

The idea of the supreme goddess, the destroyer of evil and the benevolent saviour cum protector of mankind; had evolved at a later date in the Puranas. Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali are nothing but symbols of the cult of Shakti, the Mother Goddess. At the same time,according to some, the great goddesses of later Hinduism are in fact, the same beings mentioned in the Vedas, only with new names. Indeed, some of the earliest references to the latter day Durga are drawn from the ancient Rik Vedic hymns like “Devi-sukta” and “Ratri-Sukta”.

The central idea of the Durga construct comprises three ‘gunas’: Tamas – the darkness of ignorance, Rajas – dynamism needed in pursuit of a good life and Satva – the selfless actions resulting in the well being of one and all. The Mahisha represents Tamas –which needs to be destroyed. The lion represents Rajas – it has to be leveraged in the war against Mahisha by aligning his might with the higher virtues of the Satva of the divine figures of Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganapati and Kartikeya. The cycle of life and death will go on till the self has transcended all the three gunas and become one with the Mother Goddess, who is “Trigunatita” – beyond the three attributes.

At the end of the annual Durga Puja, before the Devi’s image is immersed, the Visarjana Mantra is chanted. “Om gaccha Devi mamantare”…return goddess to my heart, which is your eternal abode. So what is the underlying essence of the concept of “Asura nashini” “Mahisha-Mardini” imagery? In the ‘Devi Mahatmya’ the Mother Goddess declares “Eakaivaham Jagattatra Dwitiya Ka Mama Para… It is only me who exists in this universe, there is no second one”.

There is no Mahisasura out there which needs to be battled with. Both Mahisasura and Durga reside within ourselves as yin and yang; the binary opposites of nature. The objective of life’s journey is to eliminate one to embrace the other.

Gargi Chattopadhyay is a scholar of Indian history, based in Noida, India