Most beautiful Hymn to Durga

This is one of my favourite renditions of one of the most powerful hymns to Ma Durga. Its a very long hymn. I will post the translation once I find a satisfactory one or once I do it myself. In gist it describes the attributes of the goddess Durga and bows down to her. She is called the merciful one, the victorious one, the terrible and beautiful one, the auspicious one, the three-eyed one, the beautifully attired one, the mother, the daughter of the mountain, the wife of Shiva, the sister of Vishnu. Her victory over Mahushasur (the Buffalo Asur) is hailed. Her immense strength, immeasurable power and her beauty is praised.

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Durga — the mother, the warrior, the goddess

One of the most potent and widely worshipped form of the Primal Mother, Adya Shakti is Ma Durga. Her win over evil is marked every year by her worship, celebration and festivities. The occasion is variously called Durga Puja (Spiritual Festival of Durga), Navratri (the Nine Nights), Dusserah (the Ten Days), etc.

Ma Durga is a warrior goddess. In Hindu mythology Goddess Adya Shakti or the Primal Power took the form of Durga to battle with Mahishasur (the Buffalo Asur). An Asur is a powerful cosmic creature with destructively and negatively used supernatural powers.[1] Durga battled Mahishasur and ultimately defeated him. She rode on a lion and wielded a multitude of powerful weapons in her multiple arms. She is power in its rawest, most primal form. She inspires awe, fear and love at the same time.

Photography: shestirs

Photography: shestirs

The myth of Durga starts with the myth of Mahishasur (the Buffalo Asur). Mahishasur was an extremely powerful Asur. He pleased the gods through his penance and received the boon he asked for – that he will never be slayed by man or god or any other Asur. He then started threatening the three worlds by his newfound might and invincibility. He conquered the earthly and netherworlds and defeated the gods in heaven. Nobody could kill or stop him. At this hour of crisis, the gods called on the Primal Power, the original Mother of All, Adya Shakti to come to their rescue. In general, Adya Shakti does not manifest in one particular form. She is in all — everything that exists. But for this task she needed to manifest in all her awesome power in one form. The gods are all her parts, her creation and their capabilities and powers are all her reflections. So they decided to join their powers to give Adya Shakti the shape of a warrior goddess. The powers of the gods met and an immensely powerful goddess emerged – Durga, she who is unknowable, she who is invincible in all her forms. Parts of her body, her attire, her ornaments were all made by the gods from their individual powers. She is described as ‘the woman so stupendously huge her head grazed the sky while the ground sank beneath the weight of her feet.’[2] When she took shape, her beauty and power stunned the gods and they bowed down to the Mother in reverence and awe. They gifted her their weapons symbolising their individual powers.

Artist: Hoon

Artist: Hoon

Durga challenged Mahishasur in battle. Her battle cry sent chills down the back of the Asur army. After a fierce battle of nine nights and ten days, she defeated him and his army. This battle is celebrated in India every year as Durga’s festival.

Durga is fierce and beneficent at the same time. In her many arms (often said to be ten, or eighteen, or a thousand) she holds both the symbols of destruction and sustenance. She destroys the harmful and preserves the good in us. She is the protector who comes to our aid when we need her. She also shows us the extent of the power of a woman, a mother and a goddess and our connection to her. In later posts I will describe Durga’s connection to her earthly daughters and sons in modern India.

Artist: Poonam Mistry

Artist: Poonam Mistry

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[1] Asurs are often translated in English as demons. But that does not capture the true essence of the word. Asurs are far more than demons. Often more spiritually evolved than humans, they can contact the gods directly. They often please gods by their penance and yoga and manage to receive their blessings (as gods in Hindu mythology are also bound by certain laws of the universe, including giving one what one deserves). But most of the time the Asurs turn out to be self-centred, power hungry individuals, who use their god or goddess-gifted capabilities negatively and then have to be stopped by the gods and goddesses themselves.

[2] Linda Johnsen, Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe (Yes International Publishers 1997) page 87

Saraswati… in you and me…

‘In you and me, Saraswati flows through that moment when we choose a creative path or make an intention. She lives in the ever-new creative instant when inspiration arises within the field of your consciousness. When an idea takes form, you can find her as the inner impulse that comes from somewhere deeper than your ordinary mind, ready to dance on your tongue. She undulates in the stillness before the notes come forth as your power to make connections between apparently disparate things, as the power to understand language, as intelligence in all its forms, as insight and rhetoric, and as the intuitive knowing that lets your recognise your own awareness as the field of enlightenment.. .

At her subtlest, Saraswati lives in that pulsing space at the root of sound, where silence gives birth to creative possibility. A hymn to Saraswati, by the Tantric sage Abhinavagupta praises this subtlest form of Saraswati like this: “No one knows your nature, nor is your inner reality known. You are the whole universe and you exist within it.”‘ – Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti (Sounds True Inc 2013)

Artist: Danny O'Connor

Artist: Danny O’Connor

Adya Shakti: the Primal Power

‘The Divine Mother’s magic is ancient as life itself. She existed before Gods and mortals, and she will still exist even after the great dissolution. Mother is pure energy in subtle form, but in times of need or just out of the desire to play, she manifests.’[1]

The name Adya Shakti or Adi Shakti literally means ‘primal power’ or ‘primal energy.’ In Hinduism she is the power or energy infusing the whole existence. In other words she is not only powerful, but power itself. She herself is the power/energy/force that permeates all creation including the animate, inanimate and the divine. All the other goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, are just manifestations or incarnations of Adya Shakti. She is the entity from which the universe is created, and sustained, and she is what everything will withdraw back into at the end of their lives.

A popular modern representation of Adya Shakti

A popular modern representation of Adya Shakti

The word Shakti in Sanskrit has a far larger import than the words power and energy in English. In fact there is no direct translation of Shakti. Sir John Woodroffe writes – ‘there is no word of wider content in any language than the Sanskrit term meaning “power”. For Shakti in the highest causal sense is God as Mother, and in another sense it is the Universe that issues from Her Womb.’[2]

Her other name is Adyakali, literally meaning ‘primal darkness’. She is the darkness from which light issues, the nothingness from which something is born, and the unmanifest from which everything manifests. Wendell Beane describes Adyakali as ‘pre-dynamically the Unmanifest, the Primeval, and the Supreme,’ as the ultimate symbol of timelessness – the Not-time – the one without beginning and without contingency.[3]

The Mahakali Stotram (a Hymn to Mahakali) says –

‘Without feet, you move faster than air; without ear, you do hear; without nostrils you do smell; without eyes, you do see; without tongue you do taste all tastes.’ (My translation)

She is not one particular form – nor does she have the known sense perceptions. Yet she senses everything. The idea of Adya Shakti is that she is immensely powerful, power herself; she is generally manifested in everything that we see in this universe, including the life force that moves in it. She is often described as neither male nor female, yet both male and female at the same time; as an entity that is beyond the descriptive categories of male and female; yet when she manifests herself in a particular form, she takes the form of an immeasurably powerful goddess. The following is a translation of a hymn to her found in the Mahakala Samhita:

‘Thou art neither girl, nor maid, nor old. Indeed thou art neither female, nor male, nor neuter. Thou art inconceivable, immeasurable Power, the Being of all which exists, void of all duality, the Supreme Brahman, attainable in Illumination alone.’[4]

The Sanskrit word Brahman here means truth or reality. The goddess is the representation of the ultimate non-duality. She encompasses everything in the universe, indeed she IS everything, including what we categorise as light and dark, creation and destruction, good and bad, female and male, youth and senility, left and right, inside and outside, physical and spiritual, yesterday and today. She is the ultimate non-dual unbroken reality.

Another text of the goddess tradition says – ‘Obeisance be to Her who is pure Being-Consciousness-Bliss, as Power, who exists in the form of Time and Space and all that is therein, and who is the radiant Illuminatrix in all beings.[5]

Adya Shakti depicted in Temple Sculpture in South India (dating between 10th to 12th century AD)

Adya Shakti depicted in Temple Sculpture in South India (dating between 10th to 12th century AD)

Adya Shakti is worshipped and celebrated in India and in Indian communities outside India in literally thousands of forms. Some of these forms are pan-Indian, like Kali and Durga, while the others are local like Meenakshi Amman (Fish-eyed Mother) in Tamil Nadu in South India, Vaishno Devi (GoddessVaishno) in Jammu and Kashmir in North India, Amba Devi (primarily) in Gujarat in Western India and Attukal Amma (Mother Attukal) in Kerala, South India.[6]

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[1] Elizabeth U Harding, Kali: the Black Goddess of Dakshineswar (Motilal Banarsidass 1998) xvii

[2] Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta (New Visions Publications 2007) 25

[3] Wendell Charles Beane, Myth, Cult and Symbols of Sakta Hinduism (EJ Brill 1977) 152

[4] Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta (New Visions Publications 2007) 26

[5] From Yoginihridaya Tantra as quoted in Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta (The New Visions Publications, 2007)

[6] Dianne Jennet, ‘A Million Shaktis Rising: Pongala, a Women’s Festival in Kerala, India’ (2005) 21 Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 35, 43