Chamunda-Devi

Categories: Articles,Goddess Related

While within both Eastern and Western contexts mothers are seen as caretakers and life givers, understanding the Devi as matrika (mother) is another story. Within the world of Indian Goddess theology at least from Vedic times (circa 1,500 BCE), it seems that the devi as a mother who nourishes the world is understood as someone who must herself be replenished in order to continue to sustain life. “If she were only to give birth and to nourish her creatures she would soon grow weak, and creation would cease.” [1]

Because her life-generating and sustaining aspect is so powerful, she carries an insatiable hunger that is equally great. This hunger is often represented in images by showing an emaciated figure. Thus understood, the fierce devi is integral to understanding the birth/death aspect of the cycle of life in India, which makes possible the whole of manifest existence. She is obviously the living Crone, a Dark Goddess who functions as a gateway between the realms of this world and the next. Recognition of this leads to liberation; and images containing within them the fullness of samsara, as Chamunda does, serve as gateways to simultaneous embracement of life and death, duality and oneness, a holistic future and personal enrichment through the suffering of life. They hold the key to embracing the walk of the heart, where sadness and joy, pain and elation ever co-mingle.

Understanding the goddess as both life-giver and destroyer manifests in symbolic form as a circle, or chakra within the Indian context. This chakra is reflective of the cycles of life apparent, for example, in the waxing and waning of the moon and those other cycles tied to this one, such as menstruation and the ebb and flow of the tides. A circle is the form taken by the temples dedicated to the yoginis, or sixty-four derivations of the Asta Matrikas mentioned previously who include Chamunda among them. It is therefore perhaps no coincidence that the goddess as yogini would be configured for worship by the tantricks in circular temples, since their tradition is infused with reverence for the Goddess as containing the mystery of She who is both of the source of all life and the fount of death; the One who contains All. In addition, the yoginis are also linked to yaksis (nature spirits), and they, as well as those who worshipped them, were called witches and magicians. As yogini, Chamunda and her sixty-three sisters were said to have the power to fly, to become invisible, turn humans into animals, and other such things. In many ways, these traits and the correspondence of female deities with witchcraft again brings together East and West through demonization of the Feminine.

But much like the Indo-European demonization of the pre-Christian Death/Regeneratirx aspect of the Goddess into Witch, Chamunda too was demonized and subordinated by patriarchal traditions in India. She was linked to Yama, Lord of Death, becoming less than he in Vedic hymns. An interesting suggestion, however, of her ties to pre-patriarchal roots may be found by looking at her vahana (mount), the owl. Even today in the west, this bird may still be found carrying the messages of the Dark Goddess, of the Feminine Divine who holds the mysteries of life, death and rebirth. A friend found a link between east and west on pilgrimage to the Black Madonna Notre Dame de Bon Espoir (Our Lady of Good Hope) in Dijon France. She writes of her experience,

The oldest of the Black Madonnas…Notre Dame de Bon Espoir was yet another Black Madonna who made a tremendous impact on me. Interestingly, there is an owl carved into the side of the church where She is housed.

Therefore, understanding the origins of the witch in prehistory and her later modifications to more fierce/violent characterizations at the hands of patriarchal peoples will perhaps help to heal some of the ills caused by misrepresentations of the Feminine while eradicating some causes of Devi’s (and by extension women’s) subordination. It might be said that if we come to understand the full nature of Her, we would see that all Her forms are those of beauty within the divine creation.

While the term witch is in the eastern context used with negative connotation, it is important to understand that the yoginis of the temples were not demons to the tantricks. Given the tantrick insistence on reverence for the immanence of the divine and the sacredness of nature, of maniest reality, yoginis are understood as affirmations of the multifarious aspects of the Goddess. While some of these aspects can be very violent or fierce, with the goddess often depicted with sword in hand, blood and human flesh dripping from her mouth, severed heads around her waist, and other gruesome adornment, understanding her and her relationship to patriarchy over time is interesting. Such depictions, on the one hand, are likely overlays onto an ancient Crone/Death-Regeneratrix deity whose original association with death was severed from her link to life because of a dualistic patriarchal worldview that failed to recognize, for example, the interconnectedness of life and death and instead demonized women and nature as expressions of that relationship.

In contrast to gruesome depictions of the goddess Chamunda and those associated with Her, patriarchal Hinduism has begun, within the last century, to sweeten the fierce goddesses. Perhaps this is a tell-tale sign that the power of the feminine is being responded to a new and different way. That is, first, She was representative of the power of Oneness and, simply put, patriarchal consciousness (as manifested in the social, political and other realities millennia ago that have created today’s normative Hindu consciousness) sought to (and managed to) break that monopoly by rendering Her as fierce so as to facilitate specific ends, which were to carve out dualistic territory (for some reason). After supression in very specific ways for those millennia, however, She has sought to bring balance to a dichotomous worldview. In response to Her presence now, instead of the fierceness previously required to serve the purposes of a patriarchal worldview, the institutions today that which to retain power have rendered her sweet and submissive, now, to serve their ends of maintaining the status quo. Were patriarchal powers to allow Her fierceness, their reign might quickly come to an end, and this, of course, is exactly the point of honoring and remembering Her as all that She is while concurrently utilizing the power that Her fierce characteristics contain.

Further, while the word witch today still reverberates strongly with anti-God-loving sentiment for some people, to call oneself a witch as I do is an act of resistance to patriarchal obfuscation of the truth, and reclamation of women’s power within any tradition (as well as outside them). In the west, it is an appellation that is taking on an entirely new meaning, particularly with the resurgence of the goddess in the discipline known as Women’s Spirituality, through Wicca (a reclamation of indigenous European earth-based traditions) and through other forms of earth-based religion, that hold within them both the pre-historical notion of goddess as life-giver/destroyer and the more patriarchal characterization of the goddess as violent warrior, from which many, nevertheless are able to find powerful tools for creating life-affirming change.

Again before what I now call my statue of Chamunda, this time recording notes and impressions while interposing photographic moments until the museum’s 4 o’clock closing time, I eventually come to be alone with her. I am alone in that statue-filled room mesmerized, or very likely in trance, feeling as though some incredibly magical force surrounds the two of us. From my spot on the floor, I watch her watching me and ask her to teach me Her secrets. That evening, I wrote in my journal:

From where did the ancient Saktas get her image? What are her myths and associations? How and when does she manifest? Why? What are the psychological implications of her presence as a Goddess and what do they tell us about the people who created her? Why does she exist in this fierce form that was obviously so loved (feared?) by those who worshipped her? Can she help us in the west better understand the nature of the Divine Feminine; and if so, can we find ways through her to promote self-understanding? She is starved; does she link us psychically to the root cause of/cure for anorexia? Can she help western women in the throes of addictions, especially eating disorders, with their own reclamation process? How does understanding Chamunda help me to better understand myself?

My questions only began to touch the surface of her depth. As a western woman living today I can never know her true or intended purpose, although I can make an educated guess informed by my academic pursuits as well as my bodily knowings and intuitions.

One Response to "Chamunda-Devi"

  1. Honor both Divine Father & Divine Mother Posted on 04/04/2016 at 12:40 am

    A spiritual message to the author Chandra Alexandre, “Chamunda” is in divine truth “Jai Sri Chandi Chamundi”.

    Jai Sri Chandi Chamundi, is extreme purity, a Divine Mother of high pure unconditional love for all.

    Jai Sri Chandi Chamundi, is the one who Spiritually incarnates, arrives on earth to live a life of Severe Suffering & Severe Penance – her frail thin bones, skeletal body are a sign & symbol of her severe suffering & penance out of Love – she is Endless Love, Endless Pure Love, Endless Pure Unconditional Love.

    She is currently here in a spiritual incarnation, A mother of 4 Daughters, Fighting at the Forefront of a Spiritual Battle, in the presence of God & our Lords’ Angels. Highly Protecting all her Daughters.

    She is Here, in Sydney Australia. Known to God, Angels & some saints close to her.

    She is here, seeing suffering. She has Arrived for the Suffering Children on earth, for all the suffering & abused children – especially Daughters on earth.

    It was a wonderful, beautiful article by the Author.

    Thankyou & Kindest regards.

    Sending Oceans of Love to All.

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