Usha Narayanan has enjoyed a vibrant career in advertising, radio, and corporate communications before she became a full-time author. She has earlier written Prem Purana: Mythological Love Stories and Pradyumna: Son of Krishna. She currently lives in Chennai, India. Below you can read an excerpt from her book, Awaken the Durga Within. Courtesy: Rupa Publications.
Excerpt from Awaken the Durga Within by Usha Narayanan
CAN A GODDESS BE WEAK?
When people say that a woman is a goddess, are they emphasizing her sex, indicating that as a female, she is inferior to her male counterpart? Well, the value placed on women has varied widely over time, as society and religion have always been ambivalent to feminine power.
However, folk traditions and rural India have a rich tradition of goddess-worship, which precedes the worship of male gods. The deities worshipped were called Amman, Amba or Mata, and were represented by natural features such as trees, huge rocks or anthills, indicating their closeness to the natural world. The goddess was an Earth Mother, who embodied both destructive and protective powers, and women sought her help to fight a society that attempted to control and exploit them.
Even our epics have extolled fiery heroines such as Draupadi, who is central to the epic Mahabharata. She is dragged into the Kuru court and one of the princes begins to disrobe her in order to humiliate her. She pleads with her husbands, the Pandavas, to help her, and when they remain silent, she raises her voice in defiance and escapes dishonour by virtue of her devotion to Krishna. Draupadi inspires women even today, as they see in her vulnerability a reflection of their own plight to survive exploitation. Her rage serves as a rallying point to continue their own fight against injustice and abuse.
Shakti herself is portrayed in the Devi Purana as the first and foremost of deities, and it is she who creates Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, instructing them to create, preserve and destroy the universe. She promises to divide herself into three parts and become wives to the three of them. However, Shiva wants her for himself and plunges into ardent penances to win her. The other two try to win her too, but when she takes a terrifying form in order to test them, Brahma becomes four-faced as he turns away from her and Vishnu closes his eyes and plunges into the water. Only Shiva remains unperturbed and continues his penance. Shakti then promises him that she would be born as Sati and marry him.
This is quite a contrast to other stories featuring Parvati praying endlessly to marry Shiva, isn’t it? So you can see that our ancient lore offers examples of the goddess being revered even more than the god. As our society evolves, more options and roles are opening up for women. We need to choose the right role models and interpret the stories of the goddesses in ways that are more empowering. In this way, we can choose to stand up for what we believe in—whether it is for our loved ones, women, community, animals, or our own fulfilment.
LESSONS WE LEARN FROM SHAKTI
Perhaps you are wondering how Parvati’s story is relevant to you. Let us assume that you have a demanding software job and that someday you hope to start your own company. You are dating a man who is caring and successful, but also rather settled in his habits and used to doing things his own way. Maybe you are assertive at your workplace and manage a team, but when it comes to your romantic relationship, you end up falling in line with his wishes and then losing your cool when resentment builds up. How do you play the many roles you need to play, and harmonize your needs with his? You are afraid of becoming a pushover like your mother, who says, ‘Ask your father!’ for everything. But at the same time you do not want to be fighting all the time. How do you find the right balance between being soft and strong?
Who else can teach you this better than Parvati? Bring to mind her different forms depicted in pictures and carvings. In one, she is dancing, while in another, she is embracing her husband. In yet another, she is Durga on her lion, killing the demon who threatens the world. She is also a yogini, meditating on the Ultimate. She is Kamini, the lustful goddess enchanting Shiva. She is the teacher and the student; she is the fond daughter and loving mother. Parvati is the cosmic power of the universe and an equal partner in her marriage. And when you meditate on her, she transforms your consciousness, allowing you to expand your spirit beyond your personal and social limitations so that you may imbibe her divine qualities.
You go to a movie or concert and come back walking like the heroine, pretending that you are singing like her, don’t you? Imagine, how much greater is the power of a Devi, where the word itself means ‘the shining one’. Her energy transforms your mind, allowing you to make changes that expand the possibilities in your physical life. Like the Devi, you too have multiple arms with which you multitask, keeping ahead of your duties and the demands placed on you. You liberate qualities within yourself that reflect those of the goddesses—Lakshmi’s bountiful power, Saraswati’s creative inspiration and Durga’s warrior-like energy.
I hope that the following stories of various goddesses will enlighten and inspire you, helping you invoke the Shakti within you. For, she resides in you and in every woman who is struggling to find her place in the world. She will bring you power and prosperity. All that she asks you to do is to begin your journey with her—TODAY!