Inanna — Queen of Heaven and Earth

Goddess Inanna was worshipped primarily in ancient Mesopotamia or Sumer. The daughter of the Moon-God Nanna and Goddess Ningal, she was described as the ‘mountain born.’ She was a warrior goddess. But her power encompassed far more than just winning in battles. She was one of the most worshipped and revered goddesses in the ancient Sumerian pantheon. She is described in contemporary literature as ‘greater than the great gods,’ as the ‘queen of heaven and earth.’ She was also the only deity in the pantheon that accommodated opposites and reflected both light and dark, terror and love, destructiveness and creativity. She is the goddess of war and at the same time the goddess of all kinds of love. From the love for one’s child to the erotic love for one’s partner are all within Inanna’s domain.

In her iconography, she is depicted as a lady with lions/lionesses at her feet. Her lion/lioness is the symbol of her unrestrainable power. She holds in her hand the Sumerian symbols of fertility, plenty and prosperity. She is also represented by an eight-pointed star. She is associated with the planet Venus and is named the Morning and Evening Star.

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Inanna is unbound by the social rules of behaviour and she transcends our ideas of good and bad. She guides us to confront the fact that we are capable of both great good and great evil; that the capability for evil does not live outside of us, but in us. She is the unified manifestation of all that is pleasurable, beautiful, kind, loving, uplifting and bright with all that is painful, ugly, harsh, cruel, downgrading and dark.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

‘Inanna’s presence draws us into the realm of the inner life. She is the guide who insists we face our shadowy contradictions, that we own who we really are in all our painful and wonderful complexity. As the goddess of paradox, she is the model of unity in multiplicity. Each of us reflects a bit of her discordance within ourselves. Each of us is burdened with the chore of gathering our many conflicting pieces together into a semblance of order and congruence.’ (Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart, page 22)

Inanna was revered, loved, feared and worshipped for thousands of years in the ancient Sumer, that is, (roughly) modern-day Iraq. Of course, now her religion and worship are a thing of the past. But she still lives on and captures our imagination.

A Modern depiction of Inanna

A Modern depiction of Inanna

In these pages, I will attempt to unearth her myth and literature. I will journey to the heart of Inanna’s religion and try to understand the love her worshippers had for her. She is one of the most prominent manifestations of the divine feminine. And she shares many characteristics with the Indian Great Goddesses – she rides lions, just like the goddesses, Durga and Sheranvali; she is a paradox of light and dark, terror and love, just like the Indian goddesses Kali and Durga; and she is the ‘mountain born,’ just like the goddess Parvati. Sheranvali’s name literally means ‘the lion rider’ and Parvati’s name literally means ‘of the mountain.’ So I see Inanna as another facet of the universal divine feminine, the ancient creatress, the Primal Power. Here I will share my journey to her with you.

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.

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

_________________________________________________________________

[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