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Bhagavati: The essence of the Goddess

Mann Ki Baat @100Bhagavati: The essence of the Goddess

The people of India have quickened their interest in our classics, in our ancient historiography, and in the complex theology that was taught in tomes handed over by the ancients. In this, the Mother Goddess towers over all else. But what is Bhagavati or the Goddess? It is easier to answer this question with another, rather than a direct and therefore, very long answer. What is Bhagavati not?
The literal meaning of the word Bhagavati is that which has the ability to be the skyness of the Sky, the oceanness of the Ocean and so on. Bhagavati forms the essence of everything. It is obviously, only Bhagavati (and Bhagavaan, the male version of Bhagavati), which has this limitless capability.
The meaning of Bhagavati to each person depends largely on the devotee her/himself. It could be a bindu or a dot in the middle of the Shri Chakram. For she is completely esoteric. Bhagavati is each of many, many concepts, some with only tiny differences in iconography.
There is an ocean of sugarcane juice surrounding the Devi’s island home. Tara is the deity who ferries people to Manidveepa, which is this island on which Bhagavati’s house, the Chintamani exists. Remember the terrible flooding in the mountains in year 2013? En route to Shri Kedarnath Dham, there was a temple to Dharii Devi. She is another name for Tara. Dharii Devi’s temple was on the banks of the Alakananda river. This river used to caress the bottom of the Dharii Devi temple. Proximity to water is a must as far as Tara is concerned. By a feat of extraordinary engineering, the Dharii Devi temple was raised from the valley through which Alakananda flowed, to about 300 feet to the edge of the sinuously winding mountain highway. The locals had begged the authorities to desist in this. They were sure that disaster was sure to follow. Alakananda rose up to stroke the newly elevated Dharii Devi temple, submerging the surrounding areas in Her watery hug.
Any pursuit of “progress” which chooses to ignore local wisdom could result in major setbacks rather than get the expected advantages. There needs to be no lack of knowledge in our own ancient teachings and wisdom. The Indian idea of progress has from uncounted millennia back taken care to address the welfare of all elements in society rather than bestow favours selectively. A thought that once again leaps back to life in the concept of progress by all, progress for all.
Shri Aadi Shankara’s Soundarya Lahari describes the wonderful place where Bhagavati sits. In the Chintamani Gruha, or house, there is a bed on which the mattress is Shiva Himself. The four legs of this bed are Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha and Eashana. In the Shri Lalita Sahasranaama, there is a phrase which goes: “Karaanguli Nakholpanna/Naaraayana Dashaakrithi”.
The translation is thus. With Her ten fingernails, She made the ten incarnations of Shri Maha Vishnu, starting from the Matsya (Fish) Avataar and going up to Kalki Avataar (that Avataar of Shri Maha Vishnu yet to come to annihilate the entity Kali). Such is the depiction of Devi’s power. Of course, the Shiva Puraanam puts Shiva at the very top just as the Shrimad Bhaagavatham extols Shri Maha Vishnu in that position.
With our earth as the middle world, it is said that there are seven netherworlds and seven worlds above. Even the Devas need to come down to the earth to receive fire oblations. It is said that the Bhagavati rose from the north-east corner of this earth. One legend has it that Ghenghis Khan of Mongolia was an accomplished tantric and a worshipper of the Goddess. It is altogether a different point that the native Chinese hated the Mongols. The cultural differences between the ancient ways of the Mongols and the indigent Chinese people was even more marked than that of the present day Han and the Uyghurs.
Shiva and Shakti are considered to be the primal parents of the whole of creation. Shiva, also known as Sthanu, is purusha, the unmoving. Shakti is prakriti or nature and is forever in motion. In the terminology of physics, Shiva is potential energy, while Shakti is kinetic energy. There has to be a balance between Shiva and Shakti for a perfect world. Left to Himself, Shiva would withdraw into deep meditation, leaving the place icy and uninhabitable. Prakriti would run riot without the grounding of Shiva. This is where the importance of both Shiva and Shakti comes into play.
Along with the bindu in the Shri Chakram, we have the opulent Shri Tripura Sundari. In the Ramayana, we see various arrows like the Agni Astra (fire) being deployed and then being destroyed by the Varuna Astra (water). Likewise we have the Nageshwari, a Goddess sitting on a snake with its raised hood acting like an umbrella. She is pictured holding a snake in each hand. Along with Her, we have Shri Nakhudi, the mongoose-faced Goddess. These are manifestations of opposite powers. It is only when all the powers are in balance that there is plurality and abundance of choice. An option of just one can never be termed a choice. And certainly it cannot be said that there is any scarcity of choice in the theological tapestry that has been formed in our country from many millennia of history.
There is Bhagavati as a young girl, or Baalaa. We have Vanadurga, who is a venerable old lady. This is yet another example of the range of choices present.
One of the wisest people this writer had the honour to meet, resolved seeming conflicts in a very easy way. This is what he said : Imagine that Bhagavati being called “Krooracheshta” or She who is cruel as the right hand side of a table. Her being called “Dayaasindho” or Ocean of Kindness is the left hand side of that very table. These are certainly in opposition to each other. But then Divinity is the floor on which these contradictions are placed and is consequently much deeper than what is seen on the surface.
Just as the manifestations of the Goddess are myriad, so are the methods of worshipping Her, as well as the results She bestows after such worship. A simply clad, ascetic with a veena (Indian lute), book and prayer beads in Her hand is the Saraswati that seekers after knowledge would go to. Mastering the Saraswat Mantram would be one of the ways of pleasing Her.
The flamboyant spouse of Shri Maha Vishnu, Shri Maha Lakshmi is worshipped with golden vessels, red lotuses and She is decorated in elaborate jewellery and costly silks. Shri Suktham, Kanakadhaaraasthavam etc are used to hymn Her.
Shri Maha Kali needs blood and meat to keep Her Veeryam or warrior like-mien. A non-vegetarian human being can partake of a vegetarian fare. But it is not possible for a vegetarian to eat non-vegetarian food. One can worship a Shanta Durga with incantations which are as tender as breast milk as well. But if the chosen Deity is a Shri Por Kali (Anger of the Battle), She is best pleased with a different kind of worship.
It has become quite the vogue, especially for politicians and business rivals to do a “Shatru Samhaara Puja”, or a puja to destroy enemies. Many priests are making a financial killing out of these pujas. Certain things have to be kept in mind when indulging in these so-called spiritual gimmicks. Many of these rituals are akin to dealing with raw nuclear energy, without protective clothing. If the person against whom such pujas are done have their own private worship and psychic protection, the inimical energy sent against them will boomerang right back on to the sender. Doing such actions will always result in paying a hefty “spiritual price”. As such it is necessary that one builds up one’s own spiritual bank before attempting purely Tantric rites. Some texts even describe Shava saadhana, in which fresh corpses are supposed to be animated to do the bidding of the saadhak or practitioner.
The Ashttoththaram says: “Bhaavanaa Maathra Santhushta/Hridayaaye Namo Namo”.
The translation is that the Devi is pleased with just the purity of intentions.
The Goddess looks at what is in the heart and is able to see the core of it clearly. It is always better that a true Guru (the Goddess Herself can be that, with Her Grace) guides an individual to what form of the Goddess has to be worshipped, can be worshipped without any side effects.
With the kinds of worship of the Goddess available, very often, one has only to gaze at Her manifold splendour to be filled with love and delight. This very adoring gaze would itself make for a complete method of worshipping the precious entity we refer to as the Goddess.

  • Thiruvathira Tirunal Lakshmi Bayi is XII Princess of the
    erstwhile state of Travancore.

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