By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
All religions send messages that are beneficial to the people and begin that God created the earth. However, ancient Hindu sages are accustomed to see the differences between male and female in the spiritual world and their aspects in the creation of the Universe. Lord Shiva, being the masculine aspect, symbolizes pure consciousness which can be realized through Goddess Shakthi, who represents divine energy. The masculine aspect is known as Sada Shiva because the light comes from the Sun to warm the earth. The feminine aspect is known as Adi Sakthi (earth) because the primordial energy created the Universe. The recognition of divine energy as a feminine force, known as Shakthi, is found only in Hinduism. Briefly, Hinduism envisages the idea of Energy known as Shakthi which belongs to the domain of feminine aspect of creation.
It is the feminine aspect of the divine Supreme that undertakes to rehabilitate the wrongdoer. Goddess Sakthi’s grace is boundless and her mercy is illimitable, similar to that of a mother towards her children. Some people commit injustice on account of egoism, but Goddess Sakthi is there to guide him or rehabilitate him and realize the truth. It is something like a mother correcting her child on behalf of the father while managing the family. This is where Goddess Sakthi plays a vital role. Hence the worship of Goddess has become an integral part in Hinduism.
The meaning of Sakthi is “Energy”. The word Shakthi derived its root from the Sanskrit word ‘Shak; which means ‘to be able’ or ‘able to perform’. Shakthi is a force responsible for the growth of everything such as humans, birds, animals, creatures that live in water, vegetation, etc, and is responsible for the movement of all things. Sakthi can be described as Power, Force and Feminine Energy as it is the life force of everything.
Hinduism is the only religion which has given utmost importance to the motherhood of God. The worship of Goddess Shakthi dates back to pre-historic period even prior to the Vedic age. There are numerous references of Goddess Shakthi in Rig Veda. Even in the great epic Maha Bharatha there is reference to Goddess Shakthi, where Lord Krishna worshipped Goddess Shakthi in form of Durga for the victory of the Pandavas. Similarly in the great epic Ramayana, there is also reference to the worship of Goddess Sakthi by Rama for nine consecutive nights before waging a war with Ravana. Even the artefacts explored in Mohenjadaro-Harappa reveal the worship of Goddess Shakthi. In the minds of the Hindus, as Goddess Shakthi occupies a prominent place as the power of intelligence, divine love and compassion, in addition to other functions, she is revered as Mother Goddess.
Against such a background, Hindus celebrate Navarathri for nine nights with special Poojas for Goddess Shakthi, who is worshipped in different forms. Navarathri festival is dedicated to the glorification of Goddess Sakthi. This festival is unique because it signifies the process of purification of mind from its cleanliness, which had been polluted with evil thoughts. Accordingly, Goddess Durga is invoked to remove or destroy the impurities and vices from the mind. Similarly, Goddess Luxmi is invoked to cultivate the noble values and qualities, as she is considered to have the power of bestowing inexhaustible wealth on her devotees. Goddess Luxmi is adored as a giver of spiritual wealth. Finally Goddess Saraswathi is invoked for gaining the highest knowledge of the Self. When this process is completed successfully, Vijayadasami is celebrated as a mark of victory over evils on the tenth day. Hindu religious festivals are in conformity with the theme of the Vedas which emphasize on purifying the mind and removing all negativities; cultivating positive virtues; gaining spiritual knowledge and transcending limitations. This festival signifies spiritual awakening. The nine days of Navratri are also an opportunity to rejoice in the three primordial qualities that make up the universe. Each stage of worship is a different spiritual practice. It begins from controlling the mind, followed with the ingraining of virtues and finally with the gaining of spiritual knowledge for purity of mind. Therefore, Navarathri festival signifies the process of victory which lies in the gradual transformation of the behaviour of evil qualities to noble qualities. This is the significance of Navarathri festival.
The philosophy behind worshipping Goddess Sakthi in the form of Goddess Durga, Goddess Luxmi and Goddess Saraswathi, is that the Supreme Being (which is attributeless) can only be realized through the world of attributes.
The first three days of Navratri are attributed to tamo guna, the second three days to rajo guna and the last three days to sattva guna. Our consciousness sails through the tamo and rajo gunas and blossoms in the satva guna of the last three days. Whenever sattva dominates in life, victory follows. The essence of this knowledge is honoured by celebrating the tenth day as Vijaydashmi.
There are several legends in different parts of India which describe the history of Navarathri festival. As the general story of Mahishasura is associated with Goddess Durga, a deep analysis of the words Navaratri and Mahishasura would lend assistance to clarify the significance of Navaratri festival. ‘Nava’ means nine and ‘rathri’ means nights and hence it means nine nights. The central theme of the Navarathri festival is truth will eventually triumph and signifies victory over evil. The process of victory lies in the gradual transformation of the behaviour of evil qualities to noble qualities.
It is a fact that the mind always roams about and is restless. Everyone has desires in life for achieving an object. But such desires should not infringe other’s rights or inflict pains and sufferings on others having similar rights to lead a peaceful life. It is for this purpose legends were brought in Hinduism to tell the truths of life to the ordinary people. The most popular legend is the story of how assistance was sought from Goddess Sakthi to destroy Mahishasura by the gods and devas. Shakthi is chosen by Trinity Gods as their Commander-in-chief in the war against the Mahishasura and his battalion (demons). These legends focus towards the victory of positive forces. The message given by such legends is to work towards eliminating those negative elements within ourselves.
The word ‘Mahishasura’ denotes evil qualities. The two words ‘Mahish’ and ‘asura’ illustrates the behaviour of Mahishasura. The words ‘Mahisha’ denotes great and the word ‘asura’ denotes evil or demon. When the two words are coined it forms as ‘Mahishasura’ giving the meaning a person possessing human intellect with animal power. Furthermore, the word ‘Mahish’ also refer to bull. Bull also refers to its great size size which has rough qualities and sometimes dull. Therefore, if the individual acquires intellect and behaves with animal qualities, naturally his mind goes out of control, giving birth to egoism. Accordingly, an individual who is influenced by intense desire to be supreme or above all, it is also natural that the individual also dislikes others having similar or superior powers than him. [Bull also has same qualities.] It is this intense desire to become supreme and the dislike towards others being supreme, which germinates in the individual’s blood and give birth to evil qualities and ultimately transform the individual to be a terror, like Asuras in the Hindu legends.
Such possession of intellect with animal behaviour would lead to harm others in their settled life. Rehabilitation of that individual is required is to tame such behavioural aspect of the individual. Rehabilitation cannot be completed overnight. It takes some days to settle one’s mind to normalcy. Hinduism advocates the long spiritual practice to defeat such animal behavioural aspect of the individual. This spiritual practice takes nine days to transform the animal behavioural aspect to a noble behavioural aspect and on the tenth day Hindus celebrate on their consciousness becoming refined. This spiritual practice are carried out during the nine days with the view to transform one’s mind gradually until it becomes normal and divine, through nine methods by a mother in nine different forms, who is represented as Goddess Sakthi., like a mother correcting her mischievous child. Therefore the message of Navarathri is that an individual should learn to control his or her egos and utilize the energy for the benefit of himself or herself and to the society as well. This is applicable to all especially to politicians who should maintain the lofty ideals which are beneficial to the society.
Mother Goddess is worshipped in the form of Goddess Durga to overcome obstacles. Similarly Goddess Luxmi is worshipped to bestow peace and prosperity. Finally, Goddess Saraswathi is worshipped to gain knowledge. These three ingredients are necessary for a refined life with the view to get rid of evil thoughts in the mind. Goddess Durga, Goddess Luxmi and Goddess Saraswathi are different facets of one Divinity known as Goddess Shakthi.
Goddess Shakthi manifests as Goddess Durga to destroy evil forces and destroy the balance. Goddess Durga is the mother who transforms the evil mind to a noble one by destroying the negative tendencies. The picture of Goddess Durga is full of symbolic meanings. In Sanskrit the ‘Durga’ means ‘fort’ which signifies the place of protection. [There is another meaning that conveys that Durga eliminates sufferings.] The form of Goddess Durga sends a message that an individual should possess some qualities in order to get rid of egoism.
Goddess is portrayed as riding on a lion which signifies power, will and determination. In addition, the posture that Goddess Durga is seated on a lion with one hand showing bestowing of grace signifies the assurance of freedom from fear.
The hand holding a conch shell symbolizes the primordial sound of AUM which is an indication that she is one part of the Supreme Being in the form of sound.
The hand holding bow and arrow represents energy. It is an indication that she is in control over the aspects of energy namely, potential and kinetic.
Then there is thunderbolt which signifies firmness. This is a message to the devotees that they should be firm in their conviction, when taking challenges without losing confidence.
One hand that holds a lotus that is not fully blossomed indicates certainty of success, but not finality. This is a message to the people and students as well taking up new projects.
There is also a hand holding Chakras signifying that the entire world is subservient to the will of Goddess Durga and is at her command. The Chakra is used to destroy evil in order to create an environment conducive to the growth of righteousness.
Finally there is a trident held in one of her hands. Trident symbolizes three qualities.
The word Luxmi derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Laksya’ which means aim. She is portrayed as Goddess of wealth, prosperity and generosity, both material and spiritual. Moreover, she is depicted as a beautiful woman with four hands seated in a fully-blossomed lotus bud, which stands for beauty, purity and fertility.
Her four hands represent four ends of human life – righteousness, desires, wealth and finally liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Since the refinement of mind revolves round the concept of Navarathri festival, it should be analyzed within the framework of wealth. Wealth denotes to the inner wealth of spiritual values. Therefore, the real wealth is the inner wealth of spiritual values that should be practised by which their minds become purified. It is these noble values that should be preserved the material wealth which should be utilized in the proper way for the benefit of mankind. Otherwise it is the material wealth that will cause or becomes instrumental for the downfall of the individual. It is only when people have these noble values, they will be able to preserve their material wealth and make good use of it.
Adi Sankarachchariya has shown six forms of wealth (calmness of mind, self-control, forbearance, faith, self-withdrawal and single-pointedness) which should be cultivated to attain wisdom. These virtues are vital, because victory over the mind is the goal. Thus it is clear that Goddess Luxmi embodies infinite wealth – symbolizing that good and noble qualities are the only wealth that will permanently remain with us.
Gold coins flowing from her hand signifies that anyone who worship her with devotion gains wealth.
She wears gold and red saree. Red symbolizes activity and the golden lining symbolizes prosperity. She is the creative energy of Lord Vishnu.
The two elephants springing water represents ceaseless effort in accordance with one’s dharma and governed by wisdom and purity, leads to both material and spiritual prosperity.
Goddess Luxmi is the embodiment of beauty, charm and grace. Goddess Luxmi represents the ability to enjoy, share and love, made possible by self-purification and the recognition of the divine manifest in all.
Goddess Luxmi symbolizes a more warm soothing and approachable mother figure because she plays the role of a mediator between Lord Vishnu and his devotees. She is the mother who grants wealth according to the need of her children.
Finally, she is considered as a household deity. There is a belief among the Hindus that she visits every home during this festival as well as during the Deepavali festival.
The word Saraswathi is of Sanskrit origin. This word originally derived from its root ‘Sr’ which means to move or to flow. Later the word developed as ‘sara’ meaning to flow. The word ‘Saras’ also means fluid, and the word ‘wati’ means easily. If the words are joined it gives the sense ‘easily flowing energy’. There are numerous references bearing the name of Saraswathi in the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures.
The notable features are the white Lotus, white swan, pearls and pitcher around her symbolize the association of Goddess Saraswathi with water. Moreover, the colour of these items together with her saree that she wears, predominates her personage alludes to purity, tranquility and equanimity.
Again, the word ‘saras’ means ‘essence’ while the word ‘swa’ means self. Thus it gives the meaning the essence of self. As Goddess Saraswathi is depicted as the consort of Brahma, it symbolizes that knowledge and creation are in harmony.
Goddess Saraswathi is considered by the Hindus as the mother of the Vedas. She is the Goddess of knowledge, education, music and arts. Accordingly she represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.
She is portrayed as seated on a rock alongside a pool with a swan nearby and with four hands and dressed in white saree. The rock symbolizes that knowledge is firm as the rock and cannot be destroyed.
Her four hands symbolize four aspects of human personality in learning, namely mind, intellect, alertness and ego. The two front arms signify her activity in the physical world – the front right hand represents the mind while the front left hand represents the intellect. The two rear arms signify her presence in the spiritual world – The rear right hand represents the ego while the rear left hand represents the conditional consciousness. The left side of the body symbolizes qualities of the heart, while the right side of the body symbolizes activities of the mind and intellect.
Against such a background, it is essential to analyse the function of every hand which hold specific items.
She holds a book with her rear left hand. This is symbolic of knowledge and intellectual excellence. It also signifies that acquisition of such knowledge should be utilized for the benefit of mankind. Knowledge is everlasting and cannot be diminished.
She holds a rosary with her rear right hand. This symbolizes concentration, meditation and contemplation leading to union with God. This symbolizes meditative process in the acquisition of knowledge.
Her front hands hold a Veena with which she plays the music of love. This symbolizes mind and intellect. The front left hand on the top of the Veena closer to the heart represents the intellect. This conveys the message that an individual must tune his mind and intellect if he were to live in perfect harmony with the world. Such harmonious living enables an individual to utilize the acquired knowledge for the benefit of the entire mankind. In the story of Mahishasura, since he failed to utilize the acquired boon he was instrumental for his own destruction on account of his egoism. The front right hand on the bottom of the Veena represents the mind and demonstrates that negative knowledge should be kept under control.
The Veena demonstrates to the potential for the negative and positive purposes of knowledge. The Veena points to the collective sound of all our thoughts and actions as it is manifest as music in the cosmic universe – it makes the withdrawal of the senses and the focus needed to attain knowledge. Goddess Saraswathi is the mother as embodiment of Knowledge, depicted in pure-white saree, symbolizes the illumination of the Supreme Truth. Knowledge cannot be destroyed and will last forever and will always lend a helping hand.
There is a swan by the side of her. As the swan is capable of separating the milk from water, it conveys the message that a person with wisdom has the capacity to demonstrate the discriminatory power between the good and the bad, the right and wrong, the real and the unreal, and the eternal and evanescent or impermanent. Moreover, the nature of Swan is that it floats in above the water in a state of Samadhi. Swan symbolizes purity. There is also a peacock depicted beside her. The nature of the peacock has unpredictable behaviour, as its moods can be influenced by the change of weather. Therefore the peacock symbolizes arrogance and pride over its beauty. This is the reason why Goddess Saraswathi has not preferred to choose peacock and preferred swan as her vehicle. This sends the message that an individual should be calm, fearless and not fickle minded if he or she were to acquire true knowledge. She is not concerned with external appearance. Moreover, the bird Swan in Sanskrit is called Hamsa. Hence, Goddess Saraswathi is referred to as Hamsa-vahini when she uses the swan as her vehicle.
Finally, it can be observed that Goddess Saraswathi is adorned heavily with jewels and gold and rich clothes and this sends the message her preference towards knowledge over worldly material things.
Therefore, it is time to realize the symbolic messages of Navarathri, as the celebration is a call to the higher mind, the beginning of a deep desire to understand the purposes and meaning of life and not to engage in destructive practices, especially in South Asia.
SALUTATIONS TO GODDESS SAKTHI.
Ramayana and Maha Bharatha
God as Mother by Swami Sivananda