Friday April 20, 2018

Navaratri Special: ‘Devi’ in her own words

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By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 13

The Hindus of the yore, many of whom were Rishis (seers), very clearly perceived the connection between time, place, and cosmic energies. They realized how a particular fortnight was the most conductive for the Pitrs, the spirits of ancestors, to visit the earthly plane and named it as Pitr-Paksha, a time that is most suitable for worship of ancestors.

Similarly, they realized that though God/Brahman is always present everywhere and one should always practice devotion for spiritual and material welfare, there is indeed a particular fortnight when Shakti, or the Power of Brahman, specially manifests itself in the earthly plane in Her various aspects.

They discovered that this fortnight is particularly auspicious for worshiping Shakti, who is also called as MahaDevi (The Great Goddess) and as JaganMata (Mother of the universe), in her various forms, and harness the power/energy as well as the Tattva (essence) associated with each of the forms. Further, the Anugraha (grace) of the Great Mother is particularly available during these periods that can be attained through Sadhana (spiritual effort).

Realizing thus, the Hindu forefathers named the fortnight in the Ashwin month (September-October) that begins right after Mahalaya Amavasya as ‘Devi Paksha– the fortnight of the Goddess. The festivals of Navaratri, Durga Puja, Dussehra etc. have all been celebrated in various parts of India from a very long time for welcoming the Mother Goddess and worshiping her.

People call Her by various names and worship Her in various forms. She is called as Durga, Kali, Tripurasundari, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. She is worshiped in her Sowmya Roopa (calm aspect) of Shailaputri and Brahmacharini, as well as her Raudra Roopa (fierce aspect) of Katyayani and Kalaratri. She is also worshiped as Dasha Mahavidya– the Ten Wisdom Goddess.

Photo: http://enjoyfestivals.com
Photo: http://enjoyfestivals.com

But, who exactly is Mother? What is her real Swaroopa (nature/essence)? The answers to these questions are given by Devi herself in ‘Devi Atharvashirsham’.

The Devi Atharvashirsham which appears in Rigveda, is always chanted before beginning the reading of Chandi Path or Durga Saptashati, which is one of the foremost texts used in the worship of the Divine Mother. Saptashati as well as Devi Atharvashirsham are very important texts used in the worship of the Mother Goddess in the Shakta tradition.

In the Devi Atharvashirsham, when the Devas (gods) approach the Great Goddess and ask her “Oh! Great Goddess, who really are you?”, the Goddess describes her true nature thus:

sābravīt- ahaṃ brahmasvarūpiṇī  I mattaḥ prakṛtipuruṣātmakaṃ jagat I śūnyaṃ cāśūnyam ca ||

Translation: She said: I am the very nature/essence/form of Brahman. From me (has manifested) the entire cosmos consisting of Prakriti and Purusha, (as well as) void and non-void.

Thus, the very essence is that the Mother Goddess is Brahman itself. She is not a demigod, she is not an angel and she is not any limited manifestation. She is not limited by time, space, name, or form. Instead, she is Brahman itself which is the one infinite whole- the very substratum of the Universe.

The gist is, the Goddess is telling us that while worshiping her various forms, people should not mistake her form to be the ultimate truth. Instead, they should understand that she is in essence, Brahman itself, who is both transcendent and immanent reality.

She further calls herself as the mother, the substratum from which the Universe of duality has manifested. The duality referred here as Purusha and Prakriti, refers to the duality of conscious intelligence and the material objects, the witness and the actions.

Further, she mentions that she herself is the source of Void and non-void as well. Here, ‘Shunya or void refers to Unmanifested Prakriti or seed state of the Universe and the non-void refers to the plenum of the manifested universe with its various realms, objects, etc. Thus, the Mother is the source of entire gamut of the Universe, yet is beyond the limitations of the Universe.

The Goddess does not finish her explanation here. She further stresses that she is behind all the dualities- the pair of opposites found in the Universe. She says that she is the Bliss as well as non-bliss, the Veda as well as non-Veda, and the knowledge as well as the ignorance.

She further says that she is both ‘born’ and the ‘unborn’ i.e. She takes birth, yet she is eternal. This is an interesting definition. The law of nature is that whatever takes birth must die and hence, such objects cannot be eternal. Similarly, what is eternal, cannot take birth.

Yet, the Goddess has described herself as both being eternal and as taking birth as Universe. She is called as ‘Maya’ (magic/illusion) in Vedanta because she alone is able to accomplish such an impossible task. In other words, the birth of the Goddess as Universe and its objects is merely an appearance, a mirage, that she manifests using her power and in absolute state, she is eternal.

Devi further describes in the Atharvashirsha, how she is the essence and substratum of all deities- be it Rudra, Indra, Vasu, Aditya, or Vishnu, and how she sustains and cherishes each of them. She points out that she is the first among those worthy of worship, i.e. She being the very essence of all deities, it is She (Brahman) who receives the worship and grants the fruits to the worshiper.

She further describes that her abode is in ‘waters of the oceans’. Here, the ocean refers to Brahman or Consciousness which is Infinite and which exist as Innermost Self/Atman in each creature. Water of this Atman is nothing but the thought patterns that arise in the mind, just as water waves rise in the ocean. Hence, by saying that She resides in these waters of through patterns, Goddess is teaching how one should attain Devi/Atman, by meditating on the ‘I-ness’ or ‘Witness’ that exist beneath each thought that arises in mind.

Thus, through Devi Atharvashirsham, the Mother Goddess herself describes both her real nature as well as the means of reaching her. Understanding this, people should worship the Maha-Devi, who appears variously as Chamundi, Kali, or Durga, with sincere devotion and surrendering during the nine nights of Navaratri.

More in the Series:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 12

 

 

 

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.