“ For the ignorant you are the island city of the sun
Flowing from a bouquet of intelligence
For the poor you are a rosary of wishing jewels.”
~~~ Praise for the Devi in Saundarya Lahari
Devi or Ma means the Mother Goddess and within her we see every aspect of a woman. She is the gentle Parvati; the generous Annapurna; the warrior Durga and the fierce Kali. She can be ugra or angry and saumya or gentle. The goddess is what you want her to be.
During the time of the Rig Veda the goddess was not an important deity. Our pantheon was dominated by gods like Indra, Varuna and Agni. Only a few hymns were dedicated to Prithvi, the earth goddess and Aranyani, the goddess of the forest. Then she was just given the status of the consort to a god and we got Saraswati, sitting beside Brahma; Lakshmi with Vishnu and Parvati next to Shiva.
However you cannot keep a goddess down because in India the most powerful presence in anyone’s life is the mother. So the cult of the Mother Goddess kept growing till we had temples dedicated to her in every corner of the land. From Vaishno Devi in Jammu to the Meenakshi temple in Madurai; the Kamakhya shrine in Guwahati to Kali Ghat in Kolkata, the Devi reigned supreme.
The Devi is the shakti or the active power of a god and it is this aspect that appeals to people. The goddess will not only listen to your prayers but if evil is on the rise she will pick up her weapons and go out in battle to save us. She believes in taking action. Ma Durga, Ma Kali and Chandi Ma are warriors for the good; fiercely protective mothers and also compassionate deities. When we face a crisis our first instinct is to pray to the Devi like Rama did in Rameswaram just before he invaded Lanka and faced Raavan’s army.
The Hindu month of Kartik belongs to the Devi as Ma Durga, as she comes down to earth to receive the worship and adulation of her adoring devotees. During Durga Puja the people of Bengal, Orissa and Assam create exquisite images of the goddess and through drums and bells, the smoke of incense and flaming lamps worship our very own Mother Goddess.
We find the exciting story of Durga defeating the asura Mahisha in the Markandeya Purana. Because of a boon from Brahma, only a woman could defeat him and so the gods had to create this female warrior through their inner shakti. Durga is the first or Adi Shakti and her beautiful face was lovingly created by Shiva; Yama gave her the cloud of dark hair; Vishnu moulded her ten hands and Brahma fashioned her feet. Then she rode out to battle on the lion gifted to her by Himavat, the god of the Himalayas.
Then the gods gifted her their weapons – Shiva’s trident, Vishnu’s discuss, Brahma’s rudraksha beads, Varuna’s conch shell and noose. Agni gave her a dart, Vayu a bow and Surya a quiver of arrows. Indra’s thunderbolt gleamed in one hand and Kuvera’s mace in another. Kaal gave a sword and shield and Vishwakarma carved her a battle axe.
A resplendent Durga rode out to battle as the matrika goddesses came behind her blowing conches and playing battle drums. What followed was a mighty conflict in which Durga finally pierces the chest of Mahishasura and the heavens rained flowers on the triumphant Devi in celebration.