Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Glory of the Goddess

Durga Puja, an important Hindu festival, is coming up in October. It commemorates the victory of good over evil, order over chaos, and reveres the Great Goddess as the Redemptive Principle and Savior of the Universe. During this time, a section of the Markandeya Purana  known as the Devi Mahatmyam, or Chandi, which relates heroic exploits of the Goddess, is ceremoniously chanted in the context of elaborate ritual. Images of the goddess are constructed for the event, worshipped as representations of the Goddess, displayed in pageants, and then sunk in the Ganges or other waterways in locales outside the “Motherland,” such as the USA.  See the Wikipedia entry on Durga Puja here

I had been dedicated to the goddess Durga for very many years. I was (and continue to be despite my perhaps incongruent immersion in Western occultism and contemporary Paganism) a long-time adherent of reformed Advaita Vedanta.  I was obsessed with the aforementioned text Devi Mahatmyam for at least a decade. The title translates as “Glory of the Goddess.” It has been dated to the 3rd century and is a trilogy of mythologies in which the Goddess, personifying the combined power of the gods, defeats various demons in battles and, thus, restores the order of the Universe.

The full text, which takes more than an hour or three to recite, is chanted in the context of devotional ritual (puja) and is prefaced and followed by several auxiliary prayers, chants, mantra, and ritual gestures. It is generally done as a thaumatergic exercise in which the Goddess is thought of as a beneficent entity who is being addressed for the sake of gaining favors and for protection from both supernatural evil and the nasty world-at-large. In working with the text, I ultimately took a more Gnostic and literal approach. After all, Advaita Vedanta is jnana yoga, the discipline of spiritual integration through contemplativism and gnosis. In addition, the translations of the names of the demons that the Goddess is battling in the Devi Mahatmyam include The Great Deceiver (Mahahanu), The Aimless One (Parivarita), The Hypocrite  (Bidala), Anger (Kruddha), The Savage (Ugrasya),  He Who Gives  Way to Temptation (Durdhara), The Vicious (Chanda), The Malicious (Munda), Conceit (Shumbha), and Self-deprecation (Nishumbha). And the most famous demon celebrated in the scripture is Mahishasura—the “Buffalo demon” of egoism, the depiction of the slaying of which is an important piece of Hindu iconography.

So, the demons that The Goddess is protecting you from are not oogah-boogah things “out there”; they are negative qualities within yourself that the Goddess battles with a barrage of weapons: the sword of discrimination, club of articulation, bow of determination, arrow of penetration, pike of attention, rod of restraint, axe of right action, net of unity, trident of harmony, and discus of revolving time. Then she cuts off the head of your ferocious ego. And, frankly, this is why, philosophically speaking, “bad things happen to good people,” because they are not “bad things”; they are transformational and transitional things. Or else, they are just stuff happening in the grand drama of life.

1 comment:

  1. it's nice article , am too a devotee of maa Durga , daily I offer her prayer by chanting durga mantra so as to seek her blessings.