It is that glorious time of year again when the seasons turn and we move from summer into autumn and nature takes on a new dramatic hue. In the Hindu calendar it marks the end of Pitru Paksha, the fortnight of the ancestors and beginning of Devi Paksha, the fortnight of the Goddess.
It is believed that on the onset of Devi Paksha, the Goddess begins her journey to earth where she stays for the next nine nights and is worshipped in her many wonderful avatars.
She is worshipped as Durga, the destroyer of Evil, as Laxmi the bestower of wealth and abundance and as Saraswati, the fountain of wisdom and learning.
She is Prakriti, Nature, who creates, sustains and destroys all. It is through her that everything exists and ceases to exist. She is the all encompassing Shakti, the embodiment of female energy.
Across India, exuberant celebrations mark the nine nights of Navratri. Fervent prayers and fasting during the day give way to dancing, singing and rejoicing through the night. It is time for introspection and rejuvenation. It is time to discover the Goddess.
Speaking of which, isn’t it strange that in a land where the Goddess is worshipped as the supreme Shakti and adored as the Mother, the women she represents are often treated so very badly?
The Goddess is a Woman
Incidents of shocking abuse and degradation of women make the news almost every day. Some of them are horrifying enough to shake up the nation but so many others are not even noticed.
The idea of male superiority runs deep in our society and is flaunted quite shamelessly in our faces under the name of ‘our culture’, our sanskriti.
When did we lose sight of our real culture?
Shiva is incomplete without Shakti, the scriptures tell us. While Shiva is the dormant energy, it is Shakti that brings forth the Cosmos.
The Goddess in her many forms plays a dominant role in Hindu mythology. The epics revolve around strong women who were not afraid to stand up to men who tried to control them. Tales of women who ruled great Kingdoms or brought them to their knees, abound in Indian folklore.
And yet today, the average Indian woman lives a very different reality. It is time now, more than ever I think, to reflect on this great disconnect.
I watched a moving speech yesterday on YouTube by Emma Watson, the Harry Potter star, on feminism and gender equality. She was speaking at a United Nations’ launch of a new campaign called ‘He For She’. An attempt to get men on board this age old fight for equality.
I would say, in India we need to start with a ‘She For She’ campaign. Before a man can acknowledge the Shakti in a woman, a woman must recognise it in herself and in other women. She must truly understand the goddesses she has known all her life, so that she may discover her own strengths.
Durga was as fierce as she was fearless when she fought the demon Mahishasur.
Parvati created a child for herself from clay and scrubbings of her own body. The same loving Parvati transformed into the terrifying Kali when she needed to protect her child.
Laxmi may be the consort of the Lord of the Universe but she is in no way his inferior. Wealthy in her own right, she stands by his side as an equal.
Saraswati preferred to walk away from her Creator rather than suffer his indiscretions. She was happy to walk her solitary path lost in her books and music and art. She has no need of partners or temples.
Savitri conquered Death to save her husband’s life.
Sita walked out on her husband, the Lord Ram himself, when he chose to humiliate her. The stories go on and on….
Mrinal Pandey says it beautifully in her book called Devi,
These were Goddesses that no God could control.
“One, cannot however,” she adds in the same breath, “ come by such power easily. Like Durga, all those that wish to ride a lion need be proud, and watchful of compromises even if it means losing security and friends…
A fitting message on Navratri, I believe, for all us women who need to stand up and change the narrative. Especially privileged ones like you and me, so that the less fortunate may one day find the goddess within.
And in celebration of women, I leave you with a heart warming photo of a group scientist celebrating the success of the Mars Mission !