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By Salil Gewali
October is here, and we are all set to welcome Maa Durga for a few days. For many of us, Durga Puja is more of an excuse to eat, drink and be merry. We buy ourselves new clothes, move from pandal to pandal, and forget our exercise and diets for a few heavenly days. But is that all Durga Puja stands for? Are we aware of the philosophies behind this annual celebration? There is not one single philosophy, actually.
The word Durga is derived from the root word ‘Durg’ which means Fort. Just as a fort stands tall and mighty around low lying land and water and jungles, and protects the inmates from all kinds of dangers, we look upon Maa Durga as our “divine protector” from all evil. We feel safe and secure in her divine embrace and feel her all-pervasive energy around us and within us. Divinity has always been looked upon as something far removed from science, mundane logic, and facts. But modern science is only just beginning to realize that the energy of Maa Durga which we refer to as Shakti does have strong underpinings in every aspect of our life, and is actually the governing philosophy behind many of the relational dynamics – visible and invisible.
Of course, the philosophy behind our worship of Maa Durga is not just an amalgamation of sundry religious rites. A rational scientist would find many similarities in facets of her story and our real life. For example, let us look at her weapons. Trident or trishul: The three-headed sharp weapon is said to symbolize the three gunashuman being is made of, i.e – tamas, rajas and sattva – this itself a very complex and vast subject to understand. Discus or Sudarshan Chakra is Lord Vishnu’s gift symbolizes the centre of creation. Thunderbolt or vajra: Indra’s gift meaning steadiness of character, determination, and supreme power. Conch is the symbol of the primordial sound of “creation” – AUM. Spear represents auspiciousness which is a gift of fire also symbolizes purity of power. Sword symbolizing intellect and wisdom with the complete sense of responsibility and the understanding to discriminate right from wrong. Bow and arrows are the combination of potential and kinetic powers symbolizes all segments of ENERGY. Axe symbolizes the power of Vishwakarma, and have the power to create as well as destroy. Lotus represents wisdom, “LIBERATION though KNOWLEDGE”. Snake symbolizes consciousness and the masculine energy of Shiva.
When you juxtapose this life-giving form of Maa Durga against the Trishul and sword-wielding warrior form of the Mother Goddess, she comes across as the Destroyer. The target of her weapons of destruction are the evil forces which she wishes to protect her children against. So the philosophy of Maa Durga encompasses all three incarnations in one form – The Destroyer, The Life Giver, and The Creator.
Yes, it is easy to look upon the fable of Maa Durga as a story we have created for our own consumption. But like the examples we have illustrated above, there are several ways in which the legend of Maa Durga finds reflection in our daily life and helps to underline some of the philosophies she represents. Let us examine a few of these.
According to mythological accounts, Ramba was an asura who pleased the fire God Agni with his devotion and got a boon that a son would be born to him who could not be killed by any God or man or animal. This son was named Mahishasura and he grew up to be a strong and powerful warrior. When he heard of the boon, it made him incredibly haughty and merciless, and he went around defeating all kind of men and demi-Gods and expanding his own kingdom. This cold-blood massacre and destruction soon left Gods worried, and they went into a huddle to plan an effective counter to Mahishasura without tampering with the boon he had been granted.
The solution came from the Gods themselves, who took advantage of the syntax of the boon. The boon had mentioned God, man, and animal, but had no mention of the “woman”. So the Gods put together their powers and created Maa Durga, she who would fight for the forces of good and vanquish the evil. Armed with all the boons and weapons that the Gods could provide, Maa Durga took on the EVIL represented by Mahishasura. After a long and ferocious battle, she finally put an end to the cursed life of Mahishasura. This story is a fable, but the philosophy it underlines is profoundly cerebral. Every force of evil in this world would be balanced by an equivalent force of good. Whenever the evil goes beyond a certain level, the forces of good come together to destroy the evil and restore the balance of this world.
Outside of the physical manifestations of our prayers and devotion for Maa Durga, she also embodies the spirit and the characteristics of a mother. Maa Durga is the divine force we look up to who can protect us from worldly ills in every kind of situation because she is “omnipresent” and all powerful. SHE embodies the perfect amalgamation of power and mercy which we see in Mothers everywhere.
As we see from these few examples, Maa Durga is considered an epitome of Shakti (ENERGY) that is GOOD which can triumph over EVIL. Yes, our scriptures pour out a rich vein of philosophical underpinnings on which to lead our lives well and gradually make an earnest effort for the self-realization and merge with the DIVINE GOOD. Ultimately, it is the Mother’s DIVINITY that encompasses the WHOLE COSMOS.
Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.
The city of Delhi has seen it all; from sultanate rule, to dynasties, and to colonial rule. From monarchy to democracy, Delhi has gone through its phases. But, in order to know and explore the nuances of Delhi, you must read these beautiful books.
1. City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple
This book was written while Dalrymple was still flirting with his love for the Medieval India. The author writes, "Moreover the city- so I soon discovered- possessed a bottomless seam of stories: tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend," and just like this, Dalrymple takes you in a tour to discover Discover Delhi.
2. Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller by Raza Rumi
This book explores how the author explores his identity as a South Asian Muslim and how his city of Lahore is a mirror image of Delhi. Rumi, in this book, tries to co-relate the past with the present by comparing its festivals, streets, and markets.
3. Delirious Delhi: Inside India's Incredible Capital by DavePrager
This book is quite interesting. The story of this book revolves around the lives of Dave and Jenny who have recently moved to Delhi when their firm began to go down. The city of Delhi in this book is shown through their eyes as they try to make their way in the city that holds together a very large population.
4. The Heart has its Reasons by Krishna Sobti, Translated by Reema Anand, Meenakshi Swami
The original title of this book is "Dil - o - Danish". This book tells the reader about the streets of Old Delhi and almost transport the reader back in the past. This book is basically set in the 1920's, and tells the tale of a man's extramarital affair, his children out of wedlock, black magic, and Chandni Chowk's rich culture of sweets and the perils of being a widow. Interestingly, many have compared the author of this book to Jane Austen.
5. Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh
Who would talk about Delhi and not remember Khushwant Singh? This amazing book is just like a narrative of the author's fulfilled love affair with the city and with a eunuch. The narrator in this book is an aging man who is trying to discover the city. This book is truly a masterpiece, where it takes the readers on the history of Delhi glimpsing at what makes the city what it is– simply beautiful.
There are some of the Indian cities which are older than time. Therefore, we must know which cities are they, and what has been their history!
1. Varanasi (1200 BC–)
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities of India, and has been a center of religious and cultural activity since the Bronze Age. In fact, this city might have been in existence from a very long time, since it finds mention in the Rig Veda. It is believed that the city of Varanasi was thriving for more than 1600 years before the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe. This city is one of the holiest places for Hindus and Jains, and even Lord Buddha gave his very first sermon here in 528 BC. In Hinduism, it is believed that dying in Varanasi brings salvation, which is the reason why the city is always brimming with pilgrims.
2. Ujjain (700/600 BC–)
Ujjain was once considered as one of the most prominent cities in the Middle India. In fact, the name of this city is repeatedly mentioned in the literature of that period, i.e. in the works of stalwarts like Kālidāsa. This city has seen the rise and fall of numerous empires, from the Mauryas to the Avantis, Nandas, and even the Guptas. This city, just like Varanasi, is also considered as one of the holiest cities in India, and hosts one of the officially recognized Kumbh melas, the Ujjain Simhastha Kumbh, in which people across the world take place.
3. Madurai (500 BC–)
Madurai been a major center of culture and trade for more than 2500 years. In fact, the name of this city has been mentioned in the writings of the great traveler, Megasthenes, and has been ruled by several empires from the Pandyas and the Cholas to the Karnata, and finally the British. Interestingly, ‘'Koodal,' was one of its ancient name which means 'a congregation of learned men'. There is no doubt that Madurai was an epicenter of scholars and religious teachers in the southern part of India.
4. Thanjavur (300 BC–)
Thanjavur was formerly known as Tanjore. This city is pretty famous for its Tanjore style of painting, which is a traditional style that is characterised by the use of gold foil, religious imagery, and simple compositions. This city is best known for being the home of the Great Living Chola Temples, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Till date, people across the world visit this place in order to experience its rich history and heritage.
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