Categories: Articles,Goddess Related

Even so, Chamunda through my eyes is not Chamunda in any fully Indian sense, even though I have explored her on her own ground (literally, as well as through her myths, philosophies, symbols, and worship). Rather, for me, Chamunda is an exploration into the depths of personal, and perhaps more generally the question of women’s, spirituality. Particularly within the western context of women’s spiritual development, the importance of Chamunda as a teacher can be grasped when it is understood that she holds within herself the tension of embracing both Mother and Witch archetypes; two aspects of the Feminine that have long been used to subordinate rather than empower women. Chamunda illustrates that these aspects ever inter-related, constantly situated within a flux of interchangeability that she herself manifests.

Chamunda and Kali: Blood Sisters

My initial contact with the raudra or fierce form of the Goddess, as mentioned above, had come to me years earlier through a dream image as Kali, a Hindu goddess representative of the power of time and of death. In many respects, Chamunda and Kali are alike. Indeed, both are initiators into the fullest spectrum of life, and both serve to awaken us to the value of impermanence and cyclical time. Some Shakta practitioners understand both goddesses to be manifest aspects of the same ontological truth; nevertheless, both can be intensely frightening images of feminine power to those unaccustomed to dealing with the Dark Mother.

Iconographically, Chamunda and Kali are often similarly depicted: in the cremation ground, seated upon a corpse and engaging in practices involving sex, blood and death. At the Chamunda-Devi temple [4] outside of Dharmasala (Himachal Pradesh), Chamunda is plainly understood to be a form of Kali and the ten mahavidyas are depicted at her shrine. The Devi as Chamunda-Kali is also mentioned in the TantrasaraShaktapramoda and Pranatosini. [5]

Chamunda-Kali provides a gateway to: i) understanding of the Goddess in the Western psyche for juxtaposition with the Eastern manifestations of Her; ii) how Western vs. Eastern conceptions of reality play a role in determining the images of the Divine Feminine that abound in each context; and iii) the potential power of reclaiming the Dark Mother in the West with the help of images from the East.

Western Appreciation for the Goddess

From this brief discussion in conjunction with other goddess tales, perhaps a vision of the goddess who relates to the emotional, physical, and psychic bodies of women and men, regardless of their country of origin, by virtue of the human condition, is becoming apparent. Woven here is the notion that where women in particular are being drawn to Devi’s symbolism for its promotion of, at the very least, what may appear to be a feminist ethic, those who are attracted to her in their spiritual longing (in any of her forms) necessarily cross lines of demarcation whether social, political, or geographical—and so too does Devi. Goddess worship and feminism too needs to be able to create a container for dialogue, with both arenas developing cross-cultural methodologies that can facilitate the creation of safe space in which to then make discussions happen that relate the spiritual realities with the economic, social, and political ones. From within that space, the hope would be to generate a metaphorical fire from which truth based on a process of coming to agreement can be born. Only then can we empower women and men to be all of who and what they are, no matter what the context in which they find themselves.

Giving a historicity to Indian images of the divine may help those non-Hindus interested in appreciating her from within western contexts to make informed statements and educated assertions (based upon contextual understanding) about their own uses of/for her while providing a ground for possible adaptations of Devi within a new environment. For just as the goddess centuries ago crossed from India to neighboring lands, our technological advancements today have moved us all towards a global community, which has indeed also helped to shape the transportation of Devi across oceans and continents.

For western women, images of the goddess as whole, as containing paradox, and particularly as embracing sexuality and other aspects generally suppressed under patriarchy, are healing. In the western context where transcendent male gods (or more specifically, one male god of generally Jewish or Christian disposition) dominate and no female/feminine is accorded divine status (despite the high status imparted to Mary, as discussed in the last chapter), the need for a Divine Feminine who recognized, honored and is both immanent as well as transcendent is glaring. Perhaps this is one reason why the Indian conception of goddess captures the fervor of western feminists and those seeking alternate visions of the divine that are more inclusive. Devi seems approachable in the sense that she, as her myths and iconography at the very least portend, undergoes and is much of what women recognize to be their individual truths. In her, every woman finds a piece of herself; and every man, perhaps, can learn a little more about the heart of his essential nature.

The mainstream Western images of the Divine Feminine in a contemporary context where the Abrahamic faiths prevail have largely been limited to the Virgin Mary, and perhaps if one is generous, to Sophia, the Black Madonna and Lilith. These last three however, represent an undercurrent of the Christian and Judaic faiths, and they are not recognized by many practitioners; at least not with full awareness of their power and connection to pre-patriarchal religion.

In any case, it is apparent that the Divine Feminine within our context as represented in Her most ubiquitous aspect as the Virgin Mary has little but a “soft” or benevolent and nurturing side. She is holy and untouchable, even by her husband; she is vehicle for the avatar Christ, but not God herself; she is incapable of engaging the more uncomfortable aspects of life; she listens and conveys the message of her followers, but does not have the power to act directly for those who worship her.

This image of Mary is put in juxtaposition within Christianity to the one God, who is All. Her place is marginal in relationship to His magnificence, and reflects the Western/patriarchal schism typified by Descartes’ mind/body duality (God as transcendent mind, Mary as earth-bound body) or more simply, the valuing of men over women and heaven over earth. Further, it underscores that the religious traditions of patriarchal cultures have unfortunately tended to pathologize the relationship of dualistic principles. In life, dualities abound, but their representation in the West has long since posed them as warring opposites where the position of the Divine Feminine (and women) is relegated to minority status.

The patriarchal worldview, particularly as expressed in the powerful “First World” nations of the West, has manifested skewed valuations of dualities in other spheres of life as well. It has done so to the point of ignoring (or largely ignoring) the inherent worth and wisdom of the Feminine principle and has created an urgent need for crisis prevention in the environmental, developmental, psychological and social arenas. Further, if we accept that the project of patriarchy has been based on the scientific and philosophical deconstruction of life (through exploitation of resources and peoples by Western science and paradigms supported by such traditions) and on the establishment of dualistic categories formed from reductionistic tendencies (in order to propagate the favoritism of man and culture over women and nature, e.g.), then we understand how dichotomization destroys relatedness, promotes homogenization, and makes subjugation the norm for half the population the world over.

Unfortunately in both the East and West, the archetypal Feminine principle, which in India is called pakriti, has often been associated only with women and with nature, to the detriment of both men, women and the planet. For to deny that the Feminine has value is to deny more than gender or population; it is to deny half of the entire spectrum of life. It relegates all that is receptive, open, life-generating and nurturing to the margins of society, and it is there that we can look to find the festering sores of all the various crises of our time.

Fortunately, particularly within the past ten years, writers, thinkers, theologians and others across the globe in fields as diverse as the sciences, religion and women’s studies have explored the dance of life beyond the confines of duality. There, many have found that the “opposing” forces of life are in a play of complementarities, where tension makes growth, change, and transformation possible. In understanding that life is more of an ever-shifting dynamic balance of energetics where opposing forces create an existence filled with variety, spontaneity, laughter and music in which the soul may rejoice, a new vein of consciousness has been born in our time.

The impact of the Goddess archetype upon women and men as She re-emerges into consciousness has profound ramifications upon all aspects of life. In the East, many have been called to re-examine their relationships to the manifest Divine Feminine in actual women. On the individual as well as the collective level, She reminds us that women too are powerful, worthy of respect in this world; She teaches that respect for our bodies helps us to respect the Earthbody; She tells us that all things ugly and beautiful are Her creation. She is a “creative trinity;” [6] serving as a gateway to simultaneous embracement of both duality and oneness, a symbol of integrated duality and the unconditional love that binds them. With this, many in the West have been drawn to remembering the Goddess as a potent symbol of wholeness. Many have turned to Her myths, rituals and traditions of pre-patriarchal times in order to quench their personal longing for “something else.” I believe that Chamunda helps to bring a special dimension to understanding the fullest sense of what that wholeness means.

Eastern Goddesses, Patriarchal Cultures, and a Vision from the West

While the West has tended to infuse its traditions with a dualistic split, the Eastern traditions of India have tended to concern themselves with a monological “One” in the realm of spirit while an overlay of patriarchal duality has settled into the societal sphere. This has wrought a complexity of contradictions in Indian society. For example, the Ganges River, sacred sphere of the Goddess Ganga who manifests through and as its waters, is the most polluted and yet simultaneously the holiest river on Earth for devout Hindus. Similarly, while the Divine Feminine is recognized and worshipped through myriad images of Goddesses (Ganga, Kali and Chamunda among them), women still occupy a marginal position in traditional Indian society.

As David Kinsley has noted: “In the Hindu tradition a woman is taught to understand herself primarily in relation to others…It is society that puts demands on her primarily through the agents of relatives and in-laws, and not she who places demands on society that she be allowed to develop a unique, independent destiny. A central demand placed on women, particularly vis-à-vis males, is that they subordinate their welfare to the welfare of others.” [7]

While attempts have been made to reconcile patriarchal duality at the level of society with a philosophical and religious spiritual unity, the fact of the matter is that such discontinuity invalidates and undermines both. Little progress has been made in this regard within the Indian context. But it is from within this struggle that ways of thinking that seek to heal the split of culture from embodied/immanent spirituality have more recently emerged. Many writers, but most prominently the Indian physicist and ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva, have made a case for recognizing the Divine Feminine/Goddess in order to ameliorate tension and diffuse the boundaries of derision caused by the patriarchal paradigm.

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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