[Advaita-l] Mother Goddess - 1

V. Krishnamurthy profvk at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 30 08:36:31 CDT 2003

Mother Goddess, in Hindu Thought and Culture


Om Sri mAtre namah.


1.    The primeval energy


One of the unique features of Hinduism is the fact that it conceives Divinity also as Mother Goddess. Even religions which clearly assert that Divinity has no name or form, other than Hinduism, do not take the next logical step of accepting that the Supreme God has no specificity in terms of gender. It is only in Hinduism that we see the Ultimate Power is also expressed in feminine terms. It must be said to the credit of the Upanishadic seers that they categorically asserted that real Godhead has to transcend a gender-specific connotation and invented therefore the unique word ‘Tat’ – meaning ‘that’ – for that Divinity. And therefore, they argued, whatever reason or rhyme we have in referring to God by a masculine pronoun, the same right there is for us to call God by a feminine pronoun. 


In fact they go further.  They conceive the energy of every Cosmic Divinity as feminine and thus arrive at the interesting concept of primordial Power or the ParA-shakti.  In Science, matter is fundamental and self-existent; its motive power is Energy. In Hindu Vedanta on the other hand, Energy is self-existent and Matter is the product of  Energy.  It is this ever-present Energy that is called ParA-shakti. Without this ParA-shakti’s life-giving inspiration, the Creator BrahmA cannot do his creative function, Vishnu cannot perform his sustenance function, nor can Rudra contribute to the Cosmic ecology by His dissolution function at the time of pralaya, which must follow all creation, in due time. That is why She is called (LalitA-sahasranAma) “SrshhTi-kartrI brahma-rUpA goptrI govinda-rUpiNI; samhAriNI rudra-rUpA ....”. The concept of Shakti as the essence of everything is non-existent in the western culture. Modern Physics, however, shows signs of reversing that trend of tho


2. Brahman to be known, Shakti to be worshipped


The primordial ParA-shakti is therefore the ultimate dynamic Energy of that transcendental Para-Brahman, than which there is no other existence. In fact it is technically inaccurate to say that She is the Energy of the Para-Brahman, because the nature of the latter does not allow any attributes or predicates for it. When we attribute anything to the Para-Brahman we have already delimited and circumscribed it. When we talk of the Energy of the Ultimate Reality we have already come one step down from the supreme pedestal of the Unmanifested Ultimate. But the beauty of Hindu philosophy is that this ParA-shakti Herself is transcendent beyond anything that is finite and immanent in everything there is and therefore while we predicate it, and relate it to other things, it is still the Ultimate Supreme that can be talked about.


 While Brahman has only to be cognised, ParA-shakti can be worshipped by the methods of SaguNopAsanA, that is, worship by a form and name. She is the Divine Will personified. She is the Conscious Power behind everything. She is the Presence, invisible and constant, which sustains the world, linking form and name, holding them in inter-dependence. There is nothing impossible for Her. She is the Universal Goddess. She is all knowledge, all strength, all triumph and all victory. She is the Maheshvari who brings to us the total state of illumination.


3.  She is Many-One


She is in fact the Mother of the Universe. She creates, She preserves, She dissolves. She is the ‘sat’, therefore creates: She is the ‘chit’, therefore is Life; She is the Ananda, therfefore is bliss. At the same time She must be the possessor and controller of the opposite qualities also, namely, Destruction, Death and Terror. It is in these latter three facets that She manifests Herself as MahA-KALi: the Goddess of supreme strength. All might and power that is anywhere has to bow down to Her prowess. She is MahA-lakshmi, the supreme Goddess of Love and Delight and She gives the Grace and Charm to everything that is divine or human. She is MahA-Sarasvati, the Goddess of divine skill and knowledge. She is the fire-fighter and trouble-shooter for the entire universe. 


She does not have to descend from Her heights of Glory and Majesty and limit Herself to a human birth as the other divinities like Vishnu and Shiva do. She manifests Herself just when She wills it and She demanifests also just like that. The supreme examples of such manifestation and non-manifestation are narrated in that wonderful book called ‘ChanDi’ or ‘durgA-sapta-shati’ or ‘devI-mAhAtmyaM’. This book which is, by some accounts, one of the upa-purANas, is not just a narrative poem describing the exploits of ParA-shakti. It is a book of mantras. Every verse therein has a mantra value and is capable of producing spiritual and occult vibrations which will result not only in the spiritual elevation of mankind but in their material benefit also. Let us spend just a little time on why this is so.


4.  She is Herself the Para-brahman


Whenever any cosmic divinity acts it has to draw the energy to act from that infinite source of energy, the transcendent Para-brahman. The power, the life-giving inspiration to act and the dynamism for the Will, all of these come from that ultimate source. This source is the ParA-shakti, an infinite reservoir of Energy.  It is the dynamic expression of the Infinite Actionless Unmanifested Para-brahman. That is why whenever we think of Her, whenever we invoke Her, whenever we fill our heart and mind with Her exploits by reading the ‘ChanDi’ not only are we elevated spiritually but the very atmosphere is lifted to a higher level of enlightenment, brilliance and radiance. She is the only Divinity who is amenable both for worship by means of saguNopAsanA (that is, worship through form and name) and for cognition through nirguNopAsanA, that is worship of the Unmanifested and Attributeless. 


In the case of the other Gods if one is inclined towards nirguNopAsanA one has to sublimate their forms, transcend them and reach the heights of the inexpressible ecstasies of the ‘experience’ of brahman. But in the case of parA-shakti there is nothing beyond Her. You may worship Her as a Goddess with form and attributes or you may imagine that Energy to be abstract and therefore has to be only cognised and felt in your bones. She is Herself the para-brahman becuse brahman cannot be cognised any other way except through its dynamic expression of Will which is the PrakRti or MayA, through the visible form of parA-shakti. Thus the Mother Goddess admits of the full range of bhakti as well as the highest sophistication of jnAna yoga or Raja-yoga. In one case She is the Mother whose form we adore in one of several forms resplendent in the numerous temples with any one of Her more than thousand names. And in the other case She is the KunDalinI shakti who is present as the dormant e
 nergy in
 every one of us.


5.  Cow worship


Another traditional way in which the Mother Goddess worship manifests itself is the worship of the cow. There are great religious obligations in respect of the cow, on which the economy of the society is based in India. Ancient tradition very thoughtfully developed certain practices – which are unfortunately disappearing because of the craze for urbanization of everything – to be observed in every household that will provide good care of the cows. All kitchen garbage like plantain leaves, skins of all fruits and vegetables, water used for washing rice and water that remains after boiling rice in it, -- all these used to be kept neatly and hygenically, thus providing good fodder for the cows in the house at almost no cost. 


Since the family, and not the individual, is considered in Hindu codes of ethics as the basic unit for all purposes, the entire economy of the society was based on the concept of rearing and nurturing every member (young and old) of the family including the cow. In fact the cow worship may be considered as a perfect blend of science and spirituality. The cow dung and cow urine should go back to the earth. This is an ecological requirement. There is said to be enough evidence to show the capability of cowdung-coated walls to prevent nuclear radiation. Mother Goddess is said to reside at the hind part of the cow. The worship of the cow is equivalent to the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. Cow slaughter is therefore considered as one of the greatest of sinful acts in Hinduism.


6.  Tulasi as Mother Goddess


Tulasi plant is regarded as Mother Goddess Herself, in Her form as Lakshmi.  The plant itself possesses remarkable physical and spiritual healing properties. It prevents soil erosion.  It is also extensively used to maintain ritual purity and to purify oneself when polluted. A mere presence of the Tulasi plant in an enshrined fashion keeps the entire home pure, peaceful and harmonious. There is a whole plethora of purAnic stories about how Tulasi came to be worshipped on earth.   Most of the  the traditions about tulasi are also confirmed by practical efficacy.


7.  Why is the Goddess pictured as ‘terrible’?


In the form of MahA-kALi She may appear terrible and frightening but She is so only to the  enemies of Dharma. She is the one God who has no portfolio in the Hindu theology.  Every other God has some function to perform. Her only function is to pour forth Love and Grace. She is crystal-like pure, “nitya-shuddhA”. She can make us also so. It is for that purpose as it were, She is keeping so many weapons with Her in Her MahA-kALi form. 


Hinduism has been criticised for its seeming show of violence, since almost all its God-images have weapons in their hands. But the esoteric significance is that the dirt in our mind is so deep-rooted and dense that even the MahA-kALi has to use all Her weaponry to destroy them.  The bow and arrows She keeps are for vanquishing our senses and the mind. The pariga (=iron club) in Her hand is for hitting hard at our bad vAsanAs every time they rear their head and for striking at our desires. The skull She holds in Her hand is that of our ego cut off by the sword of enlightenment (= jnAnAsinA, acc. to the Lord of the GitA) which She displays in another hand. 

(To be Continued)


PraNAms to all devotees of Mother Goddess



Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
My website on Science and Spirituality is http://www.geocities.com/profvk/
You can  access my book on Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought Vision and Practice,  and my father R. Visvanatha Sastri's manuscripts from the site.

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