The Divine as Feminine

Goddesses Saraswati, Durga, & Lakshmi

The worship of the divine as feminine is definitely the most ancient form of worship of God. It was prevalent all over Europe, Greece, Egypt, Arabia and even Africa. With the advent of Christianity all such worship was condemned as paganism and in Europe, all temples to goddesses were totally destroyed. In India alone this tradition has endured and become stronger with the passage of time. No other living religious tradition displays such an ancient, continuous, and diverse history of goddess worship. Every village has its own little niche reserved for its own special goddess that protects and guards the village. Despite the years of Muslim and colonial rule that scorned all attempts to depict God as feminine, the Hindus have continued to worship the mother goddess in her diverse forms.

Hinduism has always recognised and appreciated the supreme role played by the woman in the propagation and nurture of a new generation. Surely this is the most important thing in any society — to ensure that it produces a strong new generation. Three goddesses are invoked in the Rig Veda. They are Saraswati, Ila and Bharati. Another Vedic goddess is Vac who later merged into Saraswati since she is the goddess of learning.

Both the Vedic Age and the Puranic Age projected and popularised the importance that was to be given to women. In the Vedic Age we find the names of the great women saints like Gargi and Maitreyi who debated in front of an erudite audience with men. In the Puranas we have hundreds of women who were really exemplary and who were the role models for Indian girls until the advent of western indoctrination. Sita, Shakuntala, Savitri, Draupadi, Rugmani, Sathyabhama, Uttara and so on were great examples set before our young girls. All of them were venerated by both women and men till very recently. Now with the advent of western models, women think it’s an insult to be called a Sita or a Savitri!

Goddess Kali dancing on Shiva

When we look into our Puranas which depict a plethora of gods, we find that goddesses play very important roles. They are never depicted as being inferior to the male gods. On the contrary many of them were far superior. They are all forms of “Shakti” or power and have to be invoked in order to achieve anything in the material world. Lakshmi gives us wealth, Saraswati gives us knowledge, Durga gives us power, Kali gives us strength. Every male God has his own Shakti and their names are invariably placed before his- Lakshmi/Narayana, Gouri/Shankar, Radha/Krishna and so on. Without the power of Shakti, the male gods are incapable of doing anything. This is portrayed in the amazing icon of Kali dancing on the dead body of Shiva. This shows that Shiva without Shakti is only “shava” or a corpse!! This is an example to show that the male is powerless without the female Shakti! Such was the importance placed on women throughout our history and mythology.

An important aspect of the reverence for the divine feminine in the Hindu tradition is the sanctity we place on the sacredness of the land itself which is known as Bharat Mata or Mother India. Not only is India herself considered as a goddess but the very earth is worshipped as a goddess. In the Vedas the goddess earth is praised as Prthivi. She is our first mother. From earth we have been born and back to earth we shall go when we die. It has always been part of our tradition to touch the ground, Prithvi, our first mother, as soon as we get out of bed in the morning and ask her forgiveness for stamping on her breast during the course of the day. Our children were taught at a young age to revere her great stability and inexhaustible fecundity. Our reverence for our rivers and mountains also stem from this. Our rivers are known as goddesses since the ancients knew that they were the arteries of the country- our very life blood, pumping their inexhaustible fund of life- giving waters from the mountains to the sea. Bharat Mata is known as the land of the seven rivers, “Sapta Sindhu.” This is part of the sacred geography of our country. In the Vedas, the river Saraswati was worshipped as the great goddess. This place has been taken by the Ganga now.

Westernisation however brought forward the idea of the dominance of the male and the women’s liberation movement was started by western women. It could never have been started in India since Indian women have always thought themselves to be never bound so why should they be liberated? Why should we ever want to be equal? We are different and we take pride in being different. How boring life would be if everything was equal. Life becomes an adventure when we see that everything is different and everyone has a unique role to play in the drama. The whole idea of inferiority came only after the Muslim conquest and British colonialism. It was only in the 20th century that the educated women of India started to demand their rights. They came to believe that they had always been subjugated by the male and reduced to the role of mere chattels. This idea has never been there in the history of our culture. Manu was not a woman hater as some modern women keep quoting from some western view point. All he said was that women should be protected at all times since to them had been given the priceless task of bringing forth and caring for the new generation. What doubt that they should be venerated as goddesses. Even now in the villages every woman’s name will end in “Devi” or “goddess”. She will be known as “Nirmala Devi, Kalyani Devi, Sulochana Devi etc.” Even if they have some modern name as “Poonam” or “Sakshi”, the moment they get married, the word “Devi” is added to their names. This maybe a gentle reminder to the husband that she is to be treated as a goddess!

One of the greatest tragedies of modernisation is the fact that now every Indian woman wants to be like a man like her western counterpart. If nature wanted her to be a man, it would have made her like a man. But the fact is that a woman is different, physiologically, psychologically and emotionally. Why can’t she take pride in this and not feel ashamed of it. Why should she want to ape men? This is a sort of ideological brain washing given by the West. Unfortunately our ideas are controlled by western society especially American. If they wear torn pants we also follow dumbly. Our girls dress like men, cut their hair like men and generally think it’s something great to be thought of as equal to men. Why have we imbibed this inferiority complex from the west? Women are unique just as men are unique. Why do we go in for unisex clothes and haircuts? By this we are just laying ourselves open to sarcasm. Do men ever think of wearing women’s clothing and pretending to be women, so why should we do it unless we feel inferior and what reason is there for us to feel inferior. We are neither inferior nor superior. We are what we are and we have every reason to feel proud of our feminity. We might be able to do most things that a man can but certainly no man can do everything that we can! Our culture always taught us to take pride in our feminity. Let no Indian women be lured into this false western propaganda that we are inferior. Through the ages we have been given stories of the great women of our times and of our past history. Only with the Muslim invasion were we made to feel that we were a separate and inferior creation. North Indian women started covering their heads only with the onset of the Muslims. South Indian women never had this habit since they were less exposed to Muslim influence. With the loss of feminity, any society will become money oriented. It will start to lose its charm, artistic outlook and start concentrating only on the acquisition of wealth which is what is happening to us right now.

The goddess cult in India is kept alive by the celebration of Navaratri or the nine days of the worship of the goddess in her three most important roles of Durga- the virgin, eighteen handed goddess who needs no support from any male consort. Her eighteen hands carry every type of weapon one might need for self defence as well as for combating any type of problem that might arise in our lives. She is totally self-sufficient and competent to overcome any hindrance in the path of progress both materially and spiritually. Next comes Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu who provides us with all the love and beauty that our life craves for. The third aspect is the Goddess Saraswati, the mother of all arts and sciences. Knowledge of all types streams from her alone. Both artist and scientist have to get her favour before they can succeed in their mission.

In this way our culture saw to it that the importance of the feminine is accentuated and kept alive in our minds by the festival known as Navaratri which is celebrated twice a year, once in Spring and once in Autumn. Having been born into such a culture let all Indian women shake off the inferiority that has been falsely thrust upon them by the west and start to live up to the great models that have been placed before us by our ancient culture — the Sanatana Dharma.

Hari Aum Tat Sat

The Indian festival of Navaratri (that usually happens in October) is dedicated to the feminine nature of the divine. Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are seen as three dimensions of the feminine, symbolic of the earth, the Sun and the Moon, or of tamas (inertia), rajas (activity, passion) and satva (transcendence, knowledge, purity) respectively. Those who aspire for strength or power worship forms of the feminine such as Mother Earth or Durga or Kali. Those who aspire for wealth, passion or material gifts worship Lakshmi or the Sun.

Those who aspire for knowledge, dissolution or the transcendence of the limitations of the mortal body worship Saraswati or the Moon.