Religion has been a partner of humanity since the very beginning. Most ancient religions recognized goddess energy, seeing it as vital to the balance of Nature. Time brought changes to much of the world, and the goddess was diminished in importance. Goddesses are popular again, some of this is due to revivals of old ways, and some due to new followers of religions that never left goddesses behind. However, there is a religion, embracing the goddess, that has had a consistent following for thousands of years and remains relatively unchanged. That religion is Hinduism, one of the great religions of the world, with followers estimated at around 1 billion.
Goddesses Who Can Shake the Universe
In Hinduism, a god (Deva) is balanced by a goddess (Devi), who is known as his Shakti, his feminine, divine force. Goddesses are in no way diminutive, or less important than their male counterparts. In fact, goddesses are seen as protective, courageous, strong and at times destructive, displaying a ferocity that can shake the Universe. The ability for goddesses to be strong and capable of violence reflects nature.
A Source of Protection and Love
In lion prides, lionesses will unite and fight to the death to protect cubs from predators. This aspect of the goddess, the fierce protector, is something that many in the West have a hard time understanding. The goddess Kali is a good example. Although terrifying for some to behold, she represents an ultimate source of protection and love. I had a friend who was devoted to Kali-Ma (Mother Kali). He often spoke of her with such respect and love, that he was moved to tears. There was no fear, only gratitude.
A Source of Power and Strength
Powerful goddesses were the standard for much of mankind's history. I'm not sure if a departure from that concept has changed how we view women in the West, but it's something to ponder. I see nothing wrong with embracing the idea of strong, and even militant women. Women are leaders, have served in the armed forces and have held the highest political offices of some of the most powerful countries in the world. Without the ability to see the duality in nature, it becomes impossible to realize the whole.
On Hindu Goddesses, With Deep Respect
What follows is a list of a few popular Hindu goddesses, worshiped by millions around the world. My descriptions of their symbols are by no means complete. Every image has a spiritual meaning. For those seeking more information on these goddesses and their symbols, I suggest research, or better yet, seek out a local temple. I've found that most members of religions are open to sharing their beliefs, from the heart and with love. Fear is the enemy of peace and education eradicates fear. I am not a Hindu, even though I practice what's known as Vedic Astrology. I’m offering my views on these goddesses as an observer, but with the deepest respect.
Nikola Tesla claimed that the he saw the details of single and polyphase motors in a blinding flash of insight, in essence, changing the world. August Kekule had in dream in which he saw a snake biting its own tail, thus solving the puzzle of the Benzene Ring. These were the gifts of Saraswati. The creative process is one of the greatest mysteries of being human.
The ability to invent something unique in the world belongs to Saraswati.
There are moments when a sudden beam of thought shines through the darkness of our subconscious, into the stream of awareness, with such illumination and clarity that we are forced to ask, where did that come from? Intellect and wisdom are difficult to pin down, but Saraswati is said to be the benefactor of the creative urge, bringing light into the real world. Hers is the ability to arrange order out of chaos and transform ignorance into knowledge.
A student asks for her help in studying a subject in school. A businessperson seeks her aid in finding the correct strategy in a difficult deal. A student of metaphysics will turn to her for clarification on an obscure, but important doctrine that dangles beyond the reach of the seeker. She is aesthetics, education, intuition, inspiration and more.
Saraswati is depicted riding a white swan and wearing white.
Often depicted with four hands, one holds a scroll of knowledge, one holds a mala, as an indication of spirituality, while the other two hold a musical instrument known as a Veena (similar to a Sitar). Imagine all nine Greek Muses in one entity. Saraswati is the creative urge realized and enriches the world with what she delivers, through those who are willing to listen. She allows for eloquence in speech, with an emphasis on bringing forth the truth. She also represents the intellect. It’s logical that she rules the ability to interpret what is heard and to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
When I think of Saraswati, I'm reminded of the public library in the town I grew up in. It was a place of great wonder and joy for me. Thousands and thousands of books awaited. I had but to ask a question, then search for and discover the book that held the answer. From the inspiration given an author, to the book’s completion, to its comprehension by individual readers, Saraswati has been the benefactor of every moment. Musicians, artists, writers and inventors all benefit from her energies and through them, all of humanity.
Lakshmi is the goddess of beauty, wealth, domestic happiness, love and other attributes that bring joy and well-being into our lives. She bestows great gifts to those who deserve them. Her blessing is said to bring happiness, material wealth and comfort. Lakshmi is often portrayed holding Lotuses, representing the spiritual imperative behind success and wealth, as well as another hand from which golden coins are cascading, a symbol of her ability to give wealth. She is generally shown wearing red clothing, often with golden embroidery, symbolizing her status. Associated with the full moon, she’s worshiped every day by millions, all over the world. I had a friend who believed that nothing good ever happened to anybody without the blessing and help of Lakshmi.
Some find it odd that a deity should be connected to wealth and materialism, but I find it realistic and optimistic, for a mother is generous to her children.
There are those who are incredibly fortunate, while there are others who suffer from a lack of resources. It's easy to make an assumption that those who don't have much, have not been blessed by Lakshmi, but this is nothing more than a form of elitism. To me, Lakshmi's gifts are based on spiritual imperatives. In other words, those who receive much and share those gifts, are truly blessed, much more so than those who hoard good fortune for themselves. The greatest blessing is sharing and spreading the benefit that comes from the boons given in life. Giving is the greatest gift of all, for it repays in so many ways.
Life is a joyous journey, but it can be filled with difficulties and great trials. The ability to endure and maintain faith, regardless of the hardships involved along the way, is something that all of us are called upon to face, at one time or another. This is the realm of Sita, the wife of Lord Rama and the epitome of womanhood, fidelity and endurance.
From the beginning, Sita had a tough life. An abandoned child, she was found in a field, although she was then adopted by a king. Eventually she met her future husband, Lord Rama, and was betrothed to him. Unfortunately, Rama was exiled and his wife insisted on living with him, in the woods, forsaking the luxury of palace life to be with her husband. She was eventually abducted by a demon, who attempted unsuccessfully to seduce her for a year. After her release, she submitted to trial by fire to prove her fidelity to her husband. She then went on to endure further accusations and was ostracized. Throughout this time, she never lost hope and was completely honorable and true to her principles.
Her calmness and trust, coupled with her loyalty, beauty and goodness, have made her a popular deity for women.
I find her attributes to be worthy of everybody, regardless of gender. The ability to deal with life honestly and to endure the hardships that come our way, make the difference between a happy existence and one fraught with regrets.
Durga is a fierce, compassionate goddess. The Shakti of Shiva, she is a warrior, often shown as riding a tiger, or lion. As the Devas may represent concepts and ideas, the Devis can be looked upon as the action of those ideals embodied. Feminine force is dynamic and active.
When a Buffalo demon was destroying the world, Deva Shiva was unable to subdue him and from his brow sprung Durga.
She is a protector, ready, willing and capable of battle in order to preserve the order and safety of those she loves. She is fearless and was ultimately victorious in her battle with the demon. Unless we are unworthy of the protection given by a feminine power of the Universe, we have nothing to fear. It is only those who abuse or victimize others, especially those weaker than themselves, who should tremble at the thought of Durga. To everyone else, she is a symbol of protection and love.
Perhaps the most intimidating Devi, Kali is also one of the most misunderstood. Her image is disturbing to those who don't know what they’re viewing. Her hair disheveled, red eyed and naked, she represents the fiercest form of the Shakti. She wears a belt of human arms and a necklace of demon’s heads. In one hand she holds a bloody sword, in the other, a severed demonic head. She extends her hand to show protection and tell us that none should fear her, for her wrath is saved only for those who have defiled decency and ignored the true needs of humanity.
She sprang from Durga, out of the necessity to destroy an unbeatable demon named Raktabija. Kali was able to overcome him, but every drop of his blood that fell to the ground, created another version of him.
She was finally forced to catch each drop of falling blood on her tongue in order to keep it from creating more demons.
Eventually she succeeded in destroying her enemies, but she was poisoned by the murderous blood and became enraged. She began destroying everything in her path in a bloodlust that threatened all. Eventually, Vishnu lay down directly in her path and she stepped upon his chest. This brought her back to herself. She is shown with her tongue sticking out, as a sign of shame at having trampled her husband, but all was well.
To me, Kali represents the reality of life, death and the powerful, destructive forces of nature that also give life and abundance. She is the reality and reminder of mortality and the realization of the absolute rules of time. Those who understand Kali, love her and realize how vital it is to live every day as fully as possible and without timidity. For me, perhaps her greatest message is one of fearlessness and the joy that life can bestow, if we are brave enough to face its sometimes fearsome appearance and embrace every day.
I wish you all, peace and love.