I am not really into ritualistic forms of worship, but the exaltation of the divine feminine during the grand Navratri celebrations in different parts of India fascinates me. The simple faith and love evinced by thousands for the Goddess is always touching. In so many homes across the length and breadth of this land, many perform arcane rites and rituals, displaying dolls painstakingly painted and decorated in tiers in keeping with the Golu tradition of South India, fasting for days, performing Kanya Pujas, raising grains in clay pots, walking barefoot, wearing nine different colours over the duration of nine days, singing songs and reciting lengthy mantras, shlokas, prayers to propitiate the Goddess. For many, the meaning of these rites and rituals is obscure, but they perform them anyway with great devotion. For some it is an act of love, others do it hoping to reap benefits for themselves and their families, many go through the motions because it is part of a tradition that has been followed all the way back into antiquity and a few no doubt go through with it because it is an opportunity to get all gussied up and click pics to be posted across social media platforms with a suitably spiritual sounding hashtag.
I love the dark faces of the Supreme mother and genuinely think their stories have been carefully preserved to remind us that the Shakti present in all of us is an unstoppable force and we don’t ever have to look to Prince Charming to rescue us from trouble.
Personally, I find it heartening that the myriad faces of the divine feminine is being celebrated with such fanfare. The warrior Goddesses like Durga, who rides into battle on a lion and skewers the buffalo demon with her trident, Kali, wearer of skulls and drinker of blood, Chinnamasta who cut off her own head to quaff the blood and allow her attendants to do the same and assorted fearsome aspects of the primordial Shakti are venerated, feared, and propitiated to seek protection from diseases, ill fortune, and other baleful influences. I love the dark faces of the Supreme mother and genuinely think their stories have been carefully preserved to remind us that the Shakti present in all of us is an unstoppable force and we don’t ever have to look to Prince Charming to rescue us from trouble. All we ever need is to believe in the power that resides within to fulfil our dreams, and to keep ourselves safe from the predators on the prowl.
Other Goddesses like Lakshmi, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari represent the benign faces of the Supreme Mother. They are beautiful, captivating, splendidly attired and considered to be the harbingers of joy and prosperity. They represent our preoccupation with material gains and can be helpful in sloughing off the guilt associated with indiscriminate consumption and unalloyed commitment to personal vanity.
Saraswati has long been revered for her disdain of worldly goods and love for study as well as art. Basically, she is the divine version of the geeks, nerds and workaholics among us who shun the party loving crowds and seek the quiet places where one can be alone with one’s thoughts, music, books, work or all of the above in order to transcend the gross limitations of the physical world we inhabit.
These so called villains were actually great devotees of the Goddess and loved her so much they were willing to walk the path of violence, war, and bloodshed to release themselves from the thankless cycle of birth and rebirth in order to contribute to her greater glory and achieve moksha
A lesser known Goddess like Dhumavati has also been included among the Dasa Mahavidyas. The fact that she has been deemed worthy of worship is interesting because her name means ‘one who is made of smoke’ and she is also a widow, which by societal standards has traditionally been considered most ‘inauspicious’. It is refreshing that at least in the murky realms of religion, it is acknowledged that there are all types of women out there and none deserve to be censored or excoriated for their choices. Now, if only we would look past the comforting cluelessness of the so-called auspicious rites and rituals perhaps we will understand as much and be kinder to the female of the species.
No piece on the Devis would be complete without mention of the demons. Of course, Mahishasura aka the buffalo demon deserves a shout out as do Chanda and Munda, Shumba, Nishumba and Raktabija. They are all portrayed as black, bad, bloody brutes who deserved to be put down like the rabid beasts they supposedly were. However, that is too simplistic a view of the complex truths and profound wisdoms enshrined in Vedic and Puranic lore. According to some interpretations of these familiar tales, these so called villains were actually great devotees of the Goddess and loved her so much they were willing to walk the path of violence, war, and bloodshed to release themselves from the thankless cycle of birth and rebirth in order to contribute to her greater glory and achieve moksha, oneness with the Universal Mother.
In fact, it is believed that all roads lead to the feet of the Goddess and none is ever exempt from her compassion, no matter the magnitude of the dark deeds one may have been guilty of committing. We will do well to remember this, especially in these volatile times, when there is so much rage, hatred and intolerance rampant in this world where everyone is far too quick to condemn and insist on harsh retribution. Ultimately it behoves us to remember that all the religious rites and rituals we practise won’t count for beans if we fail to recognize that there is much we don’t understand about the rhythms and patterns that govern the mysterious working of life and fate. That it is humility and truth that matters over fanaticism and religious zeal.
This Navratri, let us learn to look past the razzle dazzle of the obvious so that the Shakti that resides within becomes more apparent. Let us recognize that the fierce yet gentle, nurturing and beatific force that resides in our hearts and minds, animating all in existence needs to be preserved so that it may spill forth and brighten the lives of all around us. May the Shakti be with you all, this Navratri and always!
Anuja Chandramouli is a bestselling Indian author and widely regarded as one of the finest writers in mythology, historical fiction and fantasy. Some of her other books are Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son, Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts, Padmavati: The Burning Queen and Ganga: The Constant Goddess. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: Tale of a Tyrant is her latest work of historical fiction. The views expressed are the author’s own.