Continued from Part 1
Birth of the Mighty Goddess
The story of Durga is the story of one such moment in the evolutionary history of earth. Though this battle takes place on the subtle planes its repercussions are felt upon earth and humanity.
Mahishāsura performed a tapasyā to appease Lord Brahma to get the boon of immortality. Brahma told him that this is not in his hands since he cannot change the cosmic law. At best he can modify some of the conditions therein. We may remember here how Nachiketa is told by Yama, the guardian of the cosmic law that even the gods know not the secret of immortality of man. This is so because man carries the secret within himself. It is embedded in his secret immortal soul. By finding the soul man discovers the first key to immortality, the key that will open the other doors for him that will eventually lead him even to physical immortality. Gods know it not because they do not have the psychic being which is a unique grace given to man through which man can directly contact the Supreme. It is man’s secret door in matter for coming in contact with the Supreme divine who is beyond all the Gods.
Coming back to our story, the boon of immortality denied as it is not even in the hands of the cosmic powers to grant it, the demon king chose the next best alternative. He asked that neither a man nor a god may be able to fell him. In asking this he either ignorantly or deliberately underestimated the feminine power.
Drunk with pride and the feeling of invulnerability due to the boon Mahishāsura attacked the heavens and started creating havoc upon heaven and earth. The gods could not defeat him and hence they went to Brahma to seek a way out of the impasse. It is then that the Goddess Durga was born with a portion of each god thereby incarnating in her body all the celestial powers of the gods.
While describing the boon that would ensure the birth of the Divine Mother as Savitri in an exquisitely beautiful passage, Sri Aurobindo reveals hints and glimpses of what this may mean. Though in this passage, the Master Poet is revealing to us the secret of the Avatār, we feel in it the tremendous moment when the Gods must have come together to give form and shape to the mighty Mother as Durga, the formidable slayer of the demon hordes.
O strong forerunner, I have heard thy cry.
One shall descend and break the iron Law,
Change Nature’s doom by the lone spirit’s power.
A limitless Mind that can contain the world,
A sweet and violent heart of ardent calms
Moved by the passions of the gods shall come.
All mights and greatnesses shall join in her;
Beauty shall walk celestial on the earth,
Delight shall sleep in the cloud-net of her hair,
And in her body as on his homing tree
Immortal Love shall beat his glorious wings.
A music of griefless things shall weave her charm;
The harps of the Perfect shall attune her voice,
The streams of Heaven shall murmur in her laugh,
Her lips shall be the honeycombs of God,
Her limbs his golden jars of ecstasy,
Her breasts the rapture-flowers of Paradise.
She shall bear Wisdom in her voiceless bosom,
Strength shall be with her like a conqueror’s sword
And from her eyes the Eternal’s bliss shall gaze.
A seed shall be sown in Death’s tremendous hour,
A branch of heaven transplant to human soil;
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will.
(CWSA, Vol. 33, p. 346)
The Mighty Goddess
The mighty Mother is born which means that she takes upon herself a limited form. The form depicted in the story of Durga is evidently on the subtle planes where each of her hands represents the power of the one of the gods. The Lion is symbol of quiet power, a strength that can tear through the very body of the asura and repel his advance.
She challenges Mahishāsura who laughs with pride not knowing that nemesis follows hubris. He sends his generals from the demon army who are all slain by the mighty ten-armed goddess who is dear to Shiva since she is born out of the tremendous energy of Shiva. She comes riding on the lion with her trident in hand. She is beautiful and strong and radiant scattering the darkness all around her.
We must however note that she is not a one-time conquest over Mahishāsura nor is the demon limited by a one-time form depicted in the stories. The Titans are as much cosmic powers as the Gods. Even when the form of one particular titan is destroyed he assumes another form and even looks for human receptacles in whom he can incarnate and spread havoc and vitiate the earth atmosphere with forces of lust and greed and hate and spite and arrogance and falsehood and fill human hearts and minds with suffering born out of ignorance and egoism, create confusion by throwing upon man the spell and influence of an adverse asuric māya that creates wrong suggestions, wrong thoughts, wrong impulsions thereby ruining man’s life.
Each of the gods can send out many emanations out of itself. One such emanation of Durga is the presiding deity of India and guards her. It is her whom Sri Aurobindo invoked during the nationalist days to drive away the British and to inspire the countrymen to rise to nobility and courage and wisdom and strength. The beautiful invocation in ‘Hymn to Durga’ has a mantric power like the that of the mantras used in certain tantric rituals to invoke aspects and forms of the Divine Mother.
HYMN TO DURGA BY SRI AUROBINDO
(“For those who love India and wish to work for her greatness” — The Mother)
The Story and the Symbol
The story of Durga and her nine-day long battle with the asuric forces is narrated in the Purānas in a very interesting way which is at once symbolic and suggestive. The demon king assumes the form of a handsome man to woo her but the great goddess cannot be fooled by any māya, asuric or dāivic for she is Mahāmāya herself. Ultimately the demon is slain and his dark energy reabsorbed back into the mighty goddess.
The nine forms of the goddess form an ascending hierarchy of shakti or energy rising from the root chakra at the base of the spine, mulādhara, traveling upwards gaining strength and force and momentum with each upward gust and impulsion until it reaches the crown and passing beyond unites with its Lord. In this perfect union of the Divine Self and the Divine Energy awakening in matter lies the secret of perfection. This image of the perfect union of Shiva and Parvati (daughter of the Mountains) is depicted in legends of Parvati’s tapasyā and in the significant image of the Shivalingam.
When we look at the nine aspects and their powers we can immediately connect them to the process of awakening of the Kundalini, the Shakti of the Divine Mother coiled up at the base of the spine submerged in Matter. A quick glance can be taken of this as below.
Shailabāla: This suggests the awakening of the Divine Energy in matter. For Integral yoga it means a new possibility in matter.
Brahmachārini: This suggests that our consciousness and energies have now become one pointed towards the Goal.
Chandraghantā: Indicates Light dawning upon the mind like the waxing and waning moon.
Kusumanda: This symbolises consciousness concentrated with the heat of tapas, like an egg holding within it the new birth, the birth of the psychic being in us.
Skandamāta: The power born of the dual union of Divine and His Shakti that is the psychic being – it is this who will now become the leader of the march, the priest of the sacrifice, the head chieftain of the army of gods, devasenāpati.
Kātyāyani: The individual who has realized his soul now enters the world play and battles with the asura and darkness within and without. He assists the gods in the battle and becomes their companion in the cosmic yagna.
Kālarātri: All systems of thought, constructs of mind of good and evil and dualities of ego-self are now taken away. The field of nature ridden with limitations and ignorance is completely wiped away and becomes like a clean slate for the Infinite to manifest through finite forms.
Mahāgauri: With this clearing of the field of nature, one is ready to ascend into bright radiant purity of the great Goddess who is the divine consort of Shiva.
Siddhidātri: The Perfection that one discovers when the energy in matter finally meets the Lord and becomes one with Him.
This is the traditional Kundalini Yoga. In Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, however, the action of the Divine Shakti is from above downwards as a strong descending current transforming our fields of nature in a diviner mould.
Continued in Part 3
Navadurga — The Nine Forms of the Goddess
Also see: Open Your Soul to Her