By Somali K Chakrabarti
Autumn (Sharad) or Fall is the season when you feel the first crispness in air, the summer is gone, monsoon has infused new life into trees and fall is in the air. As nature turns the world into its big canvas, people in most parts of India prepare to worship the Divine Mother.
An exhibition ‘Devi – Manifestations of the Divine Mother‘, organized at the beautiful Chatrapati Shivaji Musuem in Mumbai gives a historical perspective on the worship of Mother Goddess, and reveals the spiritual significance of the festival. Presenting here some excerpts:
Worship of the Divine Mother is one of the oldest forms of worship known to humanity. In prehistoric times, God was worshipped as the Divine Mother all over the world. Evidences for Mother Worship have been recovered in different places in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.
~ Durga Puja, Belur Math.org
Worship of Divine Mother can be traced back to the prehistoric period. The Divine Mother Goddess personifies ‘Shakti’ – the sublime and supreme creative energy. Her worship symbolizes the acceptance of the feminine energy as a giver of life and fertility.
Indus Valley sites (2600 – 1900 BCE) have yielded a large number of clay figurines that are supposed to be of the Mother Goddess. During the early centuries of the Christian Era, the Divine Mother was worshiped as an independent and Supreme Goddess who created, encompassed and sustained the universe. In the later centuries she came to be worshiped as the consort of God Shiva.
Navaratri, the auspicious 9 day period is devoted to the invocation of Divine Mother. By invoking the Divine Mother you call upon your own deepest reserves of strength and the inherent power within. The 10th day is Vijayadasami or Dassera – the day that symbolizes the victory of consciousness over ignorance and brings an end to the Navaratri festivities.
Worship of the Divine Mother is prevalent all over India – from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and from Rajasthan to Bengal. She is known by different names such as Uma, Gauri, Parvati, Jagadamba, Bhairavi, Durga, Kali, Chandi, Bhavani, Chamunda and so on. The word Durga literally means one who ”destroys the evil tendencies” (durgati-nashini).
In the ancient terracotta sculptures, the Divine Mother is portrayed as mother with child, pregnant woman, seated woman with a plant issuing from her womb etc. These depictions emphasize her nurturing aspect and give her the status of mother; she gets epithets such as Jagat Janani or Jagadamba. The worship of mother goddess is also accepted in Buddhism as Tara and in Jainism as Ambika.
Different Forms of Divine Mother
Since the prehistoric times, mother goddess has been worshipped in various forms – both benevolent and ferocious.
In her beningn form Devi is seen as Varadayini or bestower of boons to her devotees. Her auspicious aspect is manifested in several goddesses like Lakshmi, Sarawati, Parvati. She is said to be success (siddhi), victory (vijaya), mercy (karuna) and many other auspicious things.
As Lakshmi, she is the embodiment of prosperity and nourishment that sustains all living beings. The goddess seated on a lotus, with elephants pouring water over her head from either side is a symbol of life bestowing energy and fertility. She is known as Gajalakshmi.
As Saraswati, she is associated with knowledge, speech and culture. She is worshiped as the goddess of wisdom and learning.
In her ferocious (Ugra) form, she has dreadful, dangerous and bloodthirsty manifestations. She is the slayer of demons with like Madhu, Kaitabh, Mahishasur, Shumbha, Nishumbha, Chanda and Munda. The purpose of the ferocious form is to depict the reality of evil. Vice, wickedness, cruelty, injustice are as real as virtue, love, compassion, cooperation etc. which humanity has idealized from time immemorial. In her ferocious form, the divine mother protects people from dangers and punishes the evil doers.
The most frequently represented form of Devi is that of Mahishasur Mardini who is said to be created out of the combined energies of gods to fight the demon Mahishasur, who had the form of buffalo or Mahisha. The buffalo stands for tamoguna, the quality of laziness, darkness, ignorance and inertia. The killing of Mahisha demon is, symbolically, the destruction of the tamoguna within us that is very difficult to destroy.
The killing of demons Chanda and Munda earned her the epithet of Chamunda.
It is in the form of Mahishasura-mardini, the Divine Mother is worshiped during Durga Puja.
At Navaratri, Goddess Durga is invoked first to remove impurities from the mind. The Goddess Lakshmi is invoked to cultivate the noble values and qualities. Finally, Saraswati is invoked for gaining the highest knowledge of the Self. When all these three are gained, Vijayadasami, represents the day spiritual enlightenment.
The exhibition serves as a reminder that going beyond the rituals, celebrations, pomp and show associated with the festival, we must realize that the philosophy behind Vijayadasami is to put us on the path of acquiring self knowledge, removing negativity and realizing the innate strength within us.
May the spirit of the festival extend beyond the festivities in the truest sense, ignite our minds, purify our hearts and translate in terms of respect for the women folk throughout the year.
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Images Courtesy : Exhibition Devi – Manifestations of the Divine Mother ; CST Museum, Mumbai
The Spiritual Significance of Navaratri by Swami Tejomayananda, chinmayamissiondelhi.org
Worship Of Mother-Goddess – Er. Nirakar Mahalik, odisha.gov.in
Durga Puja – belurmath.org