Notes about Devi Mahatmyam
One of the remarkable things about the Devi Mahatmyam is the way it introduces a hero – three male protagonists in fact, and then devotes the rest of the narrative to the Shakti; the divine feminine power, and these men become almost shadow puppets.
I cannot think of another story which asserts the absolute power of the Mother God in relation to the lives of ordinary men, who have reached the mid life crisis of their lives. They are then faced with the question of this human condition: why are we vulnerable to fate?
Then the third man, the sage, tells them about the Devi, the great Mother who is really the power, the Shakti, the fulcrum of spirituality.
These men have been virtuous and well-meaning but, by being unconscious of this innate feminine power within, they have been unable to realise their full potential. Having been immersed in concern for the welfare of their dependants their attention was always external and unable to recognise that true self which is spiritual and which this illusory world of the senses disguises from us.
Since the Iron Age the world has been in the thrall of patriarchal religions. Before that time worship of the Mother was universal.
It is typical of our ego-centric culture that the evidence of the widespread ancient worship of the creative feminine power can now be denigrated by dismissive language. The myriads of stone and ivory carvings are frequently labelled as mere fertility cult figures.
We might expect some future archaeologists to refer to the current religions as ‘warrior cults’ or even ‘death cults’.
Although the Indian sub-continent has kept the thread of goddess-worship since pre-Aryan times, the rise of the caste system with its repressive priestly caste of Brahmins has alienated the bulk of the populace by its intellectual emphasis on scholarship and on laws and austerities. This has marginalised the innate religion of India which is the bhakti religion – *the religion of devotion which goes beyond faith.
The Sanskrit word ‘Shraddha’ describes a total absorption, a complete realisation that the self is none other than that divine, all-pervading creative energy which the self adores.
This is the deep spiritual knowledge which is revealed to two typical men. In the Devi Mahatmyam the first is a king, of the warrior caste – a Kshatriya. He has lost his kingdom but is still burdened by his sense of responsibility. The second is a member of the merchant caste who has accumulated wealth but has subsequently been robbed by his own family.
Both men have fulfilled their proper roles according to laws of dharma. So the question arises: what is the meaning of life? Although they have been good men they have not found contentment. They now become seekers of truth.
The Rishi, in whose idyllic forest retreat they have found refuge, is clearly not an austere, unapproachable ascetic. He is a devotee of the great Mother God. He is sustained and nourished by her. He knows her to be the vital force which sustains all living things – and even the patriarchal gods who were introduced with the invading warrior tribes, even their elemental powers are dependent on her grace.
In describing her battles with all the demonic forces he concludes each episode with ancient hymns of such exquisite force that they re-vivify the warrior-king and the merchant who now know the essence of their own being. They realise that they are really one with the adorable all-pervading divine power, that their impeccable lives to this time have been mere shadows of the glorious manifestation of that eternal being which, until then, has allowed them to act unconsciously.
The oldest written copies of the Markandeya Purana in which this story is embedded, date from the 12thC. C.E. Some scholars suggest that the style of language indicates much of it was composed in written form around the third or fourth century. But before that it would have been in oral form for many centuries. It’s resurgence in the modern era suggests that the scholars who wrote it were reacting to the increasing predominance of male deities in public worship.
*footnote:Even this devotional worship has become corrupt as followers compete in displays of absurd self mutilation, bloodletting and a superstitious belief that the fierce aspect of the Mother God desired blood. T he real message of the story is that she will protect her children by destroying the forces of evil which are out to prevent them from realising their divine nature.
“Behold the Mother: the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Redeemer.”
This was the advice given by Lord Jesus when his disciples asked for signs of his return to Earth.
There are very few passages in all the world’s scriptures which specifically praise the Mother God. But even in the most patriarchal religions the desire to worship her cannot be entirely suppressed.
I began my search in earnest; it must have been after the 5th of May, 1970, although at the time I did not know the significance of that date. I found evidence in various books, of the worship of Mary, mother of Jesus, by people who followed his teachings. They would not have called themselves ‘Christians’. But they were clearly following his instruction to expect his mother’s re-appearance on the earth and in their lives.
After Lord Jesus departure, there was a grass roots movement, separate from the politically driven Christian movement, in which each household kept a seat for Mary at their table and offered her a small loaf –called a ‘collyrid’. This earned them the name ‘Collyridians’ by the patriarchal Christian church fathers who despised them. But, when it became obvious to those politically astute men that their subjects in the Mediterranean countries and further East had traditionally worshipped the divine as Mother, the Christian church fathers then included the worship of Mary as a saint, seeing the advantage of attracting followers of this far more popular movement. Eventually, several hundred years later, their followers would even accord her a role in heaven as well.
There are so few books devoted to praise of the Mother God. The translators of the bible effectively changed the feminine words of original texts to either a masculine or neuter gender, as in the case of the Holy Spirit. The Aramaic word which Jesus used was feminine. But the Greek translation gave a neuter version and the Roman word, of course, was masculine.
As a child I was puzzled by how vague adults were about the nature of the Holy Spirit. I sensed that this was perhaps the most important element of the religion. Why could no-one explain this?
And to see suddenly, in the middle of the 8th chapter of the book of Proverbs, that passage in a feminine voice…
‘I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever earth was. When there were no depths I was brought forth: when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him’…
And add to this the mystery of the ecstatic Song of Solomon. All these were clues like shining jewels in a stony pathway. It makes one wonder if the wives and daughters of those erudite men who compiled the books which make up the standard versions of the bible might sometimes have leant over a shoulder and said – ‘Oh, don’t alter that one – it is so much more alive…it speaks to me.’
During the nineteen seventies I discovered a translation of Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh King” by Isabella Meares which reads:
‘The Spirit of the Valley dies not,
it is called Mother-substance of the Deep.
The Door of Mother-substance of the Deep
is called the Root of Heaven and Earth.
It nourishes and preserves.
Thy strength shall not fail.’
I took this as an encouraging sign, although I could not grasp its meaning then, but the words ‘Mother-substance of the Deep’ gave me hope. Most of the other translations used a neuter noun.
I was fortunate to discover the great Indian poem of praise of the Devi Saundarya-lahari (the Ocean of Beauty) written by Shri Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th Century C.E. and at about the same time I found Bhaskararaya’s commentary on the Lalita Sahasranam (the thousand names of the Devi). Both of these books at that time were almost impenetrable to me, but they were a promise.
The first name of the thousand is: the holy Mother; Shri Mata. In the two page commentary which follows, Bhaskararaya says – ‘the greatest world-mother is the only one who is capable of removing the endless misery. We should praise her as the mother so that she may be induced to show mercy to us.’
The second name is the great Queen; Shri Maharajni.
Of this name he simply says she is ‘the controller of the created universe.’
This was encouragement to my quest. But the question remained: how to find her?
I met other seekers like myself, mostly women, who believed that the cusp of the new age dawning was heralded, in 1981, by the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as they moved into the constellation Virgo, forming a truly bright star to see with the naked eye, that this might be a sign of hope. Surely the Avatar of this age must be in the form of the Mother.
Although we discussed the possibility of keeping a chair for her as the Collyridians had done, we could not imagine what sorts of protocols were required to worship such divinity, but we prayed to her in our hearts.
And she came. There was a small advertisement announcing a lecture to be given by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga. There was a photo and beneath that were the words ‘Behold the Counsellor, the Comforter, The Holy Spirit.’
But in my ignorance I still thought I was going to a lecture by someone who taught Yoga exercises. To my amazement and everlasting delight I discovered that here was the end of my search and the beginning of real self discovery, when, at the end of her talk she invited us to slip off our shoes, to close our eyes and after a couple of minutes to reach our hands above our heads to feel for the cool breeze of the Holy Spirit. It rises like a fountain, actually from the fontanel. So the name of that part of our anatomy is not mere coincidence.
After this it became possible to understand the depth of meaning in those obscure texts. That the seven pillars of Wisdom mentioned in the bible (Proverbs ch.9 v.1), are of course, the seven chakras inside us all and the passage of the awakened Kundalini enlivens them and makes manifest the divine nature within us all which remains potential until it is awakened by another enlightened being.
Its real quality is love. This is the power which drives all creation. This is the power which the Goddess wields in the Devi Mahatmyam. We need only to be awakened to that power which for the benefit of this troubled world was opened in the universe, by Shri Mataji alone on the 5th of May 1970. This indescribable event is celebrated every year by Sahaja Yogis all over the world, as Sahasrara Day: the day on which humanity was given the fulfilment of all the promises in all the scriptures, that we could become collectively conscious. This is the end of the period of Homosapiens and the beginning of the age of Homospiritualis.