Understanding the Hindu Goddess

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Devī (Goddess) is hot. The Goddess is alive, part of a living tradition in India, and to many westerners without a recognized goddess, She is more than a passing curiosity???She is the lifeblood to a deeply personal and caring ethic for Self and the whole of Creation. For us at SHARANYA, this is certainly the case.

In India, She is not only understood to be Goddess (with a capital “G”), responsible for all cosmic matters; but also as the goddess, who at the fundamental levels of societal functioning handles the necessities and intimacies of everyday existence: agriculture, crafts, health and well-being, reproduction and all facets of family life. She has many names and takes many forms. Great literary works have been written for and about Her, and she is equally the topic of myriad folktales. Some worship Her in gilded images while others paint a stone or a nook in a tree with red paint and a mixture of sandalwood and vermilion paste, and see in that Her beauty and protective power.

She is Earth and the shining power of the Cosmos. Either way, She is Universal Mother. As such, her many names and forms reveal that she is simultaneously the Supreme Goddess as well as every local grāmadevatā (village goddess), both a transcendent and an immanent spiritual presence. How is it that she is acknowledged on both the metaphysical and the practical levels?

For many of those who worship Her, she is easily recognized in each of these ways, with any one form or aspect usually implying the other. Some Hindu paths do teach a preference for transcendence while others stress immanence; but in Hindu cosmology and everyday life, as well as in both the sacred and the profane literature of India, Devī finds no contradiction in manifesting as intimate mother and transcendent, universal creatrix; as virgin and celestial lover; or as faithful, complacent wife and bloodthirsty, independent huntress.

For example, at Tārāpīṭh in West Bengal, She appears in one of her most gentle aspects, as a mother suckling Śiva. Yet here she is offered blood sacrifice daily, and the cremation grounds near her temple have been used for centuries as a site for non-dualistic (what many call left-hand) tantrick sādhanā (spiritual practice). In any of these forms or combinations, She encompasses and transcends western notions of duality, thereby defying western attempts to quantify, qualify or explain Her.

Not only confined, however, to a representation within dualistic extremes, the Hindu goddess is also understood as a trinity of emanations. She too has a life in the spectrum of Maid, Mother, and Crone. Brahmanical literature, for example, portrays her as counterpart to the orthodox trinity of Brāhma (Creator), Viṣṇu (Preserver) and Śiva (Transformer/Destroyer) through her guises, respectively, as: Sarasvatī (Goddess of Learning and the Arts); Lakṣmī (Goddess of Wealth); and Kālī (Goddess of Time and Death).

Within the Śākta (Devī worshipping) tradition, however, the goddess as Supreme Reality is formulated completely independent of the male gods. Within the Śākta Tantrick tradition, the goddess?? independence becomes acute and Kālī herself is all manifestations of the Trinity. Particularly in her fierce forms, Devī is beyond succinct and simple explanation. She lies beyond a monological interpretation and is a Goddess who mocks the very structures that attempt to contain and control Her.

How does She speak to you? How do you best know and experience Her? What do you think a western appreciation of the Hindu Goddess facilitates?

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