Devi"To know the Goddess is to experience Being-Consciousness and bliss itself. But Devi demands total surrender on the part of her followers before she condescends to reveal herself in her divine state. Her fervent devotees must learn to see her presence in all things. She must become the bedrock and the meaning of their life. Then, and only then, can they aspire to experience her blessings in their totality."
The eternal, ageless Divine Feminine
by Rita Smith
"By you this universe is borne, By you this world is created, O Devi, by you it is protected." (Devi-Mahatmya).
Throughout India, devotees honour Devi in their temples and at wayside shrines. Flowers garland her image with brightness, the light of countless lamps illuminate her presence and the blood of thousands of animals stains the stones of her altars crimson.
The Goddess is older than time, yet time itself. She is formless, yet to be found in all forms. Her presence is in all things, yet she transcends all things. She is ever-changing, yet eternally changeless. She is both the womb from which all life flows forth and the tomb to which all life returns. Devi the Shining One source of the life-giving powers of the universe, who is experienced by her ecstatic worshipers as the Primal Cause and Mother of the World.
Pre-dating the patriarchal Male Trinity by thousands of years, the Goddess was once worshipped throughout the ancient world. Now, only in India does her cult remain widespread and part of a vibrant, living tradition in which her presence empowers and stirs the hearts of her devotees with adoration and devotion.
The veneration of Devi can be traced as far back as 20,000 BC. A bone image of the Great Mother was discovered at Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh dating back to that period. She was also revered at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley from 2,500 BC.
Closely associated with the land itself, villagers in rural India paid tribute to the Earth Goddess, adorning branches of trees and placing shrines within them which carried her image. Smooth, oval- shaped stones also marked her sacred sites.
Women were her channels and it was through them her rituals were performed, rites for the dead and ceremonies to promote fertility and fruitfulness of the land.
The Goddess reigned supreme until the patriarchal Aryans invaded the country in 1500 BC. The Harappan culture declined as these nomadic herding people initiated a new age in which their male Gods became predominent. But the worship of Devi could not be entirely suppressed. It was absorbed and transformed to accommodate the new situation.
The Goddess became united in a Divine Marriage with the Gods of the Male Trinity: Sarasvati with Brahma, Lakshmi with Vishnu, and Parvati, Kali and Durga with Siva. Once given a priestly blessing, veneration of the Goddess as the God's consort was incorporated in the regular rituals. As Sakti, she became the powerful spiritual energy without which the God was unable to act.
The Goddess is multi-faceted, known by myriad names and personified in many forms. As well as responding to the names of Parvati, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Sakti, she also manifests under the titles of Gauri, Uma, Sati, Aditi, Maya, Ganga, Prakriti, Gayatri, Tara, Minaksi, Mahadevi, Kundalini, Durga, Kali, Chamunda and in many other guises.
The great mountain peaks of the Himalayas Annapurna, Nanda Devi and Chomo-Lung-Ma (known to Westerners as the world's highest mountain, Everest) all testify to her divine presence.
Like the facets of a diamond, these varying forms of the Great Universal Energy that is Devi are merely reflections of the countless aspects that make the whole, the Absolute.
Creator and Preserver
As Virgin and Mother, the Goddess is considered to be the very spring from which every kind of love flows into the world. From the vast ocean of her being the morphogenetic field that produces all forms the Goddess gives birth to all living things. The pouring forth of this love-energy from her timeless, formless source into the field of time constitutes a sacred mystery.
Representations of the Goddess as a crouching woman giving birth to the manifold forms of her creation can be found in Indian art. As the Sky-Goddess Aditi, she pervades all space and is mother to the Gods so revered by the Indo-Aryans. Maya the Sanskrit word for"magic"And" illusion"describes her role as the originator of all material things, all that is perceptible to the senses.
Displaying the protective and maternal side of her nature, she revels in her multitudinous manifestations and joyfully embraces the bounty of her gifts. Sculptures adorning Hindu temples frequently depict the Virgin Goddess as a young, beautiful and voluptuous woman. Sometimes she stands on her own, at others she is paired with her God-consort.
As Earth Mother, she is also a deity closely associated with Nature and fertility. Images of her priestesses, the Yoginis and Saktas, often incorporate organic forms such as branches or vines, symbolising Nature in its most instinctive form, proliferous and fruitful. Plants, leaves and flowers are commonly used in Indian medicine and, when they appear in portrayals of the Earth Mother they are considered to reflect the magical powers with which she is endowed.
Although on one level, her naked body signifies the physical beauty and attraction of the Eternal Feminine, it also symbolises the discarding of illusion and, therefore, freedom from attachment.
Adorned with jewels and ornaments, she represents all that is precious. She alone is the eternal jewel whose brilliance encompasses and illuminates the universe.
Carved images of the Goddess and her Yoginis formulate the visual language which conveys the essence of the philosophy lying at the core of her worship, which is so little understood by most Westerners. Gazing at sculptures depicting the joyous physical expression of love, they tend to miss the symbolism of the divine ecstasy associated with the union of male and female energies that transcend, transform and liberate the soul from the wheel of karma.
One of the most ancient cults of the Goddess is that of Sarasvati, who is both worshipped as a sacred river of the same name and as the instigator and protectress of the spoken word, as well as all intellectual and artistic pursuits.
One of the most recent forms of her manifestation is that of Bharat Mata, Mother India, a militant aspect of the Goddess that is much concerned with the cause of Hindu nationalism.
Another manifestation is that of the beneficent Lakshmi, bringer of prosperity and abundance. During the autumn festival of Diwali, people all over the country light lamps in her honour to guide her into their homes.
The Goddess is also revered as Sati the pre-Vedic Virgin Bride who epitomises the loyal and virtuous wife who is faithful to her husband even unto death. This idea of wifely perfection is dear to the Indian way of thinking. Although in a metaphysical sense it means Sati is totally at one with her own true being, it is also an ethical concept. Sadly, the idea of the"perfect wife"Who is faithful unto death developed into the practice of suttee, in which a dutiful spouse was expected to accompany her husband to the world beyond through self-immolation voluntarily or otherwise in the flames of his funeral pyre.
In her aspect of the Great Mother, Devi's devotees believe the presence of the Goddess exists within all her creations. She is their Mother. She gives them life. She nurtures them through her physical manifestations and she is present in their times of need. Through her worship, too, her devotees can transcend the world of illusion and reach out to her true being.
To know the Goddess is to experience Being-Consciousness and bliss itself. But Devi demands total surrender on the part of her followers before she condescends to reveal herself in her divine state. Her fervent devotees must learn to see her presence in all things. She must become the bedrock and the meaning of their life. Then, and only then, can they aspire to experience her blessings in their totality.
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