When I think of the Durga Puja celebrations, the most recent in my memory, is the grand celebration scape I saw in the movie Kahani a few years back, which had a flavour of the authentic Durga Puja festivities, enjoyed by so many women in Bengal and a song sung by the legendary Mr Bachchan playing in the background which added a ‘divine silence’ to the rhythms of cymbals and gathering of happiness, joy and immense energy.
The 'empowering' feeling starts right in our families, workplaces, neighbourhoods and most importantly in our minds! These are also the hotspots for suppression of many women, not just in India but also in many countries and that's why the need for women empowerment! Interestingly, there is an increasing sensitisation about women empowerment and leadership today, but do we know that we were already 'empowered' and we have a rich legacy of this concept of powerful female factor and their eternal significance right from the ancient times and it was extensively seen in our concepts of human existence, goddesses and their worship.
This takes us back to the culturescape and philosophy of ancient times, when womanhood was celebrated and how it was perceived.
Prakriti simply means nature and fertility. Prakriti is active, changeable, earthly and an eternal entity. It represents the female aspect of creation.
The feminine factor is well recognised by the ancient Indian philosophy of Sankhya in the concept of Purusha and Prakriti, known in the Bhagavad Gita as “The field and the knower of the field.” Prakriti simply means nature and fertility. Prakriti is active, changeable, earthly and an eternal entity. It represents the female aspect of creation. The entire universe is created out of Prakriti or the fundamental matter. According to the Sankhya philosophy, the world is created as a result of the union between Purusha and Prakriti, where the Purusha means the principle of spirit or pure consciousness and represents the male aspect of creation. Purusha and Prakriti are the two basic, opposite, independent and eternal principles that are the main cause and reason behind the human existence.
Similarly, in the beginning, the goddess was worshipped as the consort of gods as they were the Shakti, the divine strength and the cosmic power of their spouses, the Shakta. A god was visualised as inactive and transcendent and it was the goddess who was active and immanent. The icon of the Ardhanarishwara, half Shiva, half Shakti is a graphic portrayal of this union of the divine forces. Like Shiva, Durga has a third eye, she wields the trishula the trident and at times she has matted hair and like Shiva, she possesses a destructive and angry face. Both Shiva and the devi has the ugra roop or the angry persona and the saumya roop or the benign peaceful persona and this is unique to these two enigmatic deities.
We know that mother goddess was worshiped even in the Indus Valley Civilization. There was Prithivi - the Earth Goddess, Aditi - the mother of the Adityas, Ushas- the goddess of dawn, Aranyani - the goddess of the forests. The myths of the devi in her many roops or forms like the Durga, Kali and Parvati is found in the Markandeya Purana, the Devi Bhagavad, the Chandi Mahatmya, Shiva and Vamana Puranas. From the Isis in Egypt to Ishtar of Babylon and Cybele of the Greeks, there are influential goddesses with their own cults and myths.
The Indian festival of Durga Puja held every autumn in the month of Kartik, celebrates the creation, battle and victory of the goddess Durga. She was created by the gods on Mahalaya day.
The goddess was also celebrated for her power like the gods. In the Hindu mythology, the Sapta-Matrikas, seven divine mothers protect the gods from demons. The famous Durga is the goddess of war, the warrior form of goddess Parvati. The Indian festival of Durga Puja held every autumn in the month of Kartik, celebrates the creation, battle and victory of the goddess Durga. She was created by the gods on Mahalaya day. She is worshipped on Saptami, Ashtami and Navami. She is called Mahishasuramardini and said to have killed the demon king or the 'buffalo demon' Mahishasura on dashami - the tenth day. The multi-headed demon king of Lanka - Ravana, was killed on the Dusshera day which coincides with the dashami of Durga Puja. The nine days of Navaratri is the time for the worship of the goddess and her many forms. Navaratri is one of the most auspicious periods of the year. The worship of Durga takes in her ten main aspects that are called the dasa mahavidyas. She is also fiercely protective of her worshippers. Durga, also called the divine mother protects mankind from the evil and misery by destroying the evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger and ego.
Navaratri is also the celebration of the three gunas - Tamas, Rajas and Sattva that are symbolised by Durga and her many forms but essentially by Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The Devi is Trigunatmika - the owner and master of the three gunas. Gunas are our innate qualities that can be refined through the divine consciousness. There is no physical entity without these three dimensions. Tamas is ignorance or inertia. When Tamas is not in balance in our behaviour or personality that is when delusion, misunderstanding and dullness can be experienced. Rajas is activity, greed or desire in a person. When Rajas trait dominates our personality, we feel restless, we are extremely greedy for money, we have too many desires that are not practically possible to accomplish. As a result, we either feel very excited or extremely low. Sattva is the peaceful trait in a person. Sattva is transcendence. Sattva is dominating in our environment or in our body, when we feel light, happy, pleasant, alert and awake, and our perceptions are very clear. The gunas are responsible for our behaviour. Every being in this creation is caught in the play of gunas. In life, all the three qualities are essential but the point is that we must be able to strike a balance between these qualities for a peaceful and successful life.
In the modern times, there is a need to revive and restore the ancient ethics and understand the moral and rational principles to help humans to evolve as a 'well-educated' society. In the present times as we celebrate the Durgotsav, while we seek her blessings, there is a need to internalise and follow the moral values and rational qualities of the goddesses and implement them in circumstances effectively for a better life and living, irrespective of our gender. Most importantly as women, we must learn and imbibe the righteous, fearless and ethical attributes of the Goddess Durga and her many forms. We must strike a balance of the various powers and qualities to evolve as women of substance.
In the present times as we celebrate the Durgotsav, while we seek her blessings, there is a need to internalise and follow the moral values and rational qualities of the goddesses and implement them in circumstances effectively for a better life and living, irrespective of our gender.
A woman may be a young girl, a student, a housewife, an entrepreneur or even a leader to many people, she can definitely believe and practice the thought 'I'm Durga' which can empower her in her day to day life and to face her smallest to biggest problems with wisdom and ease. It's important to tell ourselves as much as possible that I'm not powerless, submissive woman, but I'm ‘Durga’, which means I have all the necessary 'weapons' and now I can fight. I'm strong, intelligent, worthy, passionate, can look at things rationally, be decisive, solve my problems objectively, at the same time fight my battles fearlessly, fight my emotional battles with immense grace while retaining the feminine qualities of motherly love, forgiveness, compassion, patience and dignity.
The celebration of human values together with the strength of Goddess Durga shall help us all empower, evolve, achieve and live with peace, fulfilment and prosperity.
“The unspoken moments, pristine and feminine, gliding on the watery waves of expression Creating a mosaic worth living, in this universe of present and future…”
Rashmi Pitre is an Actress, a reputed Painter, an Author and Poet. She mainly writes articles and essays on Nature-Environmental awareness, Art and Culture, Women Empowerment and Leadership.
Views are the author’s own.