Tuesday September 25, 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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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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Hinduism
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At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

Hinduism
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The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

Hinduism
Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)