In the run up to Navratri, the nine nights of celebrating the Goddess, I find myself drawn once again into the endlessly fascinating exploration of her being. The mystique of the Goddess pulls me in.
She is not a plain, one dimensional figure and I like that. For which woman is? The Goddess is heroic, erotic, impetuous, wild, kind, ruthless, terrifying, loving. I can see why she appeals to me. She is a little like me and I want to be more like her. But I wonder why she occupies such a prominent place in all of the Hindu psyche.
Almost all religious traditions have feminine imagery and feminine aspects of the divine, however they remain mostly on the fringes these days eclipsed by their male counterparts. Not so in the Hindu tradition where the Goddess reigns supreme.
Which begs the question, how did that come to be?
In my quest for an answer I start with the Devi Mahatmyam literally translated as The Glory of the Goddess. I have often heard bits of it chanted during various festivals and rituals so it seems like a good first stop. Turns out it is.
The Devi Mahatmyam I find out very quickly is one of the key Hindu texts and lies at the very centre of the Shakti tradition of Hinduism. It was composed in Sanskrit around 400-500 CE by the rishi (seer-sage) Markandeya and is part of the longer Markandeya Purana.
And the interesting thing is, even though it comes from a purana (an ancient text or tale that supplements the Vedas), the Devi Mahatmyam enjoys the exalted status of a shruti or revealed knowledge which is otherwise accorded only to the Vedas! Each of its 700 verses, Spatashati, are seen as powerful mantras and the whole text one great Mahamantra.
“Just as the Vedas have no beginning, so is Spatashati considered”
— Bhuvaneswari samhita
So here was a text of Vedic stature dedicated entirely to the Goddess, extolling her powers and virtues. In it somewhere, I thought I’d find the answer to my question.
Imagine my delight then when I discover that the Devi Mahatmyam is the answer. This 5th century text is what shaped our view of the Goddess.
Find out how it did that in the following posts.