Goddess Durga: A Divine Female Role Model for Our Times?
- By Laura Amazzone
Posted on the Huffington Post 1/21/11
We are at a global crossroads. Environmental
devastation, economic upheaval, political
corruption and unconscionable acts of man-made
violence threaten the precious equilibrium of
our planet. Racism, sexism, homophobia, war,
violence, genocide, human trafficking -- it is
hard not to feel overwhelmed by the massive
injustice perpetuated by humans against our
own species and ultimately the fragile web of
all life on this planet. How do we make sense
of the destruction? When all seems futile, how
do we approach formidable life experiences from
a place of compassion for both self and other?
To whom do we turn for guidance?
To many in the West, the orthodox religious
traditions we grew up within have failed to
provide solace. Many of us are looking for a
spiritual model that addresses the needs of
the tumultuous 21st century and yet is grounded
in respect for the interconnectedness of all
life. While some have found guidance in indigenous
beliefs, western mystical traditions or eastern
philosophy, the ululating call of the divine
feminine seems to be making itself heard across the board.
Most of us are familiar with Greek mythology
and its pantheon of goddesses and gods; however,
fewer are aware that there is a thriving tradition
of goddess worship in South Asia where devotion
to the divine as Compassionate Mother and Fiercely
Protective Female Warrior has existed for millennia.
In fact, there is not one, but thousands of
manifestations of goddess in South Asia. In Hinduism
human diversity is expressed by this vast pantheon
of deities; and yet, as one of the most popular
goddess myths reminds us, despite our differences,
we are indeed all One.
The Devi Mahatmya or the Great Glory of the
Goddess is a 5th century myth that offers potent
teachings relevant to this day and age. The heroine
of this story about the victory of good over evil
is Durga, Goddess of Divine Justice, Invincible
Power, and Impenetrable Compassion. Her name,
Durga, means fortress, and speaks to the unassailable
essence of our inherent nature. Durga is also known
as the Remover of Fear and Difficulty for she always
comes to the aid of any who call on her in distress.
According to the myth, demonic forces are threatening
to conquer the world and take down any who do not
agree with their agenda. Despite the gods' intentions
to stop the demons, the methods they use only
perpetuate the violence. Moreover, this demon king
has received a boon from the creator God Brahma,
which makes him undefeatable by any man, god or
demon. When Brahma asks the demon if he wants to
be exempt from defeat by a female as well, the demon's
inflated ego puffs up with pride. To the demon,
battling a woman is an easy win -- he declines.
After eons of senseless violence, the male gods
convene and call forth the Supreme Mother Goddess
behind all existence. Only she is powerful enough
to stop the bloodshed. The initial chapter of Durga's
mythic journey of restoring harmony to the world
tells how the demon king learns a beautiful female
is waiting to engage in battle with him. He orders
his two favorite demon generals to bring her to him
so he can force her into wedlock. However, the generals
do not have a chance against the all-powerful goddess.
As they approach her, the composed goddess emits a
flame from her finger that restores them to a state
of tranquility and compassion. Outraged, the demon
demands that the goddess engage directly with him in
battle. She does.
The demon becomes more and more furious as he
faces the great goddess. He hurls mountains,
uproots forests and causes earthquakes with his
all-consuming anger against the possible loss of
power and control. Every time one of Durga's arrows
flies at him, the demon changes form from water
buffalo, to tiger, to man until finally she grabs
him, pins his neck down with her foot and sends a
spear through his heart.
Metaphorically, we can consider Durga as the
wisdom of the heart, untainted by cultural,
religious and societal conditioning. The buffalo
demon symbolizes our ignorance, reactions and ego
attachments. The constantly shifting appearance
of the demon speaks to our irrational behavior and
the need to pin down the destructive causes of
our negative emotions: anger, jealousy, pride,
greed and delusion. His shape shifting is symbolic
of the grasping ignorant mind that continuously
jumps from one desire to another. The demon's
uncontrollable rage, destroying everything in its
path without regard for the consequences, is a
fitting analogy for the violence we face today.
This myth asks us to consider how we choose to
express our anger -- whether we will use our rage
against injustice in constructive ways, or if we
will be divisive, fearful and blaming, thereby
poisoning our environment. The fiercely compassionate
divine feminine nature will help free us from the
afflicted ego and return to the penetrating wisdom
of divine love. Goddess Durga may not solve all
the world's problems at the moment, but as this
ancient scripture teaches, she is the impenetrable
place of calm within our hearts from which we can
choose actions that promote harmony and unity
rather than selfish harmful acts.
In the myth, after the demon has finally been
defeated and the gods gather to celebrate, Mother
Durga promises to return whenever any of her
children are in distress. As we face crises on
both a personal and planetary level, might we
call on this ancient divine female force of
compassion and courage to help us confront and
transform that which threatens the well being
and contentment of all beings on this planet?
The Devi Mahatmya teaches that the grace of
goddess is unconditional and will never be
withheld from anyone -- ego demon or not. Through
her fierce love toward self and other, harmony
will be restored within and around us. We need
only invoke Durga to help us remember our true
nature and that divine love conquers all.
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