Page 1

the Goddesses experience

The Goddesses Experience

Copyright Š 2013 Transformative Learning Solutions and Mamta Mongia All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Author/publisher. Original Text Content, Brand Creation and Primary Publishing by: Transformative Learning Solutions and Dr. Nilima Chitgopekar. Courses are also available online in Video Formats through www.The Original Spiritual Energy Art by Rajendra Mongia Printed & Published by Mamta Mongia at Digital Works 3/23, Bhuta Niwas, Dr. Ambedkar Road, Nr. Maheshwari Udyan, Matunga (E), Mumbai 400 019. INDIA Tel.: 9321150014 | 9699069660 Art in the book is also available in custom sizes on paper and canvas.

Table of Contents 1. 2. 3





Introduction 1.1. The company: Transformative Learning Solutions Introduction to Goddess Experience 2.1. Shakti Durga - the vanquisher 3.1 The Story 3.2 Egoism / Narcissism 3.3 Lion 3.4 Buffalo 3.5 Personal Development Laxmi 4.1. Origin 4.2. Personal Development 4.3 Ganesha 4.4 Lotus 4.5 Personal Development Parvati 5.1. A Marriage made in Heaven 5.2. Ardhanarishvara Saraswati 6.1. Origin and History 6.2. Iconography 5.3 Personal Development Sati 7.1. The Myth 7.2. Personal Development 7.3 Sati and Shiva

7 7 8 8 14 14 18 18 20 22 26 26 28 30 30 32 36 36 40 44 50 50 54 56 56 58 60

Why Certain Ideas Last Millions of Years and others die Out - Introduction to Transformative Learning Solutions At Transformative we are continuously fascinated by why certain ideas continue across millennia, and garner strength over time, and why other ideas die out. We focus our energies on bringing out the fundamentals behind evergreen and empowering ideas, and how people can apply these to maximize their human potential. We think this process is partly ideological, and partly logical. Ideological, because essentially we are professing which ideologies and which parts of those ideologies seem to have continuously empowered people. Partly logical, because we go by the concept of Wisdom of the Crowds . If so many people for so many centuries can see a particularly idea as worth defining their lives by, the question is, what is so particularly powerful about it. Transformative Learning Solutions began as the pure imagination of young entrepreneurs who were increasingly fascinated by the depth of life solutions that lay in the stories and morals derived from Indian mythology. They soon found they were far from alone in their fascination for such information, and through research realized the massive online demand for information, content and related subjects on Indian mythology. They convinced one of the country's top authors as to whether she would be interested to work with them to create an online video course on how people could improve their lives based on the teachings of Shiva, which they would ultimately call The Shiva Experience . After much persuasion this renowned author, Dr. Nilima Chitgopekar, agreed to make the imagination of young entrepreneurs a reality by becoming a partner in Transformative Learning Solutions. Today Transformative Learning Solutions serves several thousand people online in over 84 countries with daily doses of teachings from Indian Mythology. And people from more than 20 countries have tried and enjoyed our several hours of online video programs. Transformative continues to strive to be a centralized solution for creating content, which prescribes the morals from Indian mythology and other ancient Indian teachings, to help people with their issues of daily life. In essence we aim to enhance people's personal development through this most phenomenal form of storytelling. This coffee table book that you hold in your hand is our first venture into printed publications and is a combined inspiration of Rajendra and Mamta Mongia's phenomenal spiritually motivated art, Dr. Chitgopekar s invaluable depth of knowledge on Mythology, and Transformative's Creative Teams constant endeavour to ensure our stories help people improve their everyday lives. Today Transformative is blessed to have the support of leading artists, film makers, authors, content developers and online experts. It is also supported both financially and intellectually by the renowned Indian School of Business, in Hyderabad, constantly ranked as one of the top management schools in the world. We hope we can continue to do justice to bring to life India's rich cultural and intellectual history though our work, and look forward to your support, blessings and good wishes in the same. On behalf of the many people who have brought Transformative this far on its journey. Rishabh Chopra Founder Transformative Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd.


Introduction to Goddesses Experience Of the world's living religious traditions, it is only in Hinduism that such extensive worship of divinity in the female form may be found. No other religions have a living goddess tradition, or such an enormous assortment of goddesses. They represent different human wants and feelings associated to each individual whim, need, compulsion, predilection and fancy- a panacea for all mental states. This polytheistic manifestation has ensured the continuous popularity of the goddess- from abstract potent geometrical designs called yantras, or even a mound of mud, in rough terracotta form, to sculpted form as a wooden carving, a bronze statue, a painting, a poster, a sword, a tree, or a river. Even though there are ancient manuals to instruct the specific, regions lend their particularities; human emotions and yearnings add other dimensions.The Goddess provides an endless array as she, blesses homes and agricultural fields, and watches over the fate of children. Images of Hindu goddesses are a delight for those who study them- from graceful miniature paintings of Sita pining for her beloved husband Rama, or Radha awaiting a tryst with Krishna to imposing multi-armed, weapon-wielding Durga and Kali. The great variety ranges from the nurturing and auspicious to ferocious and/ or protective goddesses, who are most often virginal, independent figures. Hindus show deep reverence to the earth as the Mother Goddess. Ganga, the most important of the Hindu river goddesses, is an embodiment of divinity, whose grace flowing over the bather's body can be felt to empower, cleanse, purify, heal, and enlighten.The Shakti Pithas, locations where parts of the goddess's body mythically fell upon the earth and installed themselves, are seats of power where pilgrims can directly experience the goddess. Hills, mountains, stones, and anthills all manifest miraculous powers and are ancient places of pilgrimage and renewal. Before building a house, undertaking cultivation of plants, starting a ritual, or beginning a dance, Hindus pray to Bhumi Devi, the earth goddess, for her blessings and forgiveness. There are 3 major ideas that shape the Goddess: Prakriti, Maya and Shakti.An important factor in the rise of goddesses was the system known as Sankhya.Among the 6 Hindu philosophies, this system identifies two entities from the conjunction of which the universe and its beings came into existence- prakriti and purusha. Prakriti is the feminine principle, the material cause behind creation, which is the principle of primordial matter that is the basis of the phenomenalempirical world and the procreation of nature. Purusha is the principle of consciousness, that is, chaitanya. Sankhya philosophy explains the creation of the universe as the interplay between these two.The male purusha is inactive and incapable of creation while the female prakriti- composed of the 3 basic qualities or gunas, sattva ( purity) rajas ( activity ) and tamas ( lethargy ) – is the basis of all activity and creation.The prefix pra means exalted and kriti means creation.Thus prakriti is energized into action only when in contact with purusha. SHAKTI Shakti is a Hindu concept of divine energy of the goddess, the power of both life and death, creation and destruction, which flows through the cosmos, the social order and the human body alike. Shakti is a productive and sometimes violent energy that flows through all levels of social, cosmic and corporeal existence.


A common belief is that without Shakti the male counterpart is immobilized and therefore ineffective. The Sanskrit word shakta comes from the noun Shakti (and in turn from the root shak, 'to be able' or 'to do'), which means 'power', 'energy' or 'strength' on all levels of the universe. The goddess is known as para Shakti that is 'primordial power'. It literally means "power." This may be creative and peaceful or destructive and terrifying. In early philosophical descriptions Shakti is a genderless principle of cosmogony, later it became identified with the goddess. InVedic literature, it means ability, power, capacity, help or service. Read this beautiful poem from the Rig-Veda where the goddess as Vak is describing herself and where the concept of Shakti may be comprehendedI travel with the Rudras and theVasus With the Adityas andVishvadevas, I wander I hold aloft bothVaruna and Mitra Indra and Agni And the pair of Ashvins.. I am the queen The gatherer up of treasures Most thoughtful, first of those Who merit worship Thus gods have established me in many Places, with many homes to enter and Abide in. Thence I extend o'er all existing creatures And touch even yonder heaven with my forehead I breathe a strong breath like the wind and the tempest' the while I hold together all existence Beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens I have become so mighty in my grandeur.� This feminine energy attributes power over creation, all speech, nature, mind, and liberation, the universe itself, to Devi, the Goddess. Shakti, the Devi's divine and potent power, resides, not only in all gods, but within all human beings as well.Yet, a male god will be incomplete without Shakti, though Shakti is complete in herself because her existence does not depend on extraneous forces. Shiva and Shakti together bring forth creation in an embodiment of primordial energies. There is male and female energy; the male – Shiva, or Narayana or Ganapati. In the following verse we can see the inseparability and yet the power of Shakti the goddess.


Shivah shaktya yukto, yadi bhavati shaktah prabhavitum Na ched evam devo, na khalu kushalah spanditum api Atas tvaam aaraadhyaam , Hari haraVirinchaadibhir api Pranatum , stotum va, katham akrta –punyah prabhavati “United with Shakti, Shiva is endowed with the power to create the universe. Otherwise, he is incapable even of movement. Therefore, who except those endowed with great merits acquired in the past can be fortunate enough to salute or praise thee, mother divine , who art the adored of even Hari Hara and Virinchi.� In the mythological world, the supreme Shakti manifests herself as the energy force of each individual god, taking the form of a multiplicity of female entities that could be seen as the consorts of these gods. In Hindu theology the male god is the spiritual principle, the goddess the material principle. He is the spirit, she is the substance; he is the cause, she is the manifestation; he is the divine within, she without. He gives her form, she gives him meaning. Shakti is generally something that the male god has and the goddess is! Shakti as 'potency', stands at the centre of philosophical and theological speculation and ritual Endeavour - on it depends the world in its myriad apparitional forms; likewise also the psychophysical set-up of mankind provoking self-experience and mental and physical development. Maya is a force that lies between the two. Maya originally meant 'art' or 'wisdom', secrecy, extraordinary power. Identified with prakriti, it is the creative or delusive power, aligned with Shakti. Maya is the power of delusion that prevents people from seeing things as they actually are also impelling individuals into self-centered egotistical actions. It may also be understood as a force, not dissimilar to Shakti, that enables a deity to act as she creates, like a game, a ' Lila'- the sport or dalliance according to which the gods never act out of necessity but just to amuse themselves, stressing the impermanent nature of creation. In this book, I am going to familiarize you with different goddesses and their beautiful, mysterious and yet powerful nature. You will see how Lakshmi and Saraswati, interestingly, share so many associations- from being co-wives to being sisters. Sati, Parvati and Durga have a running thread in their mythologies. Besides that, the nuances and complex symbolism in their forms provide us with life lessons to deal with difficult situations in life.


DURGA the vanquisher Namo namo Durge sukha karni namo namo Ambe dukha harani (Durga I repeatedly bow before you ,You provide happiness to all, O mother goddess, you remove all sorrow from life (Durga Chalisa) Durga is a goddess who luxuriates in war. She knows her weapons and uses them efficiently- arrows, dagger, chakra, shield, trident, noose.The myth of Durga provides an amazing vision of warrior divine hood indeed! Mortal women today may ululate, when she leaves after the completion of the Dashahara festival, but without a doubt, she is the one who leaves the demons running for cover on the battlefield. The word Durga has many meanings. Etymologically, she who is difficult 'dur' to go against 'ga' Literally, the unfathomable one. Durga is a name that can also be a play on words ; she is the great protectress from worldly adversity (durga) and is at the same time herself unassailable and hard to approach (durga). In a passage where the goddess is giving a raison d etre for all her names, ithe Devi says,“In this form of mine I shall kill an asura named Durgama and thereby, I shall have the celebrated name of Durgadevi . Durga conjures images of her as another powerful epithet Mahish-asura-mardini which is evocative of the mythological slaying of the buffalo demon by her. The myth holds multiple meanings. I will be basing this segment largely on the myth as is explicated in texts like the Devi Mahatmya.The DM, which literally means the glorification or greatness of the devi, iii is the first classic text, central to the worship of the goddess Durga, in mainstream Hinduism. It is the earliest Sanskrit text that presents the goddess as the absolute being who creates, preserves and destroys the universe. In addition, the goddess is supreme due to the prowess as a warrior. Besides the Markandeya Purana, the myth appears in several other places. iv An entire Purana- Devibhagavatama, is devoted to this myth. The Chandishataka by Banabhatta, the court poet of king Harshavardhana ( 606-647 AD), is a poem extolling the goddess who killed Mahishasura. It has been suggested that these works should all be regarded as different attempts at the amalgamation of two goddesses from different stand points.Why two goddeses? These stories may be placed within a broader movement to integrate several goddesses into one great goddess. As Durga assimilated so many different goddesses and sometimes transformed the deities rooted in the native cults of India, with each history she acquired a new competence and often a new name. THE STORY Mahisha was a very powerful demon/asura. How he acquires these powers is interesting. In the Skanda Purana we are told that the buffalo demon had immeasurable powers because of his mother's relentless asceticism. In the Bhagavatam, we hear that Mahisha is given a boon by Brahma. He is said to have undertaken strenuous penance and worshipped the gods for 10, 000 years. Brahma was so pleased by him that he blessed him and granted him a boon. Mahisha's 14

only wish was to be immortal. But Brahma told Mahisha that the only certainty of life is death: death will always follow birth which will lead to rebirth. Mahisha would have to ask for another boon, anything but immortality. “ Then let me not die by the hands of any deva or human being of the male sex. Let a woman be the cause of my death. Since there is no woman powerful enough to kill me, O Brahma I shall have eternal life.” Once this boon was granted Mahisha's vanity knew no bounds. He compelled the wives of the rishis to sing songs in his praise. He sent the gods away from heaven to dwell in the forests on earth and abolished all religious ceremonies. Brahamans gave up reading the Vedas, rivers changed their course and fire lost its energy. He became the lord of the three worlds. He dragged away all the goddesses and told them to do housework.The gods were now his servants and honoured all his commands. Forced to forsake their abodes the gods hastened to Brahma and recounted their woes. Brahma then went to Shiva and told him of Mahisha's misdeeds. “You are responsible for this mischief! Where will we find a woman to kill this asura, who is blinded by pride! I doubt if your wife or Vishnu's, the gentle Lakshmi, will go to war with this buffalo!” Both Vishnu and Shiva commiserated and all the gods joined them and from their collective anger the flames that arose transformed into a mountain of effulgence that covered the skies. The collective tejas congealed to form a radiant female Durga .The different parts of her body came from the different deities . her head from Shiva's energy, her arms from Vishnu, her feet from Brahma , her waist from Indra , her hair fromYama, her breasts from Chandra, her thighs from Varuna , her hips from the energy of the earth . Her fingers like blades of fire came from Surya her nose came from Kubera and every other part of her body was formed from the violent energy of a god. Thus parts of all gods had combined to create a deity more powerful than all of them put together.A major war took place in which the demon was vanquished by Durga. “ Jai jai jai Durge jayati , Jai Durgeshvari devi Jayati jayti durgam dalani, Durati harani sur sevi Jayati Mahadurga jayati,Adishakti Jagdamba Bhuvan chaturdash lok-triya, Man tera avalambha (Jai jai jai o ma Durga, I raise victory slogans in your honour Only you , Durga Can solve the most distressing Problems of your devotees, It is for this reason that even the gods remain Ever at your service O maha Durga devi , You are the primal power, The mother of all the three worlds And the only support for man in the entire universe.) How does one understand Mahisha? Mahisha may be seen as being similar to other demons such as a Ravana, a Bali or a Daksha. Basically they are symbols of false understanding and utilitarian devotion.Their death or defeat by the deity signifies the transition to true knowledge and salvation through the loss of self. Only right knowledge leads to freedom.The demon is made to act out a new drama of self-sacrifice and salvation. The convergence of two very different goals in the common pattern of self-immolation, reflects the union of conflicting aspirations within the human devotee. Self- sacrifice leads to power won from death. It may also lead to an ideal state of purity and union with the god (Shulman) Sarvasvarupe sarveshe sarvashaktisamantivate Bhayebhyastrahi no devi durge devi namostute. O Queen of all who exist in the form of all, and possesses every might, save us from error O Devi . Salutation be to you Devi Durga!” th Devi Mahatmya 11 chapter verse 24 16

EGOISM/NARCISSISM It is true that it is always better to reduce ego to the minimum.We can see other deities dealing with the ego. Shiva steps on the ego dwarf and suppress him in his Nataraja form.The ego takes up a lot of energy; to maintain our ego a lot of fuel is needed.Without the ego you feel light for it is like a big burden and so is heavy. A healthy egoism is when one values oneself and one has a certain kind of confidence and faith, that will make us evolve and grow, to know that we have something to contribute to the world and others, and that we are fundamentally good human beings with the capacity for love and compassion. Too much ego, bordering on narcissism, on the other hand, only recognizes others for what they can do for me, that the me is the center of the universe around which all things revolve. Inward growth, however we define it, should have the universal aim of both presence and service. Mahisha is richly loaded symbol. Whenever you worship Durga you vanquish the Mahishas of your thoughts. These are the thoughts of over-confidence, impudence greed and basic folly, for it is only foolhardiness that compelled Mahisha to set forth on such a dreadful expedition.The battle between the two is as an internal battle within each of us. The goddess is prayed to annihilate the asuric tendencies of lust, pride, hypocrisy and to arouse the dormant Shakti within.The myth has an alluring quality. It shows a battle between ignorance and wisdom, not just good and evil. This icon is a favourite for all those who seek strength and energy, whether truck drivers or soldiers. Any woman who manifests extraordinary strength and is believed to be her own mistress and totally unafraid of men begins to be treated with special awe and reverence and often commands unconditional obedience. LION Keharivahan rajat ,khadag khappar dhari Suranramunijansewat tinke dukhari Her mount is a lion and she holds a cup in one hand and a dagger in the other.The gods, men and the sage are ever in her attendance , serving her , whose all afflictions are removed by her only (Arati to goddess Durga) Early depictions of Durga dating to the fourth century show her standing on a lion throne she also rides a lion, an animal closely related to royalty. An archaic symbol of great power, it personifies the goddess in her primitive magical form before she is absorbed into Brahmanic theology and abandons the tiger for the lion.The symbols of the two beasts illuminate the nature of she who mounts their bodies. On the tiger the lady is potent with magic and mystery. On the lion the v goddess is the benign protectress. In the Matsya Purana there is a legend wherein Brahma pleased with the tapasya of Parvati grants her a boon. She asks that the tiger be the chief of her ganas as Vyaghrapada.


BUFFALO Shumbhu nishumbha vidare , mahishasur ghati Dhoomra vilochan naina, nishidin madmati (Arati of Durga) There are several asuras mentioned in the DM. Chikshura, Chamara, Udagra, Mahahanu, Asiloman, Baskala, Parivarita, Bidala, Kalala,Uddhata, Tamra, Andhaka, Ugrasya, Ugravirya Durdhara, Durmukha, to name some of them. However the main villain is the dreaded shape- shifting buffalo demon whose death at the hands of Durga has been so central to her identity. Not surprisingly then, faithful to the mythological antecedents, the favourite victim of sacrifices to Durga is Mahisha literally which means the buffalo.And in one instance here is a reference to this goddesss as “The sacrifice of a black water-buffalo – a beast which is found from Asia to the European side of the Bosphorus - to some primitive form of the Goddess had long been practiced in India.The ritual slaughter of a bull before an image of a Goddess , was (with the exception of self-castration, which was not unknown), the highest tribute which an individual vii or a community exclusively devoted to the worship of a female deity, could make.� After the Vedic times, animal and human sacrifice came to be associated with placating the malign divine violence with the bending of that violence towards human ends. Now it seems animals were no longer killed with complicated ritual but decapitated before the goddess in such a way that some of the blood fell on viii it.The ritual slaughter was justified by the doctrine that the soul of the victim went straight to heaven. At the level of royalty, it has become fused with the martial Dashahara festival held after the monsoons, a practical time to wage warfare. Kings ceremonially sacrificed or witnessed the slaughter of one or more buffalo in conjunction with the worship of the Devi.At the priestly level, this gruesome and gory ritual, so offensive to Brahmana sensibilities, became a metaphor for the victory of good over evil and was formally included in the Sanskrit canon. Indeed the royal buffalo sacrifice was prescribed and supervised by the king's Brahmana preceptors. A reason put forward for the hatred for the buffalo is -After the gods had created the earth and plants they looked on their work with satisfaction. The asuras were not satisfied as nothing moved.They wanted some living creatures to be created to move around.The gods agreed but challenged the asuras to implement their own suggestion. The asuras set out to create and created an immense misshapen bellied, hairless, black leathery skinned, short and stiff legged, a disproportionally long necked and a massive headed being with dull and lazy eyes.ix It was ugliness incarnate. The buffalo symbolizes among other things the elemental powers of brutish ignorance. The gods broke out in raucous laughter. In fact the asuras retreated in offence and refused to take further part in creation.The gods then created their first animate creation - the white cow.The water buffalo is supposedly the only animal that is not part of divine creation. Hence, it was the buffalo, the creation of the asuras, whom Durga fights. It is true that in their earthly existence, human beings have become alienated from their divine origin and allowed themselves to be caught up in matter. Overcoming these worldly fetters is the indispensable condition for attaining redemption. Thus Durga is worshipped as a liberator. Her radiant form, 20

illuminates the three worlds. Offer to Durga the animal, the pashu of your inner evil traits of passion, of anger, of greed.The alchemy of sacrifice and ritual as agents of transformation are central to Hinduism The role of the goddess in the Durga festival – the textual sources and the imagery of the goddess suggests that this festival is a celebration of her victory over the demon. In certain parts where it is celebrated, the goddess is treated more overtly as a daughter returning to her parental home and the other deities that make up the tableaux are described as her children. Lakshmi and Saraswati have always been considered as goddesses in their own right. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT The myth satisfies a psychological need in people. For many the symbol of the warrior goddess provides an inner strength helping them in their daily activities and situations. Durga therefore satisfies immediate needs, while remaining rooted in the mythical past. The embodiment of such awesome power is significant for women. Durga does not lend her power or Shakti to a male consort but takes the inner fiery energies strength and potency power from the other male gods in order to perform her own heroic exploits. Male deities who in other cosmic cycles are known to have bitter rivalries over devotees over the show of might or even over celestial damsels all combine in a true show of strength . Shiva is not her husband but merely a messenger that she sends to challenge other rebellious antigods in the battle after Mahisha' s death. Nor does she become the wife of Mahisha therefore she is not the Shakti of any particular god and her Shakti, whatever its origins, ultimately belongs to no one but her. Most significantly she is created in one of the myths as the combined power of all the gods. And lastly there is the significance of the demon we must consider, who keeps changing form on the battlefield into a tiger, buffalo etc. Ego keeps changing form. You are egotistical about your family and the wealth you possess. You may claim to be a spiritual person but may still have an ego. It is the root cause of all our sufferings.When ego disappears, consciousness expands. Misery or challenges come in many different forms. It is in one's hand to have the wisdom to recognize them and deal with them effectively Finally I would like to end with a salutation I wrote some years ago: “I pay obeisance to the representations Of comely perfection and clamouring imperfection, of unbridled anger and timely compassion' of vociferous triumph and silent mercy

I pay obeisance to the symbol of abiding peace 22

And turbulent tumult, of lofty independence and Selfless service, of depths of darkness and Soaring light, I pay obeisance to her who exemplifies in her Being the sensuous feminine, the virile Masculine, all that I strive to be: an epitome of Wholeness in life and ultimate death.

i just after that passage we hear that “and again assuming a terrible form in the mountain Himalaya, I shall destroy the rakshasa for the protection of the munis .Then all the munis bowing their bodies reverently shall praise me, and thereby I shall. Have the celebrated name of Bhimadevi” so on and so forth. ii Swami Jagdiswarananda, DM, Sri Ramakrishna Math Madras, p149 vv 49-53 iii Recently called /translated by Zimmer ( p.190) as 'The text of theWondrous essence of the Goddess', iv Several hymns in the Mahabharata and the Harivamsha.The Bhagavata,(850-1350), Devi Purana( 550-650), KalikaPurana , Shiva Purana SkandaPurana ( 700-1150)Vamana Purana ( 450-900) andVarahaPurana (750) v Pupul Jayakar, The Earth Mother, Penguin Books 1989,p. 75-76. vi Nilima Chitgopekar, Encountering Sivaism:The Deity, the Milieu, the Entourage, Munshiram Manoharlal 1998,p.148 vii T S Maxwell, p. 99 viii AL Basham,p. 339 ix One can almost see a racial overtone here in the repugnance of the black skinned buffalo and yet another dark hairy 'dirty' animal like the boar, who in addition dwelt in unclean environs and consumed unclean food was worshipped as an avatara ofVishnu himself. mere bhainsa ko danda ktyun mara – Bhainsasura devi.


Laxmi I would like to begin with a beautiful aarati to Lakshmi Jai Lakshmi Mata, Maiyya jai laksmi Mata Tumko nisa din sevat Hara Hari au Dhata Jai Lakshmi Mata O mother Lakshmi, Victory to thee,Victory to thee Even Shiva,Vishnu and Brahma ever reverence you day and night! Victory to thee mother Lakshmi! Her radiant image and joyful mien reflects grandeur, richness, splendor and luster. Her image in silver or any other metal, a photograph or a calendar, graces millions of homes, shops and offices. By placing her image in a niche, the devotee visually establishes a direct communication of his or her desire with the cosmos.This is done merely by lighting incense and a lamp, and bowing the head. After this brief obeisance people go about their customary work, for she does not insist on onerous fasts , nor does she have a wrath that needs to be appeased. She represents wealth, as some of her names reveal: Rajyalakshmi, Vijayalakshmi, Bhagyalakshmi, Grihyalakshmi,Adilakshmi Dhanyalakshmi Dharyalakshmi, Santanalakshmi andVidyalaskshmi. The name/word 'Lakshmi' has several etymologies. Derived from the Sanskrit words lakshma, lakshya, lakshyam laksham mean target, aim or goal. Laksha also means lakh, 100,000 in number, and 'laks' means sight or to perceive or observe. There are also other fanciful etymologies such as 'lakshanam' 'lakshana' meaning 'mark', 'aspect' or characteristic. In the Rig-Veda, the appellative 'Lakshmi' has been used as 'mark' 'token' 'sign'. From the earliest times, Lakshmi was a sign both good and bad. Therefore there is both Lakshmi and A-Lakshmi. The original connotation of Lakshmi was with luck, which waxes and wanes. Later, Lakshmi as a goddess began to represent wealth. ORIGIN One of the most compelling, most celebrated stories in Hindu mythology is that of the Churning of the Milky Ocean. It is called Kshir-sagara-manthana. It is the story of the gods versus the demons and their fight to gain immortality. It also tells about the birth of Lakshmi, which is illustrated in one of her epithets Jaladhija–that is 'born of the ocean'. Shubha gun mandir sundar, ksheero-dadhijata Ratna-chaturdash-tumheen , koi nahinpata Jai lakshmi mata 26

O daughter of the ocean of milk! You are the mine of all virtues. It was only your grace which enabled the gods to churn out the fourteen gems . Salutations, O daughter of the ocean of milk Salutations O support of the three worlds Salutations to you for the propitious glance Protect me, for I come seeking refuge.� i It relates the theme of how creation proceeded from a body of primordial formless water.To get to the ordered state of existence meant that the agitated water needed to be calmed. Moreover in this water lay the potency or essence of life- rasa / amrita/ soma. Only when this potency is released would creation begin. Lakshmi had also disappeared from the earth and the world was barren and bereft of joy. So distilling the essence of the primordial waters was crucial. Lakshmi's role therefore is associated with the sap of existence that underlies all life – vegetative and animal. She herself represents the moment of transformation from formlessness to form. According to one legend, Indra the king of gods was given the responsibility of protecting the world against the demons. He had protected it successfully for many years, and the goddess Lakshmi's presence had made him sure of success. One day, a wise sage the great rishi Durvasa cursed him for a slight committed by him. Thenceforth Indra and all the three worlds lost their energy and strength and all things went to ruin. The great sage offered Indra a garland of sacred flowers. In his arrogance, Indra threw the flowers to the floor.This display of arrogance upset Lakshmi, who left the world of the gods and entered into the Milky Ocean. Without her, the world became darker, people became greedy, and no offerings were made to the gods.The daityas and the asuras put forth their strength against the enfeebled gods. The gods fled to Brahma for protection; Indra asked Vishnu the divine protector and preserver, to correct this imbalance and restore the universe to safety. He told Indra that the gods would need to churn the Milky Ocean to regain Lakshmi and her blessings. So the gods went to the sea of milk, which was the seat ofVishnu who asked them to cast potent herbs into the sea, and begin churning with Mount Mandara. It is said in the Udyogaparva of Mahabharata (v 5.102) that the gods united with the asuras to churn the waters.They churned for many years, but it was 1,000 years before anything rose to the surface. Finally, the treasures began to rise to the surface.Among them, was a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower- Lakshmi. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT The myth is a potent allegory for the meditative journey.When we meditate, the 'demons' of our mind are churned out like poisons. Our thoughts may become like the tumultuous waves of a stormy sea but eventually these waters or thoughts will run their course.ii Lakshmi is a goddess of plenty and prosperity, who is believed to bring material rewards to her followers. One myth tells the story of how Lakshmi's association with Indra caused him to pour down fertile rains, thereby allowing crops to grow. Meanwhile, cows produced an abundance of milk, and all the beings on earth 28

prospered. Later, when Lakshmi left the world after she was insulted by Indra, the world lost all its vigour and vitality in her absence, gaining it back only when she returned. In this function Lakshmi has been given the epithet Aishvarya or "the wealthy," and consequently, anything that need be affluent in the life of a Hindu gets the auspicious prefix or suffix 'Lakshmi'. GANESHA Although there are no references in classical texts to illustrate their relationship Lakshmi and Ganesha's joint imag indicates that their association was thought of iii much before the association ofVishnu and Lakshmi. The goddess is worshipped with Ganesha because the latter has attained popularity owing to his capacity to create and remove hurdles. He is Vighneshwara, the lord of all impediments and therefore, he removes all obstacles that come in one's way of getting Lakshmi's blessings. On Diwali, Ganesha joined with Lakshmi signifies the eternal desire of man who always craves for material wealth without any impediment. Lakshmi is worshipped for wealth and prosperity, while Ganesha is worshipped for receiving that wealth unhindered. The lord Vighneshwara is sometimes perceived as the administrator and custodian of the treasures of the goddess. On Diwali the two are worshipped together. He is non-Vedic and not just occupies a position of preeminence in the orthodox Hindu pantheon, but is also one of the five principle Pauranic gods (panchadevatas). Prior to the writing of the Puranas he started off as being referred to as 'Vighnakarta'- obstacle creator to 'Vighnaharta'. They are both are bringers of well-being, deities to whom Hindus turn in seeking the fulfillment of their wishes and their goals.iv Ganapati is associated with knowledge and is supposed to have written the Mahabharata as Vyasa composed the text. Given Lakshmi's association with wealth and the importance of keeping ledgers among trading communities, the bringing together of these two deities in this context is understandable.v LOTUS Through the ages some symbols of spirituality have endured. Among flowers, the lotus has been the dearest to the heart of the contemplative Indian mind.Thus god is praised as having lotus feet, lotus eyes, a lotus mouth and dwelling like lotus in the heart. According to the Hindu conception, the waters, the first product of the creative principle, are female and the maternal procreative aspect of the Absolute. It is believed that when the divine life substance is about to put forth the universe, a thousand petaled cosmic lotus emerges from the primeval cosmic waters; vi it is the generative organ. From this first awareness of the lotus as the symbol of life and supporter of the universe, the Indian mind conceives of all of nature as an aspect of that universal spirit.vii Therefore, most common motif that Lakshmi is associated with is the lotus, which has many names in Sanskrit but is referred to as 'Padma' in the Rig-Veda In fact Lakshmi is simply often referred to as Padma herself.This may be because like the lotus, Lakshmi is believed to have been born in water and mud.


The Shri Sukta has used these adjectives to describe Shri – Padmasambhava (lotus born), Padmavarna (lotus colored), Padmauru (lotus- thigh-ed), Padmapriya (Lover of lotus), Padmahasta (holding the lotus in hand), Padmamukhi (lotus faced), and Padmakshi (lotus eyed), Padmamalini (garlanded with a lotus), Padmasthita (living in a lotus) and Padmanemi (having the circumference of a lotus). PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT The lotus symbolizes the unlimited potential in each one of us to bloom. It grows from darkness in the bed of a river or pool to blossom in the light and air on the surface of water. It represents all the things that can emerge out of the quagmire of life, like a symbol of triumph. Untouched by the impurity, it represents spiritual perfection, the purity of heart and mind. It can survive to re-germinate for thousands of years. It represents long life, honor, and good fortune. In the viii Brahmanas, the lotus leaf is described as the yoni or the womb floating on primordial waters. There are descriptions of Shri being born of a lotus- the lotus flower being the embryo and the stalk the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the embryo by linking it to the life giving waters. In the Rig-Veda there is ix a description of the semen of the gods Mitra andVaruna being collected in a lotus. It is from this that the sageVasishtha is born. Lakshmi appears as a popular deity- as goddess of wealth and agriculture she was worshipped by people of all sects and seemingly, all sections of society.x In the early stages of her history, she is allied with different male deities. She is linked with the god and also with Indra who is traditionally known as the king of the gods. It seems she is persuaded to leave one ruler for the other. She is also said to dwell with demon kings Bali and Prahlada, who under her influence, rule their xi kingdoms righteously and society operates smoothly. In the Mahabharata Lakshmi is said to be ever present in the mansion of Kubera. Kubera originally the lord of the Yakshas, is the god of wealth and riches, incorporated into Brahmanism. The Ramayana suggests that Lakshmi dwells with Kubera and in certain xii passages of the Mahabharata, she is described as the wife of Kubera. Lakshmi's initial role as a goddess of wealth was soon transformed and elevated by the epic, the Mahabharata. The role as Vishnu's primary consort/ spouse dates therefore from around fourth century CE . One of the reasons why she is his spouse is because he continues acquiring many incarnations, satisfying her xiii restless spirit. She is enchanting and whimsical, and holding on to her is a constant struggle of changing her abode. It has been stated that Lakshmi is so fickle that she moves even in her pictures. She is attracted toVishnu only because with his many avataras, he himself is restless and always changing form.xiv He is the only god, with whom Lakshmi ultimately forms a long-lasting relationship and she hence 'descends' with him in all his avataras and also keeps taking birth as his beloved partner. In this role she plays the part of a model Hindu wife obediently serving her husband as a lord.The two provide a picture of marital contentment, domestic order and co-operation.xv There is a beneficial interdependence between the male and the female which is in harmony with the sexual roles described in the Dharma-shastric injunctions, where the belief was that the wife's sexuality needs to be controlled. Vishnu institutes and maintains dharma. He never comes to her, she comes to him. In other words a stable and organized society generates wealth.xvi At Deogarh in the Dashavatara Vishnu temple, there is an image of Vishnu Anantasayin. Vishnu is depicted recumbent on the coils of Ananta the cosmic serpent. As Vishnu slept, he dreamt the cosmos into reality. Lakshmi, the dutiful wife, massages his legs. This image is a relief on the south wall of the temple dated 425 CE of the Gupta period. Though feminist scholars scoff at this image, it can be interpreted as a spouse realizing the important task at hand and therefore facilitating Vishnu's comfort as he creates the universe. 32

The second reason for this association is that Vishnu is the representation of that power which sustains the world and Lakshmi represents the inherent power, and both are inseparable.With changes in society and economy, the traits of the goddess also begin to mutate. From being fickle, Lakshmi is now being called the wife of Dharma, as she is the personification of auspicious qualities.This was the period when the purushartha, the four goals of a person, were dharma, artha, xvii kama and moksha.Vishnu is believed to establish Dharma by overturning 'the law of the jungle as seen in disruptions in the universe, and descend each time on the earth as an avatara. The representation of Lakshmi with Vishnu is meant to convey the unified concept of power and energy. Both are inseparable, and together sustaining and enhancing the cosmic order as well as domestic life through sovereignty, aishvarya and detached action, virya. In addition, material wealth alone is an evil that leads to destruction. Since wealth alone is deemed dangerous, there is hardly any separate temple of the goddess, and she is mostly portrayed withVishnu.xviii Further, Lakshmi plays a special role as the mediator between her husband Lord Vishnu and his worldly devotees.While Vishnu is often conceived of as a stern, easily-perturbed patriarch, Lakshmi represents a more soothing, warm and approachable mother figure who willingly intervenes in the lives of devotees on his behalf.Thus, when askingVishnu for grace or forgiveness of sins, Hindus often approach him through the intermediary presence of Lakshmi. One can clearly see a give-and-take relationship between the two where Lakshmi being the more patient one, advises her husband in his dealings with his followers.


Prassannavarudi Sri Laksmi Stotram, in Invoking Lakshmi p.127 Laura Amazzone, Goddess Durga p. 98 iii B K Chaturvedi,p.71 iv Paul Courtright, Ganesa, p, 22) v R Mahalakshmi, p. 92 vi Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols of Indian Art and Civilization, 1946,p.90 vii KapilaVatsyanyan, In Introduction to the exhibition In the image of man, p. 90 viii R Mahalakshmi,The Book of Lakshmi, Penguin Books, 2009.p. 72 ix R Mahalakshmi, op cit p.73-74. x (O.P Singh. Iconography of Gaja Lakshmi , Bharat Prakashan, Varanasi, p. 12 1983) xi dwarf-like, semi-divine spirit or guardian deities or even considered to be earth godlings, associated with wealth and treasure xii SuviraJaiswal, The Origin and Development ofVaisnavism, MunshiramManoharlal, Delhi, 1967, pp 97-98 xiii DevduttPattanaik, LakshmiThe Goddess ofWealth and Fortune, Vakils, Mumbai, p. 72, 2003) xiv Ananda K Coomaraswamy cited in Laura Amazzone, p 43 , xv An exception seems to be that each year Jagannatha is said to argue with his jealous wife Lakshmi after he has returned from a visit to other deities in the neighborhood. Lakshmi is portrayed as a nagging wife. xvi Calendar p.131 xvii (DevdattaPattanaik, Secrets from Hindu Calendar Art, p.131) xviii B K Chaturvedi, Lakshmi , Books for All , 1996,p.70 ii


Parvati Parvati, the wife of Shiva, is a reincarnation of Shiva's first wife Sati.They are so closely associated that the two goddesses are treated as one. Both are defined in terms of their courtship and marriage to Shiva. Additionally, Parvati takes on the paradigmatic role as the ideal wife and the ideal mother. She also takes on the philosophic absolute as Shiva's Shakti or embodied power and gets identified with the creative force of the cosmos. Several epithets attributed to Parvati relate her to mountains—Girija, Shailasuta, Himalayaputri and, the oldest reference, Haimavati. Significantly, both Parvati and Shiva are associated with mountains. Mountains as a land type have attracted and provided refuge and solace to mystics, ascetics, monks, truth seekers, hermits and ordinary people alike. Parvati therefore literally means 'of the mountains'. Parvati's parents are the eponymous Himavat and Mena. Sometimes we are told that Shiva and Parvati lived on Mount Mandara, a mythical mountain, at times identified with a hill found to the south of Bhagalpur in Bihar.1 A MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN It was in the gods' interest to find a goddess proficient enough to beguile Shiva into marriage, and who better than Parvati herself, who was Sati in a previous birth and had a deep love for Shiva that needed to come to full fruition in her rebirth. Moreover, through constant, intense contemplation, Shiva generates vast quantities of energy which must be used in creative ways and when passed on to his offspring along with the goddess's ferocious strength was to create the ultimate weapon against an evil demon. The gods had a vested interest – to get rid of a demon called Taraka through the marriage of Shiva and Parvati and the ultimate birth of their son. The episode of Parvati trying to win over Shiva as a bridegroom is a familiar one in Sanskritic sources. As Shiva is an ascetic, his opposition to a matrimonial tie was expected. He was after all the Mahayogi- when his spirit moved him, he would select a rock, spread his tiger skin on it and, assuming a yogic posture, lapse into the core of his mysterious being.The challenge of awakening in him a different ananda from the satchittananda, the true yogic bliss, made Parvati's task very challenging indeed. She had to realize that beauty, youth and charm were not enough. Perhaps, if she joined Shiva in deep meditation he would finally reward her with one glance? With that resolve she left the gilded palace of her parents. For three thousand years she performed rigorous penance, and sat through countless eras, immersed in meditation. As time became insignificant in the search for truth, Parvati sat surrounded by fire during the scorching summer, stood on one leg, neck-deep in water, during the rainy season and the harsh winter. Her mind dwelt on one thing only: her union with Shiva and the birth of their offspring who would free the worlds from the terror unleashed by the cursed Taraka. Even then, her devotion to Shiva was put to the test with annoying regularity.The sages came and tried to dissuade her saying, 'The trident bearing Shiva has an inauspicious body. He is free from shame and has no home or pedigree. He is naked and ill-featured. He associates with ghosts and goblins and the like.'2


Even Shiva came to test her, his curiosity kindled by the eulogies of her austerities the devas sang to him. Appearing before her in the guise of a brahmacharin, Maheshvara said, 'Look at you, you with eyes like the petals of the lotus—and where is that three-eyed creature Shiva?You are moon-faced, he is five-faced. Shiva's birth and pedigree cannot be traced. His caste is not recognized. He has no learning or wisdom and has no knowledge of the enjoyments of a householder. His assistants are the ghosts; he holds poison in his throat.You wish to discard your fine garments in order to wear the hide; unmindful of the sunlight, you wish to seek the light of the glowworm.' His harsh words tested her resolve but she did not flinch. She remained silent and walked away. Ultimately, when Shiva, satisfied with her tapas, graced her with his presence, and asked her what boon he could grant her, she paid obeisance to him and said, 'Oh Mahadeva, fulfill the desire of all the gods, fulfill the desire of the whole world, fulfill the desire of my heart and make me your wife.' Her joy knew no bounds when Shiva acquiesced. Perhaps besides being pleased by her single-minded devotion to him, he himself felt the quivering of love that he had not felt since the death of Sati. By insisting on the practice of tapas, Parvati deviates from 'stridharma', thus challenging normative social dictates. The Dharmashastras do not prescribe that women should leave home and do tapas.Yet Parvati's tapas advocates yoga as a higher form of love than sexuality. Parvati is, then, the model yogini.3 The fire of her lust gets transmuted into the fire of asceticism. The sacred marriage of Shiva and Parvati is richly recorded in much textual material.The talapuranas contain scattered references to Shiva's capacity to be wild, unpredictable, even insulting. Still, he is a model bridegroom to the king's daughter Meenakshi, a common epithet for Parvati in South India. Instead of being referred to as a carrier of skulls who frequents cremation grounds, here he is Sundareshwara or the beautiful lord. Parvati's presence beside Shiva accentuates his fullness as he is inducted into worldly life, extending his range of activities to the domestic hearth. In the form of Parvati, the goddess brings order into Shiva's life, albeit one based on brahminical principles. It is a hallmark of Shaiva mythology that Parvati (unlike other powerful goddesses) is allowed autonomy in her different forms and is far more spirited as a wife. They played board games the outcome of which was not always as a patriarchal society would expect.The problems surfaced when Shiva would begin to lose. Almost instantly Shiva's allies would start accusing her of winning by unfair means. 'Don't you think it is a tad too obvious how impartial you all are toward your lord?', emboldened by her victory in the game, she would address Shiva. 'Remove the moon that adorns your hair, for it now belongs to me.' He would meekly comply. Triumphant at possessing the lovely glowing moon, she would annulate it and wear it as an earring. Then she would say, 'Now hand me all your ornaments.' He would acquiesce without a murmur to this as well, all along the disapproving eyes of Narada 38

and his friends would be trained on her. Finally she would say, 'Take off your loin cloth, my lord.' A collective gasp of disbelief would broke the silence and Shiva would snapped angrily, 'What?' 'What have you to do with a loin cloth? To which she would calmly reply, 'O Shiva? Are you not a sanctified soul? Some time back you wandered in the Daruvana forest with nothing on you.' In his simplicity and love for her, Shiva, the Bholenath would eventually get ready to comply. The spirited exchanges between Shiva and Parvati indicate to us not only the goddess' power to hold her own in her relationship with Shiva, as she does in every other sphere, but also Shiva's greatness as he deals with this power in charming ways. It is believed even today that when Shiva is angry he may wreak havoc on the world, but when appeased and calm he is a model husband. ARDHANARISHVARA The Ardhanarishvara image—where the left half of Shiva's body is female, with all the physical and ornamental accoutrements, and the right has the male features—represents the fusion of Shiva with Parvati. There are perplexities following this image and bhaktas have tried to comprehend it in their own ways, evoking humour. In folklore one comes across the reason why Shiva and Parvati had to merge as one being. It was the desire of Parvati to keep an eye on Shiva and check his philandering , which was always such a close possibility with the nubile Ganga seated on his head! In another instance a verse mentions Shiva's delight in receiving Parvati's tight embrace in this form , but his heart must often grieve as her glance cannot be seen by him. This is a creative union of the active and the passive principles that constitute creation, the male representing the passive purusha (Shiva) and the female the active prakriti (Shakti). It is only through Shakti, now inherent in him, that Shiva realizes his true nature. The Ardhanarishvara image symbolizes the fusion of the formless wholeness of Brahman with the creative energy of existence, Parvati. Not only are Shiva and Parvati unmistakably shown to be the primordial pair, but the image also ensures that Shiva is no longer assigned the role of destruction. However, since Shiva and Parvati have been fused into a single form, the Ardhanarishvara prevents a sexual union. In some instances the image has been used to promote the notion of women's equality. However, it is necessary to study if in fact the image is a positive 4 emancipatory ideal for women. While the male and the female halves of the image are of equal physical stature, the name given to the icon—Ardhanarishvara—does not translate as 'half woman half man', but rather as 'lord who is half woman'. Thus Shiva's is the privileged title 'Isvara' which means 'god', 'lord', 'master', whereas the female half is simply designated as 'nari', woman. The name then does not convey an equivalent status for both.Yet it is a wonderful concept if seen as a blending of the two. The icon may also be seen as a symbol of syncretism- a blending of distinctly different or even opposite cultures to form a new entity.With more or less equal status in the Ardhanarishvara form, both Shiva and Parvati would have to be simultaneously worshipped. Interestingly, the myth involving Bhringi and 40

Ardhanarishvara, where Bhringi devises a unique strategy to worship the deity of his choice by persistently separating the rather composite pair, may just as well indicate the non-acceptance of syncretism. Ultimately the message the image delivers is one of advaita.The fusion of the masculine and feminine in the androgynous form is a partial attainment en route to transcendence where all forms ultimately collapse in organic singularity, that is, advaita. Parvati's undertaking is to tempt Shiva away from asceticism, yoga and other preoccupations. She firmly upholds the dictates of dharma: Next to sacrifice, the obligation to get married and procreate is central to brahminical theology, which regards only the person who has a family as a complete person. It was also believed that familial immortality was continued through one's offspring. One must follow the stage or ashrama that one is passing through at the present moment. If you are married then the grihastha ashrama must be followed. In the role of the householder, Parvati enhances life in this world, represents the beauty and attraction of married life. Parvati is a strong 'individual' in her own right. Having come into the household and influence of Shiva, she insists through discussion, making their lives the way she wants and believes it should be - this is seen also in the birth of Ganesha. As a woman her maternal instinct leads her to 'create' a son. A wonderful and useful idea – know your bliss and follow it. It will not be easy at all. It wasn't for Parvati; her son was decapitated by her husband Shiva but ultimately there is a compromise. Nothing comes easily especially if both the spouses are headstrong and opinionated.


( SP, 1v,p.1839 fn.215) (Siva Purana, II v.46, p. 575). 3 ( Ellen Godberg,p. 142) 4 ( Ellen Goldberg, The Lord Who is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvava in Indian and Feminist Perspective, State University of New York Press, 2002, p.2). 2


Saraswati Clad in white, accompanied by a swan, with lute, manuscript in her hands, Saraswati kindles a sense of serenity associated with the accomplishment of learning. A learning that embraces the inception of Sanskrit, its alphabet, devnagari, and thereby sacred speech found in theVedic texts, both of which are attributed to her. Additionally, she is also the patron deity of the arts. Devotion to her is seen in the striving for inspiration to create music, literature and poetry. Unlike so many other goddesses, Saraswati is not restricted to a specific geographical location. Also, she is rarely seen in personal home altars, or in isolated shrines in the mountains. Just like the image of the Nataraja is ubiquitous on stages where a dance performance is about to take place, most schools, colleges and libraries have a representation of Saraswati. Staged functions, including plays or variety programmes often begin with a Saraswati vandana, that is an ode to the goddess. Saraswati is exceptional because she has the merit of being venerated by three major Indic faiths - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. After Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism probably adopted her, as in their theological discourse there is an emphasis of knowledge as the means to liberation. Saraswati, like most allpowerful goddesses, is also a spouse. Though the wife of Brahma, she is rarely depicted with him. There are practically, hardly any well-known, overarching mythological episodes by which this association is illustrated. She is the divine inspiration that makes people create something that is worthwhile.Vedanta says that the path of knowledge has the power to dispel ignorance of what is permanent and what is passing. Celebrating Saraswati is in fact a call to the higher mind, the beginning of a deep desire to understand the purpose and meaning of life. And lastly, unlike almost all other goddesses, she does not have a single negative attribute. Durga may intimidate with her raw pleasure in war and Kali may frighten but Saraswati is pure with noble attributes. Vidya Dehejia in her tome on goddesses, Devi, has classified her in the category of 'Dayini' – that is the benevolent bestower of devotees' wishes. Saraswati is also intimately linked to rivers and can be given credit for the introduction to the abiding belief in the sanctity of rivers. The sanctity of rivers is connected to geographical sacrality and is a familiar leitmotif in the Hindu tradition. Sanctification of the local landscape where certain locations are imbued with the presence and powers of the divine has a spiritual relevance.The outcome is clear- by mythologizing the land/rivers, different areas of the country get associated with a numinous presence.The Puranas are full of stories and instructions regarding these sanctified areas. However the river Saraswati seems to be worshipped in the Rigveda, not because of any extant myth but because probably in early times, the seat of learning used to be on the banks of the river where the sages lived and established their hermitages. Here is a verse illustrating the glory of the river “Marked out by majesty among the Mighty Ones, In glory swifter than the other rapid streams.


Created vast for victory like a chariot Saraswati must be extolled by every sage. Guide us Saraswati to glorious treasure: refuse us not thy milk, nor spurn us from thee... Gladly accept our friendship and obedience; let us not go from thee to distant countries� (BookVI, hymn 61, verse 13, 14)

The other reason for the connection between the divine and the rivers is because of the belief that rivers are said to be pouring in from heaven itself. In the Rigvedic cosmology, the creation of the world or the process of making the world habitable, is associated with the freeing of the heavenly waters by the popular war god Indra. Indra's enemy Vrittra, a demon of chaos, is said to have withheld and hoarded these waters, thus inhibiting creation by keeping the waters from fertilizing and nourishing the earth. When Indra defeats Vrittra, the waters flow onto the earth. Hence, the rivers of the earth are seen as being necessary to creation. In later mythology, we hear that they are brought to earth in different and often arduous ways. In Puranic mythology we find a similar myth of Ganga's descent to the earth from the heavens. Similarly, it is believed that the earthly Saraswati river is a partial extension, continuation or manifestation of the divine waters that flow from heaven to earth. “I sing a lofty song, for she is the mightiest, most divine of all Streams. Saraswati will I exalt with hymns and lauds, and... O Vasishtha, Heaven and Earth. When in the fulness of their strength the Purus dwell, Beauteous One, on thy two grassy banks, Favour us thou who hast the Maruts for thy friends: stir up the bounty of our chiefs. So may Saraswati auspicious send good luck; she, rich in spoil, is never niggardly in thought, When praised in Jamadagni's way and Lauded as Vasishtha's lauds We call upon Saraswan, as unmarried men who long for wives, As liberal men who yearn for sons. Be thou our kind protector, Saraswan, With those waves of thine. Laden with sweets and dropping oil. May we enjoy Saraswan's breast, all - beautiful, that swells with streams, May we gain food and progeny. (Rigveda, Book 7, hymn 96.) 46

Despite these prayer- verses showing her glorious past as a river goddess, today the Sarsawati is considered a mythical/legendary river, located partly underground or subterranean, which converges in the vicinity of Allahabad with the Ganga and the Yamuna. The confluence, that is the Sangam of the three rivers is sacred. Another important reason for the reverence for rivers in Hinduism is the belief in the purifying quality of rivers. Like fire, water a natural element, is believed to contain intrinsic powers of purification. In general, it is the moving or falling water that is believed to have great cleansing power. In the complex Hindu scheme of purity and pollution, water absorbs pollution and when it is running, it carries pollution away as well. Just like by bathing in a sacred river one becomes 'clean', metaphorically, this bathing gives birth to a new person. Similarly, the crossing of a river is an important part of pilgrimage rites.The metaphor for this act is of the spiritual sojourner fording or crossing over from the world of ignorance or bondage to the far shore, which represents the world of enlightenment or freedom.The river represents the state of transition or the period of rebirth in which the pilgrim undergoes radical and crucial metamorphoses. Speech is revered in Hinduism as it is not just sound but a coherent sound that allows human beings to convey ideas, impart wisdom and so many other aspects that are important in spreading culture – poetry as well as the sacred litanies and eulogies. Speech is the essence of sound by which the world of name and form is realized. As the embodiment of speech, Saraswati is preeminently associated with the best in human culture.The potency of speech and sound is also seen in the centrality of mantras in Hinduism. A mantra which may consist of words or of sounds alone, is held to possess great power.To pronounce a mantra is to make the deity present. Saraswati ultimately gets identified with Vak, the goddess of speech. Vak is Voice or Speech, the sacred word. The Rigveda contains hymns to the power of speech (vak) which is treated as a goddess who makes men wise through speech which is the main medium for the Vedic seers. From high heaven may Saraswati the Holy visit our sacrifice, and from the mountain. Eager propitious may the balmy Goddess hear our effectual speech our invocation Armlets do not adorn a person, or necklaces luminous as the moon; or ablutions or ointments, or blossoms or beautiful hair. Eloquent speech that is polished well Really adorns a personWhen other ornaments are ruined , the ornament of speech is an enduring jewel. Bhartihari


ORIGIN AND HISTORY There are various legends connected with the origin of Saraswati.As perVedic lore, she is said to heal the god Indra along with the Ashvins, the deities involved in medicine. According to another legend, she is said to have sprung from or manifested herself from the mouth-or tongue, to be precise of Brahma. In another myth she originated from Brahma and is the manasa kanya (born of the thought) of Brahman. In this she is like Athene or Minerva born of Zeus' or Jupiter's head. In most later Hindu mythologies, Brahma was considered to be the creator god or at least given that title. She was said to be so beautiful that her creator Brahma gets bewitched by her and decreed that Saraswati should become his consort and provide him assistance in his task of creation. She is the Shakti, the power and consort of Brahma, the creator. Hence she is the procreatrix, the mother of the entire creation. Since Brahma was responsible for the creation of Saraswati, he was by logic her father. His act of marrying Saraswati was, therefore, regarded as a transgression of accepted norms of behavior and so Vishnu and Shiva uttered a curse that henceforth Brahma would cease to be worshipped as a God, by the faithful. Even to this day, this curse seems to be holding true since there are only a few temples dedicated exclusively to Brahma, whereas there are hundreds of thousands of temples and shrines dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva. In this background, Saraswati, traditionally, has come to be worshipped in her individual capacity as the patron goddess for all knowledge and wisdom without her being associated with Brahma. ICONOGRAPHY The image of Saraswati is generally depicted in sculptures and graphic representations either as seated on an ornate pedestal or standing on a fully bloomed white lotus. She is shown wearing a jeweled crown over her head and bedecked with resplendent pearl ornaments. She is fair complexioned and possesses four arms signifying her divine attributes. Her raiment is of white silk. Knowledge is the antithesis of the darkness of ignorance, hence she is depicted as pure white in colour, representing the sattva guna.The emphasis on the white colour indicates no desire to allure. Perhaps representing her preference of knowledge over material things. She holds a vina, similar to a lute, a stringed instrument, diagonally across her chest. This musical accoutrement gives credence to her popular epithet Veenavadini. It is her dominant distinguishing iconographic feature. This association appears in the Vayu Purana- to play the vina required great skill. It is indicative of artistic inspiration and the need for the cultivation of fine arts.In another arm she holds a palm leaf manuscript—the book of knowledge. Her fourth arm displays an akshamala (prayer beads).The goddess radiates feminine beauty and grace. In some pictorial representations, Saraswati is shown holding a pitcher containing holy water, instead of a rosary.As river goddess the water pot is an implement appropriate to Saraswati. Seen near her feet is the white swan, the hamsa which is her mount and hence the epithet Hamsa-vahini, that is 'she who has a swan as her vehicle'. Like the lotus, the swan has been a symbol of spiritual transcendence and is considered to be a very sensible bird. If offered a mixture of milk and water, the hamsa has the knack of separating water and milk and to drink the milk alone, that is neer ksheer viveka.This viveka is the wisdom of discrimination.The bird epitomized 50

discretion and analytical ability and thereby the goddess is the presiding deity of the human sense of discernment. It is only when the goddess sheds her grace that the person develops this quality, hence she is also the divine power that imparts wisdom. Wisdom itself means the art of the application of right knowledge to distinguish between that which is good and that which is bad. Saraswati is that discernment which gives the capacity to realize the world in its myriad forms.That is why she is called not only the goddess of speech but the presiding deity of wisdom. The swan is white, because self- knowledge is pure. In India's traditional animal tales, people who truly know the 'self', like Buddhist Hindu and Jain monks, often appear as white geese : and an exalted title for a: 'knowing person' is Paramahamsa, the supreme white goose. Within Hinduism, spiritual masters are sometimes called Paramahamsa as they have completely transcended the limitations and imperfections of the phenomenal world. Saraswati inspires people to live in such a way that they may live to transcend their physical limitations through the ongoing creation of culture. Sitting on a white swan, Saraswati's esoteric identity is made visually explicit to remind the knowledgeable viewer.The essential meaning of theVedic mantras is symbolized by her (hamsa).This is a visual pun and reminds us that esoteric meanings underlie puja's images. In Sanskrit, the mantra aham sah is repeated over and over in meditative repetition that is japa. It melds into hamsa. The swan is like the other animal “determinants� of the Hindu gods who are in essence, identical with the anthropomorphic forms that they support Ya kundendu tusharhara dhavala ya shubhra vastravrita Ya veena vara danda manditkara ya shveta padmasana Ya brahmachyuta Shankara prabhritbhih daivaihi sada vandita Sa mamam patu Saraswati bhagavati nishesh jadyapaha. (May goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine coloured moon and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned with radiant white clothes and on whose palm and arm rests the veena, whose throne is a white lotus and who is surrounded and respected by Gods, beginning with Lord Brahma, LordVishnu and Lord Mahesh, protect me. I beseech her to totally remove my laziness and sluggishness.) The Matsya Purana provides an iconographic description of Saraswati in four armed form: she carries the vina, the rosary, the water pot and the book.The same is seen in theVishnidharmpottara Purana . Shweta swaroopa sundari shweta vastra dhaari Shveta padma par baithi sab ko sukhakari Your abbescent glow and the white clothes appear very captivating. O goddess reposing over the white lotus, your divine form grants all happiness to all beings merely by your appearance. (Arati to Saraswati.) 52

The sacred knowledge revealed by Saraswati through the mantras of Veda includes ritual and music and Saraswati is therefore the mother of priests and musicians when they function as such : she is believed to sit on their tongues to guide them. Here are some epithets that illustrate this connection. Jihvagarahavasini ( dwelling in front of the tongue) kavijihvagrahavasini ( she who dwells on the tongue of poets), Shabdavasini (she who dwells in sound) , Mahavani (possessing great speech) and Vagisha (mistress of speech).All these epithets are mainly found in the Puranas. She is manifest as the sacred mantras that compose the Vedas. The essential meaning of those mantras is symbolized by her white goose (hamsa) a visual pun and reminds us that esoteric meanings underlie images. In Sanskrit the mantra aham sa means 'I am it' interpreted to mean that I am the self atman.When it is repeated again and again in meditative repetition japa, it melds into hamsa or goose. In India's traditional animal tales, people who truly know the self like Buddhist and Jaina monks often appears as white geese and an exalted title for a "knowing" person is Paramahamsa. sitting on a white goose Saraswati esoteric identity is made visually explicit to remind the knowledgable viewer that the daily predawn meditative japa recitation of mantras is the means to the purest knowledge. he hamsa famed ability to distinguish milk from water made them appropriate attributes for the goddess of learning. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Being fully human necessitates moulding, enhancing and refining the natural world to make it habitable. Artistic creation as well as knowledge of the sciences, epitomize human culture. Saraswati's 4 arms are all pervading.The front two arms relate to the manifest world and the rear two, the subjective world. Mantras are sound vibrations that permeate every cell of your being; they let the mind dissolve. Mantras are impulses or rhythms of consciousness. They create spiritual vibrations. A mantra is like a seed. Every seed has the potential to become a tree, bija mantra alerts the subconscious, so just like when we want a seed to sprout it needs to be sown in the soil. If it is simply thrown around birds may eat them different patterns of mind rearrange themselves to become tranquil agitation is reduced helping us to turn inward repetition creates a psychological or mental response that is deep beyond the realm of words or expressions . It can only be experienced sometimes speech that is explanation by words falls short .When the mind is calm and centred it can turn inward and in turn only a mind turned inward can experience the vastness of the Divine Consciousness - antarmukhi sada sukhi on whose mind is turned inwards is ever in bliss. There is something to learn from the symbolism of the rivers and Sarswati. A rule of nature is that which stops flowing stagnates and putrefies. That's' what happens in our own lives. When we stop being able to shed the old in favour of the new, we become old and stagnant. The nature of the universe changes from moment to moment the sky tonight may look identical to the way it looked the previous night but any astronomer can point out innumerable differences.The more we hold on tenaciously to our own expectations, the more rigid we become. To end with one of my favourite mantras Saraswati mahabhagye vidya kamla lochne Vidyarupi vishalakshi vidya dahi namostute


Sati Sati, Shiva's first wife, was born for the salvation of the universe, since she was the only woman capable of absorbing Shiva's brilliance. She alone could draw him away from his yogic absorption and make him aware of the world around him. Kama, the god of love, had been unsuccessful to the extreme in his mission to get a bride for Shiva. It was up to Sati, then, to beguile Shiva and make him aware of his essential connection to the well-being of the universe. For, if Shiva is not involved in the created world, then the world, all of creation, would lack auspiciousness, or simply, creation will not be able to continue.The very reason of her birth, according to mythology, is to lure Shiva into marriage and thus into a wider circle of worldly life from which he was aloof. Sati represents a complementary pole to the Shiva the ascetic - she represents the life of a householder, where Shiva's stored up energy is released in a positive way. Sati is usually described as beautiful but in most versions of the myth it is her devotion and asceticism that attract Shiva's attention. At times she is tested by Shiva but she always persists and in the end Shiva grants her a boon for her austerities. Shiva marries her.The act of 'Sati' as a final and consummate act of loyalty and devotion toward one's husband, is patterned on the goddess Sati's act at the way Shiva is treated by her own father. Her sacrifice eventually brings Shiva within the established religion- the arena of the order of Dharma. THE MYTH From the moment sati was born she was in love with Shiva. But she had many hurdles to overcome before being able to attain Shiva.The first one was to get Shiva to feel for her the same way she felt for him. In order to appeal to Shiva, a woman would have to possess much more than physical beauty.To win over Shiva, Sati chose the path most familiar to him: asceticism. She meditated with unwavering concentration for a hundred thousand years, her mind firmly fixed on nothing but Shiva. As eons passed, she acquired the enlightenment that only seers possess. Eventually, Shiva relented. When he asked her what boon she wanted, she asked him to marry her, and he agreed without hesitation. But difficulties awaited her, for her parents could not believe their ears when she told them she wanted Shiva as her husband. Daksha, her father, mocked Shiva's beggarly attire and lack of worldly skills. His sarcastic comments stung her ears and she was surprised to see the extent of his revulsion towards Shiva. Despite it all, Shiva and Sati got married. As time went by and they settled into comfortable domesticity, Shiva was often immersed in meditation. One day, hearing Shiva's ganas babbling excitedly, Sati emerged from their cave to see gods and seers, gandharvas and yakshas, apsaras and goddesses flying across the sky in their magnificent chariots, obviously headed towards a celebration of some magnitude. Eager to find out more, she asked one of the ganas what the excitement was all about. That's when she came to know that Daksha, her father, had been granted the high status of a prajapati, and had arranged for a magnificent sacrifice and feast in celebration. The fact that her own father did not invite her and her husband stung her pride.To overcome the hurt, she reasoned that he may have simply forgotten and as a daughter she did not require a formal invitation. Deciding that she must go, she quickly approached Shiva and told him of her desire to attend the festivity. Shiva replied indulgently that arriving uninvited to a formal occasion may not be proper, and that only those people go uninvited to such gatherings whose vision is not prejudiced by their ego or their wrath. He feared for her pride may get hurt and make her vulnerable. Sati was now in a dilemma, which made her miserable. 56

Things came to a head when Shiva too lost his temper and said, 'I am your husband and I mean to be obeyed. I forbid you to go.' Sati got really angry and yelled, 'Forbid? Did you say forbid? To me- the mother of all creation?' Not receiving Shiva's approval, she set off alone for her parents' home, sullen and defiant. Upon reaching her father's palace, she drowned herself in the rich sights and sounds but felt no joy, for offerings had been made to all gods and goddesses except Shiva. A sudden rush of rage blinded her and she asked her father why her husband was not part of the grand occasion. Daksha began to respond with the same objections to Shiva's demeanour, but she could not let him continue and launched a tirade in defence of Shiva's greatness as the creative force, accusing Daksha of being jealous of Shiva. Following her speech she sat on the ground facing north, entering the yogic path to cast off her material body. The myth goes that Sati had closed the nine portals of her senses as she performed tapas, stopped her respiration and braced all of her powers. Her life breath ripped through the coronal suture of her skull and out of the tenth portal (the so-called Brahma fissure) and shot upwards from her head as her body slumped inanimate to the ground.The gods let out a universal shout of woe—'Sati sayati!'—and wept in agony. Meanwhile Shiva, alerted by Narada about the tragic turn of events at Daksha's yagna, arrived on the scene.After creating and directing the terribleVirbhadra to lead his ganas in the utter destruction of Daksha's sacrifice, Shiva went in search of the body of his beloved wife. Seeing her remains lying unattended next to the sacred fire that had refused to touch her, he stooped reverentially, lifted the corpse, placed it across his shoulders and walked out from the hall. Blind with agony, babbling to himself like a madman, he danced across the three worlds in frenzied despair. Seven times he went around the world with this burden, majestic in his wrath, and the depth of his grief terrified the universe. Brahma and the other gods realized that Sati's corpse would not decay as long as it was in contact with Shiva. So, they approached Vishnu for help. With the help of his bow and arrow (some versions mention the sudarshan chakra, Vishnu's discus) Vishnu dismembered Sati's body and let the pieces fall to earth.The spots where the pieces fell are considered sites of magical potency for the worship of the goddess and are called Shakti peeths. When her body was cut to pieces and fell to the earth Shiva followed her to the earth and embedded himself in her yoni and was literally brought down to earth. Sati's was the role of the mediator between Shiva and the world and her sacrifice succeeds in involving the great ascetic god in the affairs of creation by transforming him into a great god of sexual power and vigour PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT With her father Daksha, Sati shared a special bond.They had much in common. He and Sati discussed matters of the mind. He would talk about karma marga, yagna marga and gyana marga, and explain the main tenets of dharma, the significance of maintaining the sacred fire and the recitation of the Sanskrit mantras during a ritual sacrifice. Sati had perfected herself to such an extent by dint of her own hard work. She had a clear goal of marrying Shiva and bearing the nature of Shiva in mind and her own situation, she seems to have had a strategy. So great was Shiva's love for her that his sorrow, after she passes is extremely poignant. Perhaps it is because of the paradoxes of Shiva's very being. Shiva's essence is one of a mighty, unassailable god who is reduced to a state full of pathos, as in this myth of Sati. Perfection evokes admiration, but it is the imperfections that make one lovable. This perfection is seen in Shiva's control of passions, as the immortal creator-preserver-destroyer all in one, creating a sense of awe but his 'weaknesses', which he exhibits is so essentially human, that it induce love and affection from devotees. A bhakta does not have a hard time loving a perfect god who strives to live up to ideals of perfection. But such blatant anthropomorphism in a god of such stature as Shiva, is almost absurd and yet comforting. The suffering is heart wrenching more so as it is at the death of a beloved wife. 58

SATI AND SHIVA According to legend , Shiva eventually finds peace when he rediscovers his consort in the form of a yoni. He takes the form of the linga and descends to earth to enter into her, thus ensuring that they remain united forever. Thereon, the great mother-goddess in the Hindu tradition is inseparable from Shiva. The Shakti pitha sthana , literally 'seats' of the goddess are fifty one which according to the Tantras, the limbs of Sati fell. Temples are erected here to the different forms of the devi, not to the phallic emblem, which, if present is there as an accessory not as a principal, the chief object of worship being the goddess. The myth emphasizes the tension between asceticism and love and the reconciliation of the two. Sati in the form of the yoni distracts the ascetic Shiva from his metaphysical preoccupations and thus makes him accessible to the world in the form of the linga. In the Sati myths, Shiva's involvement in the world is clearly suggested in the destruction and reinstitution of Daksha's sacrifice and his descent to earth to dwell with Sati's yoni in the form of the linga. Shiva's relationship with the goddess continues as she shares every lifetime with him in each of her different forms , Parvati, Kali, Uma, Gauri and so on. It must be said here that although the mythologies of Sati and Parvati are similar in many ways and have probably influenced each other, each goddess's life is distinct enough to be treated separately. (See 'Parvati'). By some quirk the practice of a widow killing herself on the funeral pyre of her husband has come to be termed 'sati' through association with the myth of Sati 'burning' herself, though the latter is on no way connected to the death of a spouse. Although it is mentioned in some instances that Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire, there is more frequent mention of self-immolation. Some of the myths also mention that Sati resorted to burning herself with her own fire when the sacrificial fire refused to touch her. In Hinduism flammability is considered a marker of sanctity. There are many episodes in myths of the fire being used to 'purify'. For example in the 'Aranyakanda' of Tulsidas's Ramayana, a sage named Sharabhanga, and Shabari, the devout worshipper of Rama, burn themselves in the fire of yoga after their overwhelming encounter with Rama. One of the central themes of the Sati myth is Shiva's altercation with Daksha, Sati's father.Though there are different ways to explain the animosity between these two, a consideration of the concepts of pravritti and nivritti, which Daksha and Shiva respectively represent, are crucial to a proper understanding of this conflict. Sati is seen trying to reconcile the dilemma these two paths pose. She tries to explain to her father the goodness that she can see in Shiva and gives up only when she sees the uselessness of her effort. So great is the predicament of attempting a rapprochement that ultimately she has to 'sacrifice' her life, so that truth may prevail. The Puranas tell us that her father's words make her feel so reviled and almost guilty as though she had committed a crime. Unable to do anything to her father she feels that she is responsible for the verbiage against Shiva. She felt she represented both her father and Shiva.1 This is also a reason why she feels compelled to take the last drastic step. It is clear in this myth that Sati saw what others did not see—Shiva's goodness, his shining appearance, his wisdom, his infinite understanding—and burned herself by means of her own self.'2 1 (D . Dennis Hudson, Violent and Fanatical devotion among the Nayanars: A Study in the Periya Puranam of Cekkilar' in Alf Hiltebeitel, ed., Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism,p.402,fn.33) 2 (Kurma Purana , I,14,58-60).


The Goddesses Experience  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you