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Devi and Women

During the month of Kartik in the Bikram Sambat calendar (late September and early October), we Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.

Dashain commemorates a great victory of the gods over the wicked demons. One of the victory stories told is the Ramayan, where the lord Ram after a big struggle slaughtered Ravana, the fiendish king of demons. It is said that lord Ram was successful in the battle only when goddess Durga was evoked. The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorized the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo. The first nine days signify the nine days of ferrous battle between goddess Durga and the demon Mahisasur. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was slain and the last five days symbolize the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess. Dashain is celebrated with great rejoice, and goddess Durga is worshiped throughout the kingdom as the divine mother goddess.

In preparation for Dashain every home is cleansed and beautifully decorated, painted as an invitation to the mother goddess, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. During this time the reunion of distant and nearby relatives occur in every household. The market is filled with shoppers seeking new clothing, gifts, luxuries and enormous supplies of temple offering for the gods, as well as foodstuffs for the family feasting. Thousands of sheep, goats, ducks, chicken and water buffalo are prepared for the great slaughter. All types of organizations are closed for ten to fifteen days. Laborers are almost impossible to find; from the poor to the rich, all enjoy the festive mood. Anywhere you go the aroma of 'Vijaya Dashami' is found.

The first nine days of Dashain are called nawa ratri when tantric rites are conducted. In Nepal the life force is embodied in the divine energy and power of the female, depicted as goddess Durga in her many forms. All goddess who emanated from goddess Durga are known as devis, each with different aspects and powers. In most mother goddess temples the deity is represented simply as a sacred Kalash, carved water jug or multiple handed goddess holding murderous weapons. During these nine days people pay their homage to the goddess. If she is properly worshiped and pleased good fortunes are on the way and if angered through neglect then misfortunes are around the corner. Mother goddess is the source of life and everything.

As per the Hindu religion, the Supreme Being contains both masculine and feminine traits. The female part is as important as the male part. One has to consider the feminine aspect of the divine, in order to know the ultimate truth. It is believed that all goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are special forms of the divine mother- Shakti. To recognize the feminine aspect, it is necessary to restore wholeness, completeness and universality.
There are many goddesses and local deities in the Hindu mythology. Here we will discuss some of the popular Hindu goddesses (forms of Shakti).

Goddess Durga (Mother)
Durga symbolizes the power of the Supreme Being that maintains moral order and righteousness in the universe. Worship of the goddess Shakti is very popular among the Hindu people. Durga stands for the unified symbol of all divine forces (Shaktis).

Goddess Lakshmi
Lakshmi is the auspicious goddess of wealth and fortune, whether it is material or spiritual. The word ''Lakshmi'' has been derived from the Sanskrit word Lakshay, meaning "aim" or ''goal''. Goddess Lakshmi suggests the aim of life, which includes all worldly and spiritual success.

Goddess Saraswati
Saraswati Devi is the Goddess of arts, music, knowledge, and wisdom. Saraswati is considered as the divine consort of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the universe in the Hindu Religion.

Goddess Kali
Kali is one of the many forms of Shakti. Maha Kaali is the fiercest of all goddesses of Hinduism. The word Kali has its roots in the Sanskrit word "Kaal" which means time. And nothing escapes from time. Goddess Kali is sometimes referred as the goddess of death.

Goddess Parvati
Parvati is a well-known goddess in the Hindu mythology. Goddess Parvati is the divine consort of Lord Shiva, the trinity god. Parvati is also considered as a representation of Shakti or Durga, but the gentle aspect of that goddess not the fierce one.

Ganga
The River Goddess Ganga / Ganges is considered as the most sacred river of the Hindu Mythology. River Ganges is very much popular in India and is worshipped as a goddess. Ganga is the most revered river in the world.

Radha
Goddess Radha is a well-known personality in Hindu Mythology. She is also known as Srimati Radharani in the northern part of India. Radha is usually depicted with her paramour Krishna.

Sita
Sita is the consort of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. Sita is the one of the most popular goddesses of Indian History. Devi Sita is regarded as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu.

It might seem natural to assume that the presence of so powerful a figure as the Great Goddess must result in the general empowerment of women. However, the secondary status of women in the South Asian subcontinent suggests that in practice the adoration of the Great Goddess has had little influence on the position assigned to women (a condition not unique to the subcontinent

The situation is paradoxical. It is intriguing to note that while Devi is associated with fertility and addressed as "mother," the focus is on Devi as a nurturer, rather than a child-bearer. For example, Lakshmi is addressed as mother of all but she bore no children, neither did Sarasvati. Parvati, consort of Shiva, is mother of the elephant-headed god Ganesha and the warrior god Skanda, but carried neither in her womb. Thus, Indian goddesses, while worshiped for their powers to grant fertility are not actual role models for Hindu women, whose role in life as a married woman is considered complete only after she has borne children.

While myths surrounding the Great Goddess have not, thus far, been interpreted to serve as empowerment for women, today's generation of women may indeed reinterpret the messages of Devi. As women increasingly adopt leadership roles, they could well appropriate goddess imagery differently from the past and employ the goddess myth to redefine their place in society.

Our society and its representation of women in form Goddess are quite contradictory . on the one hand goddess are projected as all powerful as form of shakti-Broadly speaking, Shakti is considered to be the cosmos itself – she is the embodiment of energy and dynamism, and the motivating force behind all action and existence in the material universe. Shiva is her transcendent masculine aspect, providing the divine ground of all being. "There is no Shiva without Shakti, or Shakti without Shiva. The two [...] in themselves are One."[

As expressed by the historian V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (here referring to Shiva as Brahman)[ "Shaktism is dynamic Hinduism. The excellence of Shaktism lies in its affirmation of Shakti as Consciousness and of the identity of Shakti and Brahman. In short, Brahman is static Shakti and Shakti is dynamic Brahman." In religious art, this cosmic dynamic is powerfully expressed in the half-Shakti, half-Shiva deity known as Ardhanari.

Shaktism views the Devi as the source, essence and substance of virtually everything in creation, seen or unseen, including Shiva himself. In the Devi-Bhagavata Purana, a central Shakta scripture, the Devi declares:
"I am Manifest Divinity, Unmanifest Divinity, and Transcendent Divinity. I am Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, as well as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. I am the Sun and I am the Stars, and I am also the Moon. I am all animals and birds, and I am the outcaste as well, and the thief. I am the low person of dreadful deeds, and the great person of excellent deeds. I am Female, I am Male, and I am Neuter."

The religious scholar C. MacKenzie Brown explains that Shaktism "clearly insists that, of the two genders, the feminine represents the dominant power in the universe. Yet both genders must be included in the ultimate if it is truly ultimate. The masculine and the feminine are aspects of the divine, transcendent reality, which goes beyond but still encompasses them. Devi, in her supreme form as consciousness thus transcends gender, but her transcendence is not apart from her immanence."

Brown's analysis continues, "Indeed, this affirmation of the oneness of transcendence and immanence constitutes the very essence of the divine mother [and her] ultimate triumph. It is not, finally, that she is infinitely superior to the male gods – though she is that, according to [Shaktism] – but rather that she transcends her own feminine nature as Prakriti without denying it."

Although the above transdence is not seen in our society. Women though worshiped at such high pedestal in form Shakti are treated very scantily compared to what they are seen as divine beings. Women in our society are mainly seen at three levels; the one position very near to Goddess is the status of mother, but others are very low standing, like seen as a consort or lover in this role she given importance just as sexual object. Her body is much celebrated, but she ages she is called a old Hag. the discourse within which our society works is at hypocritical level.

The level is like at one stage- Devi, she is worshiped and highest level one can imagine. Whereas when she on earth playing different role of her life either she must be chaste to be wife or she must an object of desire until the age permits. Why don’t the society give her the status of equality not be commoditized in the name of marriage and family.

The two-facedness of society can be clearly seen in scenario of our Hindu Society, while studying the Shakti or Devi culture I was amazed to see the high pedestal were a women as been placed but in reality it is quiet complicated to comprehend what an wide gap of discourse our pundits have manipulated the so called “second sex “ while giving her roles in the two different worlds.

Comments

usha kc's picture

Dear Madhu,, thank you so

Dear Madhu,, thank you so much for this article. You have mentioned the reality of the hinduism where on on hand Devi is worshiped and othe hand woman are beaten to death.

speak up !

madhu's picture

Yup We in asian countries

Yup

We in asian countries have to face this paradox.

Thank u

Madhu

megha's picture

Another Dimension

Hello Madhu I liked your article very much but on another hand there is another dimension of the 'devis'. Just for an instance the most famous one,Sita. She could have possessed divine powers,but it is she who has to go through the Agnipariksha and even has to face exile. Well according to mine every religion has tried to establish patriarchy

megha

madhu's picture

That's true

That's true

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