In the complex system of gods and goddesses of
Hinduism there is the concept of Shakti, (which in Sanskrit means force, power or energy.) Shakti is a personification of God's female aspect. Shakti represents the active, dynamic principles of feminine power. This is a substantial distinction of Hinduism from the monotheistic religions, in which feminine element is very limited.
The material has been created by the inspiration of Andrey Ignatiev, a translator from Sanskrit and expert in Ancient Indian philosophy, mythology and rituals of Shaktism (worship of female element in Hinduism)
The concept of Shakti is very complex. Shakti is called "The Divine Mother”. Shakti is the name of Mother Nature. Shakti is the incarnation of Shiva’s consort. Shakti is a cosmic principal. Shakti is the female human element. As with the association with the Deva (god) Shiva, Shakti is associated with many Devis (Supreme Goddesses) –
Sundari, Bhairavi, Chandi,
Kamakshi (or Kamakhya),
Kumari. Each of these forms (incarnations) represents some aspect of Shakti.
Two awesome and terrifying incarnations of the Shakti, Durga and Kali, manifest aggressiveness, belligerency, irrepressible power and determination. Legendary history of these goddess incarnations are quite involved, it includes pre-Arian conceptions as well as Buddhism legends,
In fact, there are many similarities between Durga and Kali, even though they are not identical. Actually, one is a transformation of another. And same feats are assigned to either one. In fact, incarnations in Hinduism are so commonplace that the precision of the personification does not really matter.
The Supreme Goddess Devi, in form of multihanded Durga, usually rides a tiger (lion), wields a number of weapons and wears a garland of skulls, holds a severed head in one hand and a lotus in another - all these represent destruction of evils and protection of good. Their poses assume Mudras, or symbolic hand gestures.
The full details of Durga and Kali can be found in the Devibhagavat, or another text called the Durgasaptashati, which can be found as part of the Markandeya Purana.
Durga (translated from Sanskrit as "the inaccessible" or "difficult to cognize”) is the personification of the material energy, in which all materially conditioned living beings are absorbed in thoughts, actions and identity.
At a certain point in her history, Durga also became thought of as Shiva's wife. In this role she is often called Parvati, and is more domestic and more restrained. As the warrior goddess, however, Durga is unmarried and does not lend her power, or Shakti, to any male. She is not seen as a submissive god, but one who can hold her own against any male on the battlefield. Like the god Vishnu, it is believed that she can create, maintain, and destroy the world. Being the mother of the universe, Durga can be approached through love. She is most beautiful, but at the same time - fierce and terrible. She can dispel difficulties as well as kill the demons.
The best known account of Durga is of her victory over the destructive, wicked god (demon) Mahisha (or Mahishasura). For that feat she was named as Mahishasura Mardini (the Slayer of Mahisha). Durga is often pictured with eight arms, each with a weapon, and in the process of killing the demon Mahisha in his form as a bull.
Stories from ancient India describe struggles between gods and the demons, between good and evil. In these conflicts, which have been going on since the beginning of creation, the hope is that in the long run divine forces will triumph over the forces of evil. Here is the story of Durga's victory. And the fact that the woman defeats the evil is very important!
Created by Gods as vigorous and undefeatable, Durga was very proud of her body and power and vowed to marry only the one who could defeat her in battle.
That’s what the story was. The evil god Mahisha was the son of a goddess who had given him magic powers. Once she asked the Brahma, the creator, to give her son the gift of immortality. "Impossible," said Brahma. "He who is born must die!" Mahisha then said, "Grant me that a woman alone can kill me." This wish he got. Sure that now he would never be killed, Mahisha gathered up a great demon army and marched on Amarapur, the capital of heaven and home of the gods. Indra, the king of the heavens, tried to defeat the demon army. A terrible battle ensued, lasting nearly a thousand years. Finally the gods were defeated and had to flee. All was in chaos.
Helpless and afraid, the gods turned to Brahma for advice. Brahma admitted that it was he who had given Mahisha his power by letting him know that he could be slain only by a woman. "What will we do?” cried the gods. "In our tradition women will not fight!" Brahma then took them to Lord Shiva, who in turn took them to Lord Vishnu. After listening to the tales of the defeat of Indra and the gods at the hands of the demon Mahisha, all three - Brahma, Vishnu and Lord Shiva - grew red with anger. From this anger they produce a divine energy which streamed from their mouths, creating a single mass of light. Into this light a woman appeared, her body shinning with the brilliance of a thousand suns. Thus was Durga born. At once, each of the gods gave her their weapons - a trident, a disc, a sword, an axe, a conch, a mace, a discus, a rope, a bow and some arrows. They gave her too a fierce tiger to ride on. Holding the weapons in her many hands, Durga let out a terrible roar; her tiger responded with one of his own.
Armed with the sans of all the gods, the many-armed Durga went to her home in the Vindhya mountains. Mahisha, hearing of the radiating beauty of a mysterious woman who had arrived in the mountains, sent her a message. It said that as lord of the worlds, he planned to claim her for his bride. With a smile Durga responded; "I can only marry the man who can defeat me in battle." "She is only a woman," thought Mahisha, "I'll accept her challenge," and he and his demon army set off to conquer the haughty Durga. When they met, Durga called out to him, "O wicked Mahisha, I am not an ordinary woman. I am your death. Do you remember that you wished to die at the hands of a woman? Now get ready to die!"
That said, Durga lifted her weapons and mounted her tiger. Mahisha and his army advanced. Durga's weapon arms swirled. The mountains were torn in two. The clouds were scattered in the sky. Her tiger pounced upon the demon army, killing many by the thousands. Mahisha responded. Able to change shapes, he at once gave up his real form to become a maddened black buffalo. Bellowing and stamping the ground, he ran at Durga. The battle was fierce; the earth shook with their fury.
Mahisha turned himself into many forms during the battle, becoming sometimes a lion, sometimes an elephant. He uprooted rocks and hills and hurled them at Durga. She shattered them with her sword, sending them into the wind. Again, Mahisha was a buffalo, snorting a mighty wind from his broad nostrils and killing her army by the swirling of his powerful tail. Durga used her rope, throwing it around his neck. The buffalo God tried to free himself, but the more he struggled, the tighter she made the rope. Durga played with the demon; to her, fighting Mahisha was nothing more than a sport. At last she dismounted and sprang on his back. With her foot on his neck, she thrust her trident into his chest. With this final blow he fell dead. At once his armies fell senseless, defeated.
Seeing her victory, the male gods hailed Durga: "We salute you O Great Goddess! But for you, even we, who are immortals, could do nothing. But for your coming, heaven itself would fall down." By destroying evil, Durga had protected divine law, or Dharma. It was understood that those who worshiped her would receive her help in times of distress. Wealth and power would be granted them as well.
Thus the character of Durga was generated out of the anger and powers of the gods, namely Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, and others. And their weapons became her weapons. Thus, riding on her fierce tiger (lion), she fought and killed Mahishasura and his army. This demon represents the egoistical propensity that brute strength is all that is needed to acquire selfish desires. Symbolically, Durga destroys the buffalo demon which represents tamo-guna, the dark quality of laziness, ignorance and inertia. So, she destroys the tamo-guna within each of us, which can be very difficult to overcome. While fighting amongst the gods, he was succeeding, until their combined powers and will to fight was manifest in the Devi as Mahishasura Mardini, who then killed the demon.
One of Durga’s qualities is her wrath, which sometimes manifests as war. Such war cleanses the world of the many negative elements which accumulate from a sinful society.
Durga challenged demons Shumbha and Nishumbha who had challenged the Gods. Even with the assistance of giants like Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija, they were unsuccessful against mighty Durga.
During the battles, the fierce dark goddess Kali ("black, dark colored” in Sanskrit) manifested from the forehead of Durga, who became known as Chamunda,
for beheading the demons Chanda and Munda. There are many conflicting versions of god and goddess incarnations in Indian mythology, in particular, Devi’s forms. However, Chamunda is very often identified with Kali and is very much like in her appearance and habit. When she fought with Raktabija, it took a special endeavor because of his powers that caused each drop of his spilled blood to become another demon. It was Kali who managed to drink all of his flowing blood and prevent any additional demons from manifesting. Thus, Durga/Kali was able to kill him. She then easily killed Nishumbha, but Shumbha accused her of accepting help. The Devi then withdrew all her emanations into her one form, and then proceeded to battle and kill Shumbha.
Thus Kali is another incarnation of the Devi, which is often seen in temples and pictures. She is usually pictured as nude except for being covered by her scattered hair. Kali wears an apron of human hands and a garland of human skulls, and sometimes carries a human head in one hand, freshly severed and dripping with blood, and a long chopper in another hand. The other hands are giving blessings and offering protection. Her tongue is protruding, dripping with blood. She is also often seen in a cremation ground or in a battlefield amidst dead and mutilated bodies. Sometimes she is standing on the white body or bluish body of her spouse, Shiva. He supplicates her in this way to keep her from destroying everything.
The meaning of all this is that, first of all, Kali represents time, Kala, which devours everything in its terrifying ways. She is naked because she is free from the veil of ignorance that the universe represents, which hides our real spiritual identity. She is black because she represents tamo-guna or the void which has swallowed everything, including space, time, and the ingredients of material nature. Her apron of hands indicates that she is pleased with the offerings of our work, so she wears them. It also represents the inward potential for outward manifestation waiting to take place. Her disheveled hair simply represents her freedom to do and go as she likes. The garland of 50 skulls represent the 50 letters of the alphabet, or sound from which the whole material manifestation has sprung, which is now in a state of destruction, indicated by her wearing them. Though she is an awesome form, she is also offering freedom from fear by her hand gestures.
A further explanation of why Goddess Kali stands on Shiva is that once Kali engaged in a battle in which she destroyed all the demons. She danced in victory to such an extent that the worlds started to shake in destruction. Everyone became concerned and Shiva came to appease her from further dancing.
Yet she was so worked up that she could not notice or listen to him. So Shiva lay like a corpse at her feet to absorb the shock of her movements, and when she finally noticed that she had stepped on her husband, she put her tongue out in shame. Thus the character of Kali represents active, aggressive, destructive and powerful female element, which induces the passive male element, which in this case is personified by Shiva. This is the figure, which doesn’t have any similarities in other cultures.
Characters of potent bellicose Hinduism goddesses reflect the power of the universal female element. They inspire millions of women and men who worship the goddesses.
Hinduism is a religion of manifestations, in which ordinary creatures are considered as manifestations of supreme substances. For instance, all women are considered to be personifications of the Supreme Goddess. So, the nature of Durga and Kali might become apparent in any woman. As is known, after India won the war against Pakistan in 1971, Hinduism followers started considering Indira Gandhi as an incarnation of Durga. By the way, female gangsters in India are called "devis", which means "goddesses" in Sanskrit.
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