A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Do you know why a Turtle is the way it is?

According to Greek Mythology, for the wedding of Zeus (the King of gods) with Hera all were invited by Zeus’s messenger, Hermes. All went for the grand event, except one nymph (a fairy) by the name of Chelone, who not only did not attend the wedding, but even ridiculed the event.

Later, on asking why she did not attend, she mockingly said that there was no place as home to stay! As a punishment for not attending the grand wedding, she was turned into a turtle and sent to earth. For mocking and ridiculing the event, she was made to suffer eternal silence. As if all this was not enough, for her love for her home, Zeus condemned her to carry her home wherever she went!

Now you know why the poor turtle is the way it is!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Karva Chauth – Part 2

The myth of Queen Veerawati is an integral part of the Karva Chauth Katha.

Queen Veeravati was a beautiful princess married to a King. She was also the loving sister of seven brothers who doted on her. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth, Veeravati went to her father’s house and observed her fast. However, she was a very delicate woman and could not withstand the pressures of fasting without food and water for the whole day and fainted in the evening. The brothers could not bear to see the plight of their sister and so created a reflection through the leaves of a tree which seemed like the moon. Having sighted the moon, Veeravati broke her fast and started to have food.

Just when she began to eat her food, she got the news that her husband, the king had died. She immediately left for her husband’s city. On the way, she met Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati who told her that her husband had died because she had broken the fast before time and what she had sighted was not the true moon.

On asking for forgiveness and also the fact that it wasn’t actually her fault, Parvati told her that her husband would not die, but would be ill and it would take time before he recovered completely. On reaching the palace Veeravati found her husband unconscious with hundreds of needles in his body. Each day, Veeravati managed to remove one needle from his body and soon enough it was time for the next Karva Chauth, when the king had only one needle in his body.

That year, Veeravati observed her fast very strictly and broke the fast only on sighting the moon. While she was out, the maid who was kept at the kings chambers to keep vigil, removed the lone needle and the king gained consciousness. On gaining conspicuousness, he saw the maid and mistook her to be her queen. When Veeravati came back, she was made to continue as the maid (nobody seems to have any idea why).

Once when the king was going out, he asked Veeravati (who was serving as the maid) if she wanted anything (quite strange, I would think). Veeravati asked for identical dolls, which the king brought for her. On getting the dolls, Veeravati started singing "Roli ki Goli ho gayi... Goli ki Roli ho gayi" (the queen has turned into a maid and the maid has turned into a queen). On asking the reason for such a song, Veeravati told the king the whole story and when the king realised his folly, he gave back Veeravati what was rightfully hers, the status of the queen and wife.

Thus ends the story of a dutiful, obedient, serving wife of the king, which is considered to be the central theme of the festival of Karva Chauth.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Karva Chauth – Part 1

Karva stands for an earthen pot and Chauth is the fourth day of the full moon, a day when married women fast the whole day for the well-being, prosperity and long life of their husbands, leading to a happy married life and also gaining the title of a ‘Saubhagyavati’, the most joyous and coveted state of womanhood.

Karva Chauth is a festival that dates back to the times when a woman, be she a daughter, sister, wife or a mother, was always dependent on the man of her life. There is many a myth of Karva Chauth, but before that, let’s look at the genesis of this festival and how it has changed over time, thus giving it a new and a different meaning altogether.

In olden days, girls were married off at a very tender age and sometimes were very far off from her parents, friends, etc. In large families of her in-laws, she was often lonely. Husbands were accessible only at night and often the age-difference made it quite difficult to converse, leave alone confide. To keep her company and also to lend her a shoulder during times of distress, she would befriend another girl/woman at her in-laws. They would then be god-sisters/god-friends for life and this relationship was sometimes sanctified right at the time of the marriage through a small ceremony.

Karva Chauth was a festival to celebrate this bonding and new friendship. Fasting and praying for the husband came much later as an addition to the original festival. The aspect of the husband was quite obvious, since the new bonding was through the husband. But how original reason of the festival was lost, could be a matter of debate. In due course of time, this festival became a festival to pray for the well-being and the prosperity and long-life of the husband and a number of myths were woven as part of the traditional katha which became the ritual de rigueur.

First, let us understand the concept of worshiping the moon. The whole aspect of the moon-worship had to do with the worship of Shiva-Parvati, as they were considered to be a couple with eternal marital bliss, and Parvati had been blessed with Shiva as her spouse in every life of hers – an honour for many a woman as seen in our society. The moon is symbolically seen as an adornment of Shiva’s locks and also derives his strength from Shiva during its waning phase. In some myths, the Moon is also seen as the god of medicines, and thus brings in the aspect of good health and better life for the spouses. Also, in the absence of the husband being physically present, the moon came as a good substitute!

The most common myth of Karva Chauth is that of the woman named Karva who used to live with her husband near a river. Once when the husband was having a bath in the river, a crocodile attacked him. Soon Karva came there, and tied a cotton thread around the crocodile and went to meet Yama, the god of death, to demand punishment (in the form of banishment to hell) for the crocodile. When Yama refused to give in to her demand, she threatened to curse him, and herein lies the message – that a devoted wife could even risk cursing a god for her husband. Yama did not want to earn the wrath of such a woman and gave in to her wishes and blessed her husband with a long life. This myth is similar to that of Savitri-Satyavan, where Savitri goes to extremes to get her husband back to life from death and the god of death was left with no choice. The myth of Queen Veeravati is another important myth which is recited during the katha (which I will take up tomorrow on Karva Chauth).

Over a period of time, and thanks to numerous Bollywood portrayals, this has become an important festival. Though this might not seem to be a relevant custom from the time it originated, but somehow it still manages to hold sway with the people. Some do it for the original reasons; some do it for the glamour attached to it while some do it from the plain reason to appease-the-in-laws. Irrespective of what modernists feel and how chauvinist it all seems to a few in the Society, this festival is here to stay and prosper and as some say, helps to bond amongst the womenfolk.

So how long will this one-sided demonstration of love and bonding for the ultimate marital-bliss work? Your guess is as good as mine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Mythical explanation of an Eclipse - World

The Chinese believed that an eclipse happened when a mythical dragon tried to eat up the sun in the sky. The Chinese for solar eclipse is 日食 (re shi), meaning “sun eat”. When the eclipse occurred, the Chinese would make a lot of noise, by banging pots and drums, bursting crackers, hoping that the noise created by them would drive away the dragon and spare the sun, and sure enough, the sun was soon spared and it would come out in full visibility – most probably by the noise created!

The idea of monsters, etc. eating up the sun or the moon during eclipses is quite common. The Incas believed that the sun or the moon was being eaten up a cat by the name of K’owa, and like the Chinese they too tried to scare away the cat by making a noise.

The Egyptians had a similar belief where the sun god Ra was being eaten up the goddess of darkness, Apep who was in the form of a serpent. However, some myths also referred to this phenomenon, due to a hawk trying to eat the sun.

Similar myths are found in Siberia with a vampire, a three legged toad in Vietnam and a jaguar in Paraguay. In Scandinavia, two wolves are supposed to be responsible for this, one devoured the sun and the other the moon.

According to Japanese mythology, an eclipse occured due to a spat between two siblings! Amaterasu is the Sun goddess (rare portrayal of Sun as a goddess) who has a brother, Susano-o, a Storm deity. Once Susano-o misbehaved with Amaterasu, and she got so upset that she went into a cave. But this led to a world sans light and warmth. The other gods then pleaded to Amaterasu who would just not agree, till the gods tricked her to come out and that’s how, there was light again. Since then it is said that an eclipse happens when Amaterasu gets upset with her bother Susano-o, and goes inside a cave, and the goddess shows up only on the request of the other gods!

A common theme across all myths is of one eating the other, violence, etc. But a Tahitian myth talks of love and is very different from the others. According to the Tahitian myth, Laa, the Sun god and Marama, the Moon goddess were in love. But whenever the two came together, the Sun would get very hot (I am not sure if there is a pun here!). So Laa and Marama decided to separate, but also decided to meet once a year. According to the myth, an eclipse occurs whenever the two meet!

Thus we see that nearly every civilization had its own version of an eclipse. Its sinister connotations and the suddenness of it all were the reason, why majority of the myths had eating, biting and devouring as the theme behind the phenomenon, till of course Science stepped in.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Mythical explanation of an Eclipse - Indian

The Hindu myth has its origins in the famous episode of samudra manthan. As per the myth, the gods and asuras got together to churn the ocean to get the wealth from the bottom of the sea. Amongst this wealth, the most coveted and awaited of all was the amrita (nectar of life) consuming of which would grant immortality. Both the gods and the asuras were after it, but both knew that they needed each others might to churn it out of the sea.

When they finally got the nectar, Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini, the enchantress and asked all of them to stand in a queue and she would serve it to one and all, with the idea of not serving it to the asuras at all. All the asuras were too enchanted to see thru the deception, except for one of them, by the name of Swarbhanu. Swarbhanu could sense something amiss and so he disguised himself like the gods and managed to get a sip.

Sun and the Moon came to know about it and informed this to Lord Vishnu, who immediately cut Swarbhanu with his Chakra into two. However, since Swarbhanu had already consumed it, nothing much could be done. So the top half of Swarbhanu came to be known as Rahu and the tail became Ketu, with no body in between.

Rahu and Ketu came to dislike Sun and Moon, and so once in a while they try to swallow them. Since there is no body, every time the mouth (Rahu) swallows the Sun or the Moon, it slips out of the tail (Ketu). During the time that the Sun and the Moon pass thru Rahu and Ketu, there is darkness all around. This is the mythical reason of a Solar eclipse and a Lunar eclipse!

Rahu and Ketu have a lot of astrological significance (negative impact) on the mortals, which is a different subject altogether.

The picture shows Rahu swallowing the Sun and causing an eclipse. This Rahu Temple (Named Wat Srisathong) is in Nakhon Chaisi 65 kms from Bangkok.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Waxing and Waning of the Moon.

As per a Vedic myth, Daksha Prajapati had given 27 of his daughters in marriage to Chandra (the moon god). Chandra was known for his good looks and virility. But Chandra amongst all the wives preferred Rohini, which angered the other sisters, who complained to their father about this partiality.

Daksha Prajapati cursed Chandra with a degenerative disease, which led him to lose his lustre and thus Chandra started to wane. Chandra was worried and on the advice of Lord Brahma, prayed to Shiva, who allowed him to take refuge in his locks and gain his potency back.

Later, the curse was reduced to a temporary state, and from that day onwards, Chandra, the moon, waxes when it approaches Rohini and wanes when it moves away from her. On the full moon day, Chandra attains his full potency, and then onwards, it loses its potency to the new moon night, when he has no wife by his side and on the previous day, when he is just a crescent, he takes refuge on Shiva’s locks. The day Chandra, takes refuge on Shiva’s locks, Lord Shiva is known as Chedrashekhar!

Another myth has its origin in the ravenous appetite of Lord Ganesha. It so happened that once Ganesha had an overdose of his favourite sweet, modaks (sweet rice balls), till the point of feeling extremely uncomfortable. He then decided to out in the open air. While was in the jungle, a snake crossed his path, which scared his vahana, the mouse, who backed out a bit, toppling Ganesha. On falling, Ganesha’s big tummy burst open and all the modaks rolled out. Ganesha ran after them, collected all of them and stuffed them back, and tied his tummy with the help of the snake Vasuki.

All this was being witnessed by Moon and his wives, and they all burst out laughing! Ganesha felt very insulted and cursed the Moon god, to disappear forever. Shiva realised that the disappearance of Moon could cause cosmic dis-balance, so he intervened. He made Moon god apologise to Ganesha and in turn asked Ganesha to reduce this curse. Ganesha then reduced the curse to slowly diminishing and then disappearing for a day, and then come back to his original size back, and then start the diminishing act again. This cycle would continue forever, so that people are reminded of the curse and also not to make fun of the Lord! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Vijaya Dashami

Yesterday Ravan was burnt in full public view and with a lot of enthusiasm and joy. Quite ironic to see celebrations over a public execution. Some would say, why not after all this is celebration of the victory of good over evil, some prefer to keep quiet and overlook the other salient points of the eternal conflict.

What is good and what is evil? Who decided such standards in the absence of central governance or a common human understanding?

Was it incorrect to questions people who donned the outfit of ‘harmless ascetics’ but carried arms and displayed the physique of warriors? A man should not kidnap another’s wife. But then should people allow their sisters to be insulted?

In which culture did one severe nose in response to what one might call an ‘indecent proposal’? Which is a bigger crime – insulting someone’s sister or kidnapping someone’s wife, in return? Is an individual taken by force the property of the one who has strength and power at his behest? For an individual enmity, is it correct to render the whole nation (read kingdom) vulnerable?

On one had we tell people to feel proud about ones achievements, but the moment we change the adjective (Proud) in to a noun (Pride) we start looking down on the same achievement, why is it like that?

Were there ulterior motives behind the whole apparent plot? Was it destined such? Were the characters just playing small roles in the overall big drama conducted by someone else?

Someone once asked me why do you ask so many questions and my answer was – Why not? He said, there that’s another question, but I thought that was an answer!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Durga – A Feminist Icon?

Goddess Durga is one of the most important and impressive goddess in the entire Hindu pantheon. She is both a warrior goddess as well as epitome of motherhood. Unlike many of the goddess who are seen along with their male consorts, she stands by herself. Her very existence was for something that the male gods could not achieve, both individually and collectively.

Does this not make her a formidable entity? How is she different, if at all? After all she was created by the male gods and given a task to accomplish, so is she not abiding by the dictates of the male gods? So what makes her so different?

If we analyse closely Durga goes against all that a Hindu woman represents (please take note that here we are not talking of the woman of the 21st century, English speaking, blog-reading, urban educated woman, we are referring to the woman of the yester-ages – phew…..that was on time!). In majority of our mythologies, a woman is generally with a consort, derives succor from her male partner and is at the whims and mercy of the males around her (I will not be dragged into controversy by naming a few of the mythical female characters who personify such a state). A general impression of the females has been that of subjugation, surrender and those who live in the shadows of the male deity/partner.

But Durga is different. She is a woman in the male domain of activities. She is a warrior who fights a mighty demon who could not be vanquished by all the gods together. She is adept in the use of all arms and has the energy to wage a battle for nine days.  Another aspect is the dwelling grounds of the goddess. She is the one who stays in mountains, a space which is generally kept outside the boundaries of the society or civilisation. The hard terrain, unlivable conditions of the mountains does not deter her. Sometimes she is the daughter of Himalaya and sometimes she is the resident of Vindhyas (as Vidhyavasini), or as Ma Sherawali, all are mountainous abodes. She rides a lion or a tiger, both ferocious animals, on whom she has total control, again a shade far from feminine.

References of worshiping Durga is found in both Ramayana (Ram worshiping before his battle with Ravana) and in Mahabharata (first by Yudhishtira in Virata-parva and then by Arjuna in Bhisma-parva). In all the instances, it is to achieve victory in the impending war. This led to the practice of Kings later worshiping Durga as a goddess who aids achieving military success and is followed even today in some parts of the country where arms and weapons are worshiped as a part of the festival. There are references of Shivaji worshiping Ma Bhavani (a form of Durga) in History.

Some would say that a Mother is she who takes care of her children and saves them from all dangers (whatever they be), and that the role Durga has played is still within the larger domain of the feminine sphere of activities – as defined by the patriarchy!

Do you agree?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kumari Puja

Kumari Puja, literally means ‘virgin worship’. During the course of nine days, Goddess Durga is worshipped in different forms, primarily in the form of Mother Goddess, then in the form of a warrior goddess, etc. But one of the forms of worship is in the form of a virgin. The virgin form of this shakti is considered to be very powerful.

For this a girl with a calm and quite personality between the ages of one and sixteen, who has not attained puberty, is selected. The age of the girl selected denotes a different name for the goddess, for example a one year old girl is called Sandhya while a two year old is referred to as Saraswati and so on right up to sixteen.

Kumari puja takes place on the Mahaashtami (the eighth day of the nine nights), though sometimes it is done on the ninth day. On the day, the selected girl is given a ritual bath and draped in a red saree and is seated in front of the idol of Durga and the ritual worship of the girl takes place. She is decked with flowers, ornaments and ‘alta’ smeared on her feet. She is showered with gifts of gold, silver, clothes, etc. After the puja the girl is considered to be the incarnate of Devi Durga herself.

This kind of a puja is found in Nepal and generally in all places where the female form of divinity is worshipped, especially in some of the Shaktipeeths.

In Bengal, this form of worship was made popular by Swami Vivekananda in the early 1900 and the practice is still followed in the Order created by him at Belur Math, in the outskirts of Kolkata. So what is behind such worship? Our religious texts have insisted on Kumari Puja ‘to evolve the purity and the divinity of our women in the society.’

Durga Puja was a regular practice at Belur Math from the very beginning, except that it was done without the installation of any idols and was more of a celebration of the Order. Swami Vivekananda first started the practice of idol worship of Durga Puja. It is important to mention that the ‘western ways’ of the Swami was not very well accepted by the locals then – things like not believing in caste system and his free mixing with foreigners was seen as unconventional, to put it mildly. The beginning of idol worship at Belur Math was to get the people to accept that the monastic ways were not different from the Hindu-way and that the Swamis were a part of the society.

The Swami during his visits to the western countries was convinced that the advancement of a society was mainly due to their treatment of their womenfolk, as that of equals. His observation was that the same was not happening in our country and that the neglect of Indian womenfolk was amongst the main reasons of the general backwardness of our country. His idea was that institutionalising the Kumari Puja would bring people’s attention on the neglect of the womenfolk and also bring out the inherent divinity of women and the much needed respect they deserved. It is pertinent to recall that back then girls were not given education, were given away in marriage at early ages and sometimes to men much older than them and the ill-treatment of child-widow’s was also quite prevalent. So way back in 1901, when the first Durga Puja was conducted at Belur Math, Swami Vivekananda undertook the Kumari Puja of several girls, not just one. He wanted to highlight the elevated position women deserved and more importantly, needed.

This is a perfect example of sending social messages through religious rituals. An example of contemporary interpretation of an otherwise archaic ritual.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


All of us know who is Durga and how she kills the demon called Mahishasura.
But who is Mahishasura?

Once upon a time there were two demons by the name of Ramba and Karamba who were the sons of the demon Danu. They decided to undertake penance and so Karamba entered in water and Ramba entered in fire. Seeing the severity of the penance, Indra (the king of gods) felt insecure and decided to eliminate them before they could become a threat. Indra took the form of a crocodile and killed Karamba who was in the water. Seeing his brother dead, Ramba got scared and decided to commit suicide before Indra reached him.

Seeing the plight of Ramba, Lord Agni stopped him and granted him a boon. Ramba asked for a son, who could never be killed by a mortal or an immortal. Agni granted him the boon. On his way back, Ramba saw a beautiful demoness who was in the form a buffalo. He fell in love with her and took her home. At night when they were making love a buffalo charged in and killed Ramba. The grief-stricken demoness decided to kill herself and jumped onto the funeral pyre of Ramba.

But the boon of Agni could not be wasted, so from the funeral fire was born a child who was later known as Mahishasura – the buffalo demon.

Ramba’s relatives brought up Mahishasura to be their king. When Mahishasura grew up, he undertook a severe penance and pleased Lord Brahma. On Lord Brahma’s asking he got a boon from him that no man could kill him. At that point of time, it had never occurred to him that a woman could even think of killing him. Having got the boon, Mahishasura became a threat to the gods, till the gods invoked their energy to create a female principle in the form of Devi Durga to kill him after a violent nine day battle.

This is the story of Mahishasura – the buffalo demon.

The above is a statue of Mahishasura at Chamundi Hills in Mysore

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clay for Durga Idols

I am sure many of my readers will recollect a scene from the Hindi movie ‘Devdas’ (any version, but latest being that of Mr. Bhansali), where Paro goes to Chandramukhi’s house (read brothel) to take clay for usage in making the idol of Devi Durga.

An age old practice is to collect the punya mati (blessed soil) from outside the nishiddha pallis (forbidden territories) of Calcutta to be used amongst other things to make the idol of Devi Durga by the now-famous artisans from Kumartuli (the potters town in Kolkata). It is now a ritual and the practitioners feel that this is a vital ingredient in the clay to be used in the idol making, without which, one cannot proceed.

So what could be the reason behind this practice of collecting mud from the doorstep of a sex-worker?

The most prominent reason cited is that when a man enters these dens of vice, he leaves his virtues outside the doorstep, making the soil virtuous. When the man comes out of the house, he has left all his vices at the house of the sex-worker. Another reason given is that this is to ‘purge’ the sex-workers of their sins! This sounds quite ironic as it is well known that no woman in the area is there out of choice and no man is there out of force. So to use this reason is quite unfair to the already wronged women of the area.

But then, let us look at the same practice differently. This practice could have been initiated by some, to include the otherwise ostracised members of the society. It could also have been a way to honour the erstwhile courtesans who were proficient in different form of arts. Or could it be that people of all religions and communities come to a brothel and involving the soil from there in the ritual could just be a fitting tribute to the all-encompassing nature of the Mother?

So does the practice have a religious reason or does it have a social relevance? Has the ritual made any difference to the way a layman looks at them? What kind of ‘elevation of status’ (if any) is it when they are so important for a day, but whores for the rest of the year? If worship of Durga is of stree-shakti (feminine power), then why is this practice so demeaning to a set of the womenfolk who seem to be so integral to the ritual? Unfortunately, all I can say is that the practice is still on; the sex-workers are in as squalid condition as they were but definitely the ritual has lost its social relevance, if it had any.

It sure is quite a blotch on the land of social reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Swami Vivekananda, to say the least.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Myth of Sati

As per the Shiva Purana, Daksha’s youngest daughter left her father’s house to follow Shiva, the mendicant as she had given her heart to him. She became Shiva’s obedient consort and became known as Sati, the perfect wife, much to the dislike of her father Daksha. 

Daksha’s dislike of Shiva goes back to a previous episode mentioned again in the Shiva Purana. According to this reference, one day Daksha was invited to a gathering of the gods, and as he entered the hall, all the gods rose in reverence, all but Shiva. Shiva’s intention was not to insult as he was oblivious to the prominence of Daksha who was considered to be the patriarch. Though Shiva’s intention was not to be disrespectful, his action of indifference did not amuse Daksha. He swore never to invite Shiva to any yagna or occasion as he did not find him worthy of such respect.

Once, Sati found that all the gods and goddesses were invited to a yagna organised by her father Daksha. She reached her father’s house only to find that there was no place reserved for her husband, who obviously was not invited, and this was a deliberate act. When she asked her father the reason for this, she was told by Daksha, that her husband’s ways did not warrant an invitation to such get-togethers. This was so insulting to Sati, that she decided to avenge her husband’s insult and even before anybody could understand, she jumped into the yagna fire and self-immolated herself, thereby causing a vighna – an obstacle to the yagna.

When Shiva came to know about the death of Sati, he was filled with both  grief and uncontrolled anger. In his fury, he took the charred remains of Sati and wandered around the cosmos in a destructive spree. The world would be engulfed in this fury and he had to be stopped.

At that moment, Lord Vishnu decided to hurl his ‘sudarshan chakra’, the heavenly discuss, to dismember Sati’s body into different pieces. These pieces fell in ‘Jambudwipa’, i.e. the present day Indian sub-continent.

It is said that there were 108 pieces made of Sati and each place where a piece of the body fell became a ‘Shaktipeeth’, a place of reverence. However, man in due course of time has lost out on majority of these places, and today we have 51 Shaktipeeths known to mankind. All these are well known places of religious significance.

Shaktipeeths in the Indian Sub-continent
Shaktipeeths are holy places of cosmic power; they are places of worship consecrated to the goddess ‘Shakti’. Throughout the Indian Sub-continent, there are many Shaktipeeths. A few prominent Shaktipeeths are:
v      Kalighat in Kolkata
v      Kamakhya in Assam
v      Katyayini in Vrindavan
v      Manibandh near Ajmer, Rajasthan
v      Naina Devi Temple in Himachal Pradesh
v      Bahucharaji in Mehsana district of Gujarat

A few Shaktipeeths exist in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

All these places have been said to have received some body part of Goddess Sati and the place is revered as a Shaktipeeth.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Cult of Shakti

Shaktism is a Sanskrit term and means “Doctrine of the Goddess”. It is that aspect of Hinduism that focuses upon worship of Shakti (feminine power) or Devi, who is the Divine Mother. In Hinduism, the Great Divine Mother is regarded as the symbol of motherhood and power/energy. In Shaktism goddess worship, in all her forms is the practice. Shaktism regards Mahadevi as the Great Goddess. Here Shakti is the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine.

Deities of Shaktism possess the very energy of existence, as Shakti is active, creative energy and each Goddess is profiled with her Shakti (power). The Goddess is seen as the personification of all creative energy and the source of all divine and cosmic evolution including all aspects of Nature.

In Hinduism, Adi Shakti is the ultimate Shakti, the final feminine power inherent in all creations. There are supposed to be a group of seven or eight mother goddesses, called the Matrikas. They are Brahmani, Vaishanvi, Maheshwari, Indrani, Kumari, Varahi and Chumnda and/or Narasimhi. The matrikas are considered Shaktis of the most important gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Skanda or Kumara, Yama and Narsimha. Shakti is seen as a sign of protection of the country, the punisher of evil people, the curer of diseases and the one who gives happiness to the village.

The worship of Mother Goddess or Shakti, can be traced back to the Pre-Vedic or Indus Valley Civilisation. Devisukta of the Rig Veda is the primary source of Shakti Cult. In the Rig Veda there is a description of a goddess named 'Aditi'. She is depicted not only as Mother Goddess but also as an emblem of the divine spirit. Some other references of Mother Goddesses are Prithvi (earth), Vac (speech) and Usas (dawn).

Over time when the Puranic gods and goddesses gained prominence, the prominence of the Shakti worship did not ebb. It continued to flourish and the associated myths and the temples associated with this myth remained prime centres of pilgrimage. Needless to say, that in many a case, myths got inter-woven with that of the Puranic deities to co-exist.

To conclude, according to Shiva Purana, Shiva is shava (dead body) without his energy, Shakti. This underlines the significance of the concept of Shakti.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Navratri literally means ‘nine nights’ – a festival of nine nights. Navratri is the festival of the feminine power, Shakti, the fountainhead of all creation and energy on the earth. This Shakti is worshipped in the form of goddess Durga, who in turn is referred by different regional names, like Sherawali, Vaishno devi or simply Mataji.

Durga derives her name from the Sanskrit word durg, meaning a fort. Devi Durga stands like a fort in front of her believers and shields them from all sufferings on the earth, and needless to say is the universal mother.

This day also is the beginning of the traditional dance form in Gujarat called Garba, which derives from the word ‘garbha’ or the womb. A pot is worshiped for the nine days by all women and all dance around the same. The jar is a common symbol for a womb and a recurrent theme in both mythology as well as folklore. The pot is a very prominent symbol of fertility and the same is used in many forms during the entire life cycle of human beings. But, we will discuss symbolism of a pot or jar on some other day.

The nine days also signify the battle between Ram and Ravana, with the victory of all that is good over evil and the tenth day is thus known as Vijaya Dashami, with the death of Ravana.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Mahalaya is a special day for anybody who has stayed in Kolkata. One can’t forget the days when one woke up at 4am and switched on the radio, to listen to the special programme aired by AIR, known as “Mahisasur Mardini”. The audio-montage (chanting of Vedic verses - chandipath, devotional songs and music), narrated by the unforgettable Birendrakrishna Bhadra and was scripted by Bani Kumar. The music was composed by Pankaj Mullick and the songs were sung by Hemanta Kumar and Arati Mukherjee besides others. Though many who were part of the original rendition are not alive, AIR till date plays the original recording which was recorded in the early 1930s, and goes on for 2 hours creating magic as the sun announces the dawn.

Mahalaya is the last day of the Pitru Paksha and is also observed as the final day to conduct the shraadh ceremony if one has missed any of the dates during the preceding fortnight. Bengalis take a dip in the holy Ganga and some even perform torpon for their departed relatives. Mahalaya also heralds the festive period. With the Pitru Paksha over, it announces the Devi Paksha where Devi Durga is invoked with “jago tumi jago” which is an invitation for the goddess to come to earth.

According to mythology, on Mahalaya day, Goddess Durga was delegated the task to eliminate the mighty Asura king called Mahisasura – the buffalo demon. As per a myth, Lord Shiva had granted him a boon that no man or deity would ever kill him. Having acquired the boon, he went on a rampage and even evicted the gods out of the heavens. When all the gods went to the Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they collectively created an energy – Shakti in the form of Devi Durga, who fought waged a nine day battle and finally vanquished the mighty Asura, and thus also came to be known as Mahisasur Maridni – the slayer of the Mahisasura.

According to another myth, this was also the day Lord Ram performed Durga Puja before he embarked on the war with Ravana. Prior to this, Durga Puja was always performed in Spring time, and was thus known as Basanti Puja (Basanta for spring). But Lord Ram performed this untimely practice, thus giving it the name of Akal BodhonAkal meaning ‘untimely’ and Bodhon meaning ‘worship’!

Though Mahalaya falls on the final day of Pitru Paksha and has its own sanctity of the day, the day also heralds the beginning of all the festivities that is celebrated with full pomp and gaiety – as any person from Kolakata, and s/he would vouch for this!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Protector of gods!

In the aftermath of the Ayodhya verdict last week, I came across a review of a book by Ramchandra Gandhi, from which I have taken the following –

Swami Vivekananda had gone to Kashmir towards the end of his life; anguished over the invader's desecration and destruction of countless images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Filled with rage and agony in his heart, he approached the Divine Mother in a Kali temple. On the swami's own testimony, Kali is reported to have said: "What is it to you, Vivekananda, if the invader breaks my images. Do you protect me, or do I protect you?"

At times I wonder if we need upholders of religion and our representatives in the Parliament to ‘take care’ of our gods. Should they rather not take care of us, instead of take from us, which they do so shamelessly?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gods and Demons

Did you know that as per the Indian mythology, the gods and the demons were related?

Let’s go thru the lineage of the gods and the demons.

Sage Kashyap was the son of Marichi who was one of the sons (Manas-putra) of Lord Brahma. Kashyap was considered to be the father of all. He was married to thirteen daughters of Prajapati, two of which were Diti and Aditi.

Aditi was blessed with children who went on to be known as Aditya’s, the deva’s or the gods. She was also the mother of Indra, who was the king of all gods. Seeing her children, Diti too demanded the company of Kashyap, so that she too could gain motherhood. Kashyap agreed to her request, but asked her to wait for an hour, as the hour was considered to be inauspicious for venturing onto the path of motherhood. But Diti who had been overcome with lust and desire, could not wait and insisted his company immediately, and tugged at his garments, a sign of violation of modesty. Since Diti was overcome with impure thoughts and loaded with lust, she gave birth to two sons who would go on violate all civilised and ethical norms. These sons were Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyayaksha, considered to the predecessors of the Asura's. Though the deva’s and the asura’s were brothers, they never got along with each other ever.

A demon would be a very poor connotation for asura. The simplest form of description could be that the asura’s were just not deva’s or gods. Asura’s were powerful beings who were in constant conflict with the gods/deva’s. Some of them did have evil natures as opposed to the gods, but they were not the incarnation of evil. However, during the Puranic times, these asura’s were painted as demons, but this could be seen more as an effort to highlight the achievements of the gods. One could also see this as an effort by the early thinkers to attribute all ‘bad’ qualities in the asura’s, primarily to differentiate them from the ‘good’ gods and also to tell mankind in general that all such qualities attribute to the asura’s were not to be aspired for or to stay away from.

Sage Kashyap was considered to be the father of all – gods, asura’s, the nagas and the mankind. His sons were the predecessors of the well known Suryavanshi (Solar dynasty) kings and the Raghuvanshi (Lunar dynasty) kings. He fathered the Nagas (the serpents) from his wife, Kadru. Apsaras were born from his wife Muni.

Thus we see that Sage Kashyap was the father of all, the inhabitants of all the three worlds – earth, heaven and the netherworld.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Peacock – the epitome of Vanity

Ever wondered why a peacock is considered the epitome of vanity? Why is it considered to be so arrogant? Well the answer lies in a Greek myth.

Hera, the queen of Zeus, the King of all gods was considered to be a jealous woman. Hera had her reasons to be jealous, as Zeus’ instances of infidelity were of mythical proportions, and not just with goddesses and nymphs, but with mortals too!

Once Hera looked down from the heavens to see a cloud where there shouldn’t be any. She immediately smelled a rat and rushed down to see thru the cloud. When she saw thru the cloud, it was indeed Zeus but with a little white cow. Zeus who had sensed Hera’s arrival had converted his new bride Lo, into a little cow, to avoid trouble. Hera didn’t quite trust Zeus and requested that she have the cow for herself. Zeus, who used to dread the tempers of Hera, couldn’t deny it and so gave Lo to her.

Hera tied the cow to a tree and sent her most trusted servant Argus, to keep a watch on the cow. Now Argus had a hundred bright eyes all over his body, so that at any point of time, some of his eyes were always open and nothing missed his sight! Very soon poor Lo was beginning to get tired being on her four legs and having to eat grass and being watched by Argus.
Seeing her mournful state, Zeus sent his son Hermes, the craftiest of all gods, to bail out Lo. Hermes disguised as a shepherd went and sat next to Argus, started playing his flute. Soon after, he started telling a dull and boring story to Argus, which never had a beginning or an end. The dull story lulled Argus’s fifty eyes to sleep. Hermes went on till his other fifty eyes too went off to sleep. Hermes then touched the hundred eyes with his magic wand and sent Argus to an eternal sleep. Argus was literally ‘bored to death’.

To ensure that Hera’s faithful servant be never forgotten, she put his hundred bright eyes on her favourite bird, the peacock. Since then, the peacock has eyes all over her, which though could not see, but were bright and beautiful! The peacock which was already feeling the chosen one as she was Hera’s favourite bird, now was all the more arrogant and thus came to be known as the epitome of arrogance, thanks to the new found beauty, but not of its own doing!