We are in the midst of one of the great festivals of Hindu culture -- the Navarati - Durga Puja. (Translation: Nine Nights of Worship of the Goddess Durga). It ends October 16th. Durga is a goddess of ferocity. She is also the Mother Goddess. She came forth born from the rage and determination of the male deities who themselves could not vanquish a demon, Mahisasura, who was terrorizing the earth. Durga is often shown with ten arms, each holding a weapon given her by one of the male deities. She has their strength and more. She is beyond the sum of their energies.
Durga is often pictured with her four children and with the defeated demon. She is a mother and a fierce protector. Pandals, or shrines, are built to honor her with brightly colored statues of her. At the end of the holiday, the statues are tearfully submerged into a river or lake until she returns again at the next festival. This is no pastel image of women or motherhood -- this goddess embodies the full power of womanhood, from the tenderness of a mother to the wild nature of a fighter of demons. In the struggle between Good and Evil, the winner is Good because of a woman.
Various parts of India and the Hindu world celebrate this time differently, but the central focus is the ecstatic celebration of the female aspect of the Supreme.
As I read about this, I tried to think if in the Judeo/Christian holidays we had anything so powerfully female. When I look at the comparative tameness or gentility of women that are prominent in Western religions, I see the images of Mary, Mary Magdalene, Ruth and Naomi. And they are all supporting roles.
Many modern theologians have attempted to help us see the female nature in God, but the image in my head is still anthropomorphically male. Phrases like "Dear Father/Mother God" feel forced. That is the strength of my early parochial and patriarchal upbringing. I, like many, do not easily see the female face of God. That isn't what I'd like. It's just my spiritual growing edge.
And even when the female side of God is acknowledged in our traditions, the female face is often characterized as a sweet, soft, nurturing energy. The "tough stuff" is left for the male energy of God to do.
Although Durga is part of a Hindu pantheon of Gods and not a fair comparison to the God of monotheism, she is an amazing character-image -- a female, maternal deity who is revered and loved for her ferocity.
I don't think we even have saints like that in Christian tradition. St. George slaying the dragon may look very strange to us as St. Georgia. And if she does, then we need to rethink why she does.
In writing this, I realized that we do not have to be Hindu to honor our "spiritual mothers"... and we can claim both our compassion and our fierceness and honor both at the same time.
I have a friend from Oklahoma who told me about her grandmother's farm. Deb was playing in the field as a little girl, when a bull who had gotten loose started to charge her. Her grandmother saw this from the house and ran outside with what she happened to have in her hand -- a broomstick. Deb said, "my tiny, little granny reared back with that broom and batted that old bull across the nose as he was about to ram me. It stopped him silly." Her grandmother then scooped her up and got her in the house.
Now there is a modern-day Durga in granny's clothing!
But we have strong spiritual mothers, too -- mothers who have been tough with us to save us from harm -- women whose heroic energy has taught us about life -- women who have stood up to great forces in the battle between good and evil.
We have women like Rosa Parks who said "No" to the back of the bus. We have the imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi who has dedicated her life to creating a democracy in repressive Burma without violence. History and the world are full of powerful spiritual mothers. Who comes to mind in your thoughts and experience? Whom do you admire who has "Durga energy"?
What BlogHers Are Saying
Sramana at sranamitra says:
One of my yoga teachers commented some years back that she never thought of god as a woman, growing up in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Well, since I grew up in a traditional Hindu family surrounded by Durga, Saraswati, Laxmi, Kali, and Annapurna, I never had any such ambiguity …
Indira at Found The Words recalls her childhood:
On the fourth and final day of the pujas, we would go early and find a good spot among the crowd assembled near the river to watch the immersion of the idols. Trucks after trucks filled with people recited the name Durga Mata. They cried, danced and sang, their way of bidding Durga Mata goodbye. There was madness in the air.
Indrani at Recipe Junction tells us what this festival feels like to her:
Tremendously, missing my hometown, Kolkata's Durga puja. It's not only a festival for us, the feeling is like, when a daughter comes to her mother's place after one year. Maa Durga, who is the daughter of this Earth coming her mother's home, to us, after one year. So, the happiness within people is spellbinding. For most of us, it's time to wear new clothes, Pratima darshan, pandal hopping and spending quality times with fun and laughter with friends, family and relatives and of course with good food. Me too, miles apart from my home, celebrating Durga puja by eating Bengali delicacies at home.
Chandrima at Random Thoughts will be staying at home with her infant this year:
Since I won't be able to go out of the house leaving Aanya alone, my mother has made the offering to Maa Durga for Shashthi Puja on my behalf. It's a little odd that I am sitting at home instead of going out, but I am not one bit upset. There was a time when I used to be in tears if I had to stay at home during the four days of the Puja. Now, for Aanya, nothing matters but her! Guess this what motherhood does to women.
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool
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