"Just as Visnu ... Devi, too, promises to return if needed."
"Devi originated at a time of cosmic crisis and, consequently, her role seems very similar to that of Visnu in his many avataras (incarnations). Just as Visnu promised to manifest himself in order to protect the cosmic balance, Devi, too, promises to return if needed...
I am Nirguna. And when I am united with my sakti, maya, I become saguna, the Great Cause of this world. This maya is divided into two, Vidya and Avidya. Avidya maya hides me; whereas Vidya maya does not. Avidya creates whereas Vidya maya liberates. Devi-Bhagavatam 7. 32. 7-8"
"Therefore a person should ever strive for the destruction of ignorance, for one's birth is fruitful when ignorance is destroyed. One thereby attains the end of human existence and the state of being liberated while living."— The Divine Mother (Devi Gita 4.7-8)
The Metaphysical Goddess
"It is here, in the Devi-Mahatmya, that the concept of an all-inclusive Goddess is fully elucidated. Within a mythical framework of the Goddess's martial deeds, is the assertion that she is the Ultimate Reality, an idea transmitted by inference rather than in direct terms. Mythically, in order to conquer the asuras (demons) that threatened the very existence of the devas (gods), a supremely powerful goddess was created from the combined anger of the gods.
Then from Visnu's face, which was filled with rage, came forth a great fiery splendor (tejas), (and also from the faces) of Brahma and Siva. And from the bodies of the other gods, Indra and the others, came forth a fiery splendor, and it became unified in one place. An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain did the gods see there, filling the firmament with flames. That peerless splendour, born from the bodies of all the gods, unified and pervading the triple world with its lustre, became a woman. Devi Mahatmya 2. 9-12
The vital power that emanated from the gods took shape in the feminine form, and from there on was accepted as the Mahadevi, a supreme Goddess in her own right. She is entirely separate from the gods, the embodiment of sakti, and able to produce further powers of her own. When her work is done, she disappears; she does not return to her source, the gods. The text reinforces the conceptual notion of a Great Goddess, Mahadevi, the embodiment of power...
One of the most interesting facets of Devi's character in the Devi-Matahmya is her independence and her challenge to the stereotypes of goddesses previously presented. The Goddess here does not depend on a male consort, and successful manages male roles herself. In battle, for instance, she does not fight with male allies; if she needs assistance, she tends to create female helpers, like Kali, from herself. Her role as sakti also differs from that of the puranic goddesses as she does not empower the male deities. 'Unlike the normal female, Durga does not lend her powers or sakti to a male consort but rather takes power from the male gods in order to perform her own heroic exploits. They give up their inner strength, fire, and heat to create her and in so doing surrender their potency to her.'
The Devi-Mahatmya makes clear that the conceptual goddess cannot be easily categorized. The 'Goddess' so carefully outlined in the text leaves the reader in no doubt of the fluidity of her character. She is the personification of all aspects of energy, being simultaneously creative, preservative and destructive.
By you is everything supported, by you is the world created; by you is it protected, O Goddess, and you always consume (it) at the end (of time). At (its) emanation you have the form of creation, in (its) protection (you have) the form of steadiness; likewise at the end of this world (you have) the form of destruction. O you who consist of this world! You are the great knowledge (mahavidya), the great illusion (mahamaya), the great insight (mahamedha), the great memory, and the great delusion, the great Goddess (mahadevi), the great demoness (mahasuri). Devi-Mahatmya 1. 56-8
This verse makes it clear that the all-encompassing Goddess in this text represents all aspects of power and energy, both positive and negative, as she is described as devi (goddess) and asuri (demoness). The Devi of the Devi-Mahatmya is fully equated with Ultimate Reality, presented as the power behind the functions of the trimurti, the triad of deities — Visnu, Siva and Brahma — who are responsible of the preservation, dissolution and creation of the universe respectively:
You are the primordial material (praktri) of everything, manifesting the triad of constituent strands, the night of destruction (periodic dissolution), the great night (final dissolution), and the terrible night of delusion. Devi-Mahatmya 1. 59
Devi originated at a time of cosmic crisis and, consequently, her role seems very similar to that of Visnu in his many avataras (incarnations). Just as Visnu promised to manifest himself in order to protect the cosmic balance, Devi, too, promises to return if needed.
The Devi-Bhagavatam Purana
The Devi-Mahatmya is not the only text to offer an all-inclusive concept of female divinity, equated with the principle of Ultimate Reality. The later Devi-Bhagavatam presents a Sakta response to a variety of puranic strands of thought. According to Cheever Mackenzie Brown, its original parts were written in response to the Bhagavata Purana. The Devi Gita, which comprises skanda (book) 7, chapters 30-40 of the Devi-Bhagavatam, is based on the style of the Bhagavad Gita, but is presented from a Sakta perspective. The ninth skanda, according to Brown, is almost a verbatim copy of the 'Praktri Khanda' of the Brahmaraivarta Purana, which Brown describes as 'a kind of encyclopedia of goddesses', associating them with praktri. The Devi-Bhagavatam also encompasses a version of the Devi-Mahatmya and retells a number of puranic myths. The text is more consistently metaphysically oriented than the earlier Devi-Mahatmya, frequently eulogizing the conceptual goddess who is the power behind all other deities.
That Goddess is Eternal and Ever Constant Primordial Force... She is the source of Brahma, Visnu and the others and all of these living beings. Without Her force, no body would be able even to more their limbs.
That Supreme Auspicious Goddess is the preserving energy of Visnu,
is the Creative power of Brahma, and is the destroying force of Siva. Devi-Mahatmya 3. 30. 28-30
It is also significant that in the Devi-Bhagavatam, the Great Goddess is explicitly shown to be independent of any male authority and control. Indeed in the previous verses it is the gods that are completely subject to her will, being totally reliant on her power. The goddess/ses of Devi-Bhagavatam are repeatedly portrayed as eternal, the basis of everything, identical with Brahman.
When everything melts away i.e. there comes the Pralaya or general dissolution, then, I am not female, I am not male, nor am I hermaphrodite. I then remain as Brahma with maya. Devi-Bhagavatam 3. 6. 2
The Adya or Primordial sakti is explicitly shown to be the source of all goddesses, from the highest to the lowest forms.
Maha Laksmi is Her sattvaki sakti, Sarasvaati is Her Rajasik sakti and Maha Kali is Her tamasik sakti, these are all feminine forms. Devi-Bhagavatam 1. 1. 20
The highest forms represent the major facets of her power or energy, the three gunas, encompassing both positive and negative energies. In the Devi-Bhagavatam, the essential character of the Mahadevi encompasses both praktri (material nature), in its unmanifest and manifest forms, and purusa (pure consciousness) — the dual realities of Sankhya philosophy. Unlike Sankhya and other schools of thought, particularly Advaita, the Devi-Bhagavatam portrays praktri in a more positive light; as an integral feature of the Goddess's power. Similarly, the concept of maya (illusion) is also presented positively rather than negatively, as an integral energy inherent in the act of creation.
I am Nirguna. And when I am united with my sakti, maya, I become saguna, the Great Cause of this world. This maya is divided into two, Vidya and Avidya. Avidya maya hides me; whereas Vidya maya does not. Avidya creates whereas Vidya maya liberates. Devi-Bhagavatam 7. 32. 7-8
Brown points out an interesting and important difference between the conception of maya in the Bhagavata Purana, in which Visnu is the supreme deity, and that in the Devi-Bhagavatam. Whereas in the Bhagavata Purana, Visnu is the 'controller and possessor of maya', the Goddess of the Devi-Bhagavatam, as well as wielding the power of maya, actually is maya. There appears to be a much more intimate relationship in the Devi-Bhagavatam between the Goddess and the workings of the cosmos, for as Visnu and Siva resort to their respective saktis for assistance, Devi resorts to no one but herself."
At the Feet of the Goddess: Divine Feminine in Local Hindu Religion
Lynn Foulston, Sussex Academic Press 1999, pp. 11-15
"She is ever attentive to the world, particularly to her devotees"
"The central role the Devi plays in mythology is that of creator and queen of
the cosmos. When she is portrayed in her own form (sva bhava), she is usually
described as a beautiful young woman in regal attire surrounded by thousands of
attendants and seated on a throne in the highest heaven. As cosmic queen she
oversees or performs directly the three primary cosmic functions of creation,
preservation, and destruction. The world is said to be destroyed when she blinks
her eyes and to be recreated when she opens her eyes.
Many Hindu mythological texts attribute the three cosmic functions to Brahma (creation), Vishnu (preservation), and Siva (destruction). While texts extolling the Devi often picture these three deities in their familiar roles, it is made clear that the male gods only act according to the Devi's will and at her command. Some myths make the point that the great male gods are entirely dependents on the Devi for her strength and power and that if she withdraws her power they are impotent and helpless. The Devi-bhagavata-purana also makes it clear that the traditional heavenly bodies of these deities are far below and inferior to the Devi's heaven. Indeed, the text asserts that there are innumerable Brahmas, Visnus, and Sivas, whose tasks are to govern the innumerable universes that ceaselessly bubble forth from the inexhaustibly creative Devi (3.4.14-67). In the Lalita-sahasranama the Devi is called she from whose ten fingernails spring the ten forms of Visnu (Karanguli-nakhotpanna-narayana-dasakrtih, 80). In the Saundaryalahari the entire universe is formed from a tiny speck of dust from the Devi's foot. Brahma takes that speck and from it fashions worlds that Visnu, in his form as the many-headed cosmic serpent, can barely support with his thousand heads (verse 2). In a particularly humbling scene for the male deities, the Devi is described in her heaven as seated upon a couch, its four legs consisting of the great male deities of the Hindu pantheon. The point is clear: the great male gods still have important roles to play, but ultimately they are servants of the Devi and do their bidding. She has created them, indeed, she has created innumerable copies of each of them, and they act as her cosmic agents, overseeing the universe she has created.
Although the male deities are frequently portrayed as carrying out their traditional cosmological functions at the Devi's command, she herself is also pictured as taking an active role in the cosmic processes. She is ever attentive to the world, particularly to her devotees, and in various forms she acts to uphold cosmic order and protect her creatures. Although her concern is that of a mother for her children, hence a passionate and ever-watchful concern, her favorite role as protector and preserver of the cosmos is that of the warrior, a traditional male role. Many of her epithets emphasize this aspect of her character. The Lalita-sahasranama calls her she who slays demons (Raksasaghni, 318), she who grant boons to great warriors (Mahavirendravarada, 493), ruler of armies (Caturangabalesvari, 691), she who is worshipped by warriors (Viraradhya, 777), and mother of warriors (Viramata, 836).
The Devi's most famous mythological exploits usually involve the defeat of demons who have taken over the world and displaced the gods from their positions as rulers of the cosmos. The three episodes featuring the goddess Durga are particularly popular in texts celebrating the Mahadevi, and she is identified with Durga in various renditions of the tales. To a great extent Durga is the Devi's most common or favorite form, and Durga's exploits are the most commonly celebrated events in Devi mythology. From the point of view of Mahadevi's theology the two are essentially the same deity. The account of Durga's defeat of Mahisa in the Devi-bhagavata-purana, for example, explicitly states that the Devi, though nirguna in her ultimate essence, assumes for her pleasure a great variety of forms in order to maintain cosmic order and that her form of Durga is simply one of those forms, though undoubtedly a very important one. As Durga, the Mahadevi is typically described as a ferocious, invincible warrior who descends into the world from time to time to combat evil of various kinds, especially demons who have stolen the positions of the gods.
As Durga, the Mahadevi is in many ways like the great god Visnu. Visnu is usually pictured as a cosmic king who oversees that stability of the world. When the world is threatened by demons, he descends in different forms to combat the danger. The Mahadevi is also said to assume forms appropriate to cosmic threats. Visnu is traditionally said to have ten avataras. In each universal cycle he takes ten different forms to combat ten different demons. The Mahadevi, too, is said to have ten forms, the Dasamahavidyas (the ten great scenes or insights). These ten forms include several well-known Hindu goddesses, and like the Vaisnavite idea of avataras the ten forms of the Devi effectively bring together distinct strands under a unifying great deity. From the point of view of Devi theology and cosmology the Hindu goddesses are varying manifestations of the Devi's activity on behalf of the world. Durga, Laksmi, Parvati, and other goddesses are all understood to be parts of a transcendent divine economy that is governed by the Devi in her own form (svabhava) or in her aspect as brahman. This economy, with a few important exceptions, is oriented toward upholding and protecting the world.
The Devi, like Visnu, also plays the role of protector and preserver in less grand, cosmic ways by making periodic and dramatic appearances on behalf of her individual devotees. In this role she plays the savior. Her devotees Samadhi and Suratha propitiate her in the closing scene of the Devi-mahatmya. She appears before them and graciously grants their desires (13.7-16). In the Devi-bhagvata-purana when her devotee Sudarsana is surrounded by his enemies and prays to her for help, she appears as a great warrior riding on her lion and quickly routs them (3.23.18-41). She appears to aid Rama when he prays to her for help in defeating Ravana. She empowers him to build a bridge from India to Lanka and announces that she will cause him to defeat Ravana (3.30.43-61). In the Devi-bhagvata-purana's account of the well-known story of Hariscandra, who is reduced to poverty and the pitiable status of an outcaste, the Devi answers Hariscandra's prayer by appearing and restoring him to his former state and reviving his child from the dead (7.27.1-7). The Mahadevi, then, though typically pictured as a distant, awesome figure who sits in majesty on a heavenly throne surrounded by divine attendants, is responsive to the pleas of her individual devotees and is quick to come to their aid in times of distress. She is understood to be an approachable, motherly figure who is never deaf to the cries of her children."
Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine
David R. Kinsley, U. of California Press (July 19, 1988), pp. 137-9
"Worship of the divine feminine has always been a distinctive feature of the Hindu tradition. Village goddesses, worshiped for millennia, still have currency today. Female divinities, such as Sarasvati, Vac, Aditi and Viraj, populate the earliest vedic literature. Later, different facets of the feminine principle are mentioned in philosophical literature; those include prakriti/pradhana (the natural world and the material substance of the universe); shakti (the creative power of a supreme being); and maya (the divine power of morphogenesis, differentiation, and veiling of the underlying unity). Texts of the puranas (scriptures that form the basis of much of Hindu theogony, mythology and ritual) such as the Devi Mahatmya and the Devi Bhagavata create a single Great Goddess (Devi) by melding together various regional goddess theologies, the different aspects of the feminine principle, and the notion of an ultimate reality. The Devi, who is transcendent and immanent, is the material cause of creation as well as the Self in all beings. In this capacity, the Devi is fully involved in the current of the cosmic drama; though formless, she manifests herself to vanquish evil each time it threatens the universal order. But she is also the quiescent ground of the Absolute. The full unfolding of the feminine principle occurs in the texts of the tantric tradition (tantras, agamas, nigamas, pancharatra samithas) with the complex systemization of the functions of Shakti."
Is the Goddess a Feminist?
Alf Hiltebeitel, Kathleen M. Erndl, NYU Press (Nov 1, 2000), p. 24
The Paraclete Shri Mataji Interviewer: "Shri Mataji, you are called 'Mother.' And, it seems in the Hindu tradition there's a special context or meaning of the word 'Mother'. What is this meaning?
"You see, in the Indian philosophy, even in the Christian philosophy it is so, but it has been little bit changed. If you read the books of Essene, you will find they have described the "Mother." You see, the Holy Ghost is the Mother. When they say about the Holy Ghost, She is the Mother. But how can you have... You must reason it out. How can you have a father and a son without a mother?
It's a, you see, simple thing like that. You see, so it's the Mother only. Holy Ghost is very important. So, Holy Ghost is the Mother, you see. It's absurd thing, I mean, to have such a thing. Even homosexuals cannot have children. It's funny thing, isn't it. Absolutely absurd! But Christians accepted this. I don't know why. Why didn't they go into find out what is this Holy Ghost business is? They said, "It's a mystery." How can you say it's a mystery? When you cannot explain then better not say anything about it. So, Holy Ghost is something hanging in the air. No one knows; it's a mystery, and the rest of it is the father and the son. It's absurd!
Now, the principle of Mother is in every, every scripture — has to be there. Now, the Mother's character is that She is the One Who is the Womb, She is the One Who is the Mother Earth and She is the One Who nourishes you. She nourishes us, you know that. And, this feminine thing in every human being resides as this Kundalini, as you have seen. And, when She rises, She gives you this new awareness which becomes compassion, which is flowing, which becomes soothing, nourishing energy of love."
Radio Interview Santa Cruz USA--1983 Oct 01
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