It is that time of the year when the entire Indian Subcontinent is primed to celebrate the festival of the Arch-Goddess Devi Durga, popularly known as the Navratri or the Durga Puja Festival. It is nothing like most festivals that last a day or two. It involves preparation that ranges over months. Attention is given to each and every conceivable detail to ensure that the reception of Devi Durga is flawless. Durga is Shakti or power personified. To understand the concept better it is beneficial to understand the association between Shiva and Shakti.
Shiv-Shakti and Their Relation
Within the Hindu cosmology Lord Shiva is the the Lord and master of all creation. He holds the prime position of power as the destroyer who keeps the cycle of creation rolling on. He maintains the crucial balance between life and death without which creation and sustenance becomes impossible. Shiva manages to effortlessly coordinate these onerous tasks because he is the master of all elements, known in Sanskrit as ‘Bhootnath’. As Mahakaal, Shiva is the absolute master of eternity and infinity, he is omniscient and omnipresent. Indestructible and eternal, Shiva is ‘Avinash’. In simpler words, Shiva, which literally translated into English approximates to ‘auspiciousness’ brings order and harmony to all of creation. A task that requires enormous amount of energy, that needs to be used with surgical precision and divine grace. Durga provides Shiva with the energy as Shakti and as the Eternal Mother Goddess lends Shiva the grace needed to beneficially use the vast, incalculable power for the benefit of creation. Their coming together as the primordial couple provides purpose and sustenance to the universe.
Shakti as Durga
In no other form does Shakti appear more majestic than as Durga. The legend goes that a certain demon named Mahishasur or the Buffalo demon had acquired from Brahma the power of invincibility except at the hands of a woman. He had reasoned since no woman could ever challenge him physically, he was as good as immortal. The story from this point differs depending on the source of the account and Durga does feature in countless mythological texts.
According to the first and the most popular account, Mahishasur became tyrannical after receiving the boon of invincibility from Brahma. He took over all the three realms of Swarg, Marth and Paatal (Heaven Earth and Hell respectively) and put an end to the vedic way of life by banning sacrificial rites and by enslaving the different Gods and Kings. Every being, earthly and celestial found themselves inadequate to contain the corruption of Mahishasur. He had to many forms and no visible sign of weakness that baffled even Lord Shiva. Unable to help the situation and in the interest of the preservation of creation all the Gods got together and created a pool of their combined energy. Out of the glittering pool of sheer power stepped out a beautiful woman- Durga. Armed by the weapons of the all the Gods Durga rode upon a majestic lion and challenged Mahishasur to a one on one combat.
The second reading of the myth holds Mahishasura as a greatly learned deon King who had figured out the secrets to life due to the boon of Brahma. He learnt that once born, every living creature must die and depending upon one’s acts or Karma, they were forced to be reborn on earth 7 consecutive times. If an only if such an individual may manage to lead a completely sinless life, were they entitled to attaining Moksha or freedom from the cycles of life and death. The only way to bypass this cyclical process was to be slain by a God. Give his strength and knowledge of the dark and fair arts, Mahishasura realised nothing in creation could kill him. So he forced the hand of the Gods to create a new force that alone could grant him Moksha.
Regardless of this difference in perception, which can be accounted for sociologically, the myth held that Durga and Mahishasur fought using strength and technique that dazzled all that looked on, for over ten continuous days. By the 5th day of the fight Mahishasur seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Indomitable as Durga was, Mahishasur quickly picked up Durga’s moves and used them against her. The Gods got worried. Durga had all their powers and skills but not their immunity from injury or harm. Mahishasur and Durga managed to deal deadly blows to each other and had to retreat to recover. Lord Vishnu found the solution and retrieved some of the Amrit he had prevented the demon Rahu from obtaining in the aftermath of the Samudra Manthan and administered it to Durga on the 8th day.
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This was the day the battle decisively began turning to Durga’s favour. By the 9th day Durga relentlessly attacked Mahishasur forcing him to resort to shape shifting. Ultimately on the 10th day, Mahishasur transformed himself into a fearsome buffalo and charged Durga. Her Lion tackled the buffalo, bloodied yet unyielding Mahishasur discarded the buffalo body and charged at Durga with his sword flashing. Durga pulled out Shiva’s primary weapon, the Trishul and stabbed Mahishasura in the heart. This is the pose in which almost all of Duga idols are worshipped in during the Durga Puja. In some cases Durga’s face is seen flush with rage, matching that of Mahishasur and in other cases, she is seen with a serene face and Mahishasur is seen almost baring his chest to embrace the Trishul.
Meaning and Significance
Durga’s victory is celebrated every year. It marks the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness. It is telling therefore that the festival is celebrated every year in the same way. Evil in this philosophy is not something that is external to existence. Regardless of which interpretation of Mahishasur’s intentions one goes by, his slaughter is seen as a rite of passage. No one questions that Mahishasur attained Moksha. Durga continues to be hailed as the protector of the weak and the disempowered. The demon that is slain returns every year because corruption and moral failings rest in human hearts. Unbridled ambition and self aggrandisement are inherent to the human condition. Right from the moment the silt of the river Ganga is harvested till the point the idol is re immersed into the water after the 10 days of puja typically highlight the cyclical motions of life, death and rebirth. Durga comes visiting as a daughter along with Saraswati, Laxmi, Ganesha and Kartikeya, every year, and every year she returns. The puja and its rituals therefore are not only a homage to the power of Shakti but the maternal, preserving power of a woman. It is the worship that teaches to channelize combustive energy in creative ways conducive to regeneration and continuance of life.
We see therefore that Shiva and Shakti are not only two deities who happen to be married, but they are mutually dependent ideologies that keep the fabric of society and time intact. Historically too, the cults of the Devi worshippers have come together to join hands with Shaivaites on account of socio-historical evolution, argue several theologians and anthropologists. One factor emerges unchallenged out of all debates- Shiva and Shakti are inseparable concepts that have equally religious and socio-historic importance, powerful enough to facilitate spiritual rejuvenation in millions of hearts across the world, for what is evidently a time span of centuries.
Author is well known for writing articles on Hindu Mythology. Here he comes with the relationship of lord shiva and shakti. Subscribe with the writer at shiva experience to feel real experience and blessing of lord shiva.
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