Subscribe for Newsletters and Discounts
Be the first to receive our thoughtfully written
religious articles and product discounts.
By registering, you may receive account related information, our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
Share our website with your friends.
Email this page to a friend
By subscribing, you will receive our email newsletters and product updates, no more than twice a month. All emails will be sent by Exotic India using the email address

Please read our Privacy Policy for details.
Your Cart (0)

Devi: A Journey Through Texts and Contexts

Article of the Month - May 2007
Viewed 65900 times since 2nd Oct, 2008






The Vedic seers, despite their strong monotheistic perception of the Divine and cosmic unity, deciphered on the very outset the two aspected character of existence and creative process, one being the male and other, the female. When the Rigveda acclaims that 'he who is described as male is as much the female and the penetrating eye would not fail to see it', it admits the factum of the outward duality of existence.





Under the Rigvedic perception the maleness and the femaleness are contained within a single frame but they are nonetheless two attributes of the 'contained'. The Vedic literature, the Vedas and Vedic commentaries - Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishadas, and post-Vedic scriptures have invented numerous metaphors to elucidate this Vedic mysticism and define outward duality of the universe in terms of its intrinsic unity. All these efforts only further affirm the factum of apparent duality, which characterises existence. Not such mystic duality alone, the Vedas have directly alluded to a number of operative attributes, male and female, having cosmic dimensions and role, deified them and sometimes even personalised. Thus Vedas themselves contained the 'seed' of personalised male and female divinities.



Usha, the Goddess of Dawn
Usha, the Goddess of Dawn





Principal female attributes that the Vedas identified as operating upon the cosmos were Vak, Ushas, Sita, Ratri and others. The Upanishadas identified them as Prakriti, the Nature, and Maya, the illusion. The Upanishadas considered the materially manifest existence nothing more than Maya. Allusions to Sita, the furrow-line, which subsequently symbolised the patron-deity of agriculture, and Ratri, the night, are just casual. Vak and Ushas are alluded to more decisively. The Vedas perceived in Vak - a synonym of Vani, that is, speech, the divine instrument, wherein the unmanifest manifested, and in Ushas, the dawn, the instrument that brought to light what darkness enshrouded.




Mother Goddess in Terracotta from the Indus Valley
Mother Goddess in Terracotta from the Indus Valley






The Vedas have also alluded to human females, Aditi, the mother of gods with god-like divine status, and Diti, Ila and a few others. Though no hymns are attributed to, or rites ascribed, the Vedas allude to Mahimata, Mother earth, similar to the deity that Harappans worshipped as Mother goddess, with deity-like reverence.







Purusha and Prakriti
Purusha and Prakriti






In subsequent metaphysics, Prakriti and Maya were contemplated sometimes as the material aspect of Creation, and sometimes as the counterpart of Purusha, Self, that the Self enlivened.






Goddess Saraswati in a Swan Sari
Goddess Saraswati in a Swan Sari







Ushas lost its divine status, but long after during the Puranic era, Vak seems to have re-appeared as Vagdevi or Saraswati, the presiding deity of knowledge, arts and music.






Goddess Lakshmi
Goddess Lakshmi





Not easy to trace the evolution, the form of Lakshmi, at least in her initial iconographic representations, seems to have evolved, sometimes around the third-second-century B. C., conjointly out of the verbal connotation of the Vedic Mahimata, attributes of Sita, and the iconographic vision of Indus Mother goddess. Lakshmi represented fertility, riches, prosperity and benediction.








Durga Slays the Demon Mahishasur
Durga Slays the Demon Mahishasur




What the Vedas had in the 'seed' form, the Puranas not only magnified to its optimum but also personalised its each aspect in very specific terms and with a specific image. In the Vedas, what comprised the part of the creative process or was an attribute of the cosmos, emerged in the Puranas as an operative force with a goal before. Where the Vedas, or even Harappan dweller, sought mere benediction, the Puranas assigned, besides benediction, a specific role, more specifically the elimination of evil forces and effecting dissolution, something which the Vedas did not meditate on.





Devi the Mother Goddess and Her Three Children
Devi the Mother Goddess and Her Three Children






This Puranic attribution emerged in the course of time as the key role of the female energy, the Divine female, the Devi, operating in and pervading upon the cosmos. In almost no time this multi-aspected Divine Female had, in scriptures, arts and more so in folk mind, more massive presence than had the Great Trinity.








A mother, enshrining some kind of divinity, and a consort, who always stood by his side, formed man's earliest perception of woman and obviously it influenced his idea of the Divine female. In the Great Goddess, he perceived the protective mother and someone who he could assume as his strength, someone who belonged to him. This personalness characterised his ties with the Devine Female. He did not have such intimate feelings for a male god. In the earliest forms of Puranic invocations of the Goddess, performed reciting hymns of worship and homage, this passionate intimacy is often revealed. When invoking her in her entirety, describing her beauty, limb to limb, these hymns did not stop short of anything, not even in their appreciation of her feminine parts. In the Tantrika way, the process was further intensified. When the Tantrika made, through his 'sadhana', penance, the Devi's energies enter into his being, he also had the Devi merge into him. She kindled his entire being, all his energies, even sex. This led the Tantrika to experience a fervent passion, a maddening desire or even 'lust' for her, though differently, this passion or 'lust', being born of the worshipful attitude, could only be the purest in its kind intending no dishonour to the deity.



The Highest Shakti (Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Book Twelve, Chapter 8)
The Highest Shakti (Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Book Twelve, Chapter 8)






Whatever the Vedic vision or man's initial perception of woman, the Puranic transformation of the Divine female was altogether different, vigorous, operative and humane, and comprised the most complex aspect of the Divine image. The Puranas perceived the Divine female sometimes as Adi Shakti, primordial energy,





Sadasiva with Shakti
Sadasiva with Shakti







which like Sadashiva always prevailed, and at other times, as female power, which came into being out of gods' combined lustre, summarily, their creation. In both cases, she was not only possessed of powers superior to those of gods but was also the object of their worship.





The Gods Pay Homage to Goddess Lakshmi
The Gods Pay Homage to Goddess Lakshmi

The primitive Divine Female, Harappan or Vedic, appears to have been a mere iconically or verbally realised non-operative boon giver. Puranas transformed her into an operative force, humanised and wove around her abundant myths and innumerable personality aspects. She emerged in Puranas in myriad of forms and manifestations, eradicating evil and doing acts of benevolence. She was perceived as representing all forms of vitality, strength, might, power, force, proficiency, dynamism and all operative faculties. Vengeance and even violence, too, were her aspects. She was seen as operating in and on all manifest or unmanifest things, both, as their holder and their dynamic principle. Puranas saw her as manifest nature, as also the absolute consciousness, thinking mind, universal intellect and controller of senses. Thus, the image of the Divine female, as it had shaped in devotional mind, was a mix of metaphysics, myths and lingering pre-historic ritual practices and imagery.



The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam
The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam






Devi Bhagavata is the foremost of scriptures that consider Devi as the Adishakti, the divine power that preceded all things, all beings and all gods.







Devi Bhagavata records a number of episodes that reveal her priority over Trinity and her superior divine powers. Hayagriva, a demon with a horse-head, with an ambition to conquer death, made a thousand years long rigorous penance. Pleased by it Devi appeared and wished to accomplish what he desired. Hayagriva prayed her to grant him immortality. Devi persuaded him to ask for anything but immortality, for everything, live or dead, which was composed or entered a material form, was destined to decompose and decay. Hayagriva conceded and revised his prayer to have a death at the hands of none but Hayagriva, a horse-headed one, thinking that he would not kill himself. The prayer was granted. Practically, this rendered him invincible. His excesses and atrocities had now no limits. Gods and Brahmins were his chosen targets. Around then, gods had been performing a thousand years long 'yajna' with Vishnu as the presiding deity. Before the final offering, they went to Vishnu to invite him for accepting the 'havya', offering, but were shocked to find, instead of him, his headless torso lying on the ground. Helpless gods began wailing, but Brahma consoled them and invoked Veda-Shakti, the Devi, to reveal who had done this misdeed and to undo it. Brahma extolled her as the Creator of the universe who created all beings, including him, Vishnu, Shiva and all gods. He proclaimed that it was her will to create that transformed into the cosmos and Vishnu and Brahma were its mere operative agents. Hence, she alone could revive Vishnu. To the delight of gods, the all-knowing and all-accomplishing Devi appeared. She revealed how a trivial act of Vishnu incited Lakshmi to curse him and lose his head, though this too was not without an end. The Devi asked Brahma to find a horse-head and implant it on Vishnu's torso, which having been done, Vishnu revived.

Vishnu as Hayagriva
Vishnu as Hayagriva







Now with a horse-head, he too was Hayagriva who could kill Hayagriva, the demon, which, being commanded by the Devi, he did.







The Slaying of Madhu and Kaitabh
The Slaying of Madhu and Kaitabh

The Devi's similar status reveals in the event related to demons Madhu and Kaitabh. Vishnu was in a phase of sleep to prevail for a thousand years. In the meantime, out of the wax, releasing from his ears, were born two demons, Madhu and Kaitabh. Soon after, the demons attacked Brahma seated on the lotus emitting from Vishnu's navel. They chased Brahma from one place to other. Brahma recalled and invoked the omnipresent Devi, the Mother of them all, and prayed her to wake Vishnu. Devi appeared and woke Vishnu. Vishnu had a five thousand years long battle with Madhu and Kaitabh but was unable to kill them. At last, he invoked Devi and acting on her guidance was able to slay the two demons.


Infant Krishna
Infant Krishna






Far popular is the legend in which Devi enables Vishnu to know himself and his cosmic role. After the Great Deluge, Vishnu, as child, emerged upon the oceanic surface floating on a fig leaf.






Dismayed he questioned, 'who am I, who created me and created what for'. Suddenly, horizons echoed with a voice - 'all that is, it is me; nothing but me alone is eternal and prevails beyond time'. When locating the source of the voice, in his vision appeared a heavenly female with four hands carrying in them a conch, disc, club and lotus. Divine costume and ornaments adorned her figure and twenty-one celestial powers stood in attendance. Vishnu instantly realised that she was none but the Adi-Shakti, Devi, and paid her homage.



The Birth of Devi
The Birth of Devi

Devi Mahatmya in the Markandeya Purana and other texts relate her origin to the elimination of Mahishasura, a mighty demon who once ruled the earth. The ambitious demon desired to conquer the heaven, too. He sent words to Indra, heaven's ruler, to either accept his suzerainty or face him in battle. Indra preferred war but he and his gods could not face Mahishasura and fled. Under a boon from Brahma, Mahishasura was invincible against all males, men, demons or beasts. Gods, led by Indra, rushed to Brahma. Finding himself helpless, Brahma took them first to Shiva and then to Vishnu. Hearing of Mahisha's misdeeds, from Vishnu's countenance burst a blazing divine lustre. He turned towards Shiva, and then Brahma, Agni, Surya, Indra and all other gods. A similar radiance began bursting from the faces of them all. This divine lustre amassed into a huge mount of radiance covering the entire sky. Out of it revealed gradually a female figure, first, her head, then breasts, waist, thighs and legs. From Shiva's lustre was formed her head; from Yama's, her hair; and from that of Vishnu, Moon, Indra, Brahma, Sun, Vasu, Kuber, Prajapati, Agni, Twilight, and Vayu, her arms, breasts, waist, feet, toe-nails, finger-nails, nose, teeth, eyes, brows, and ears. She had eighteen arms and a three-eyed face. The celestial creation had unique lustre not known or possessed by any god ever before. Filled with gratitude, all gods prostrated and worshipped the divine creation, Devi, the Great Goddess.

Goddess Durga as Mahishasur-mardini
Goddess Durga as Mahishasur-mardini



Out of his trident Shiva created another and presented it to the Devi. So did Vishnu, Varuna, Agni, Yama, Vayu, Surya, Indra, Kubera, Brahma, Kala, and Vishvakarma. They offered to her their disc, conch, dart, iron rod, bow, quiver full of arrows, thunderbolt, mace and drinking pot, rosary and water pot, sword and shield, battle-axe and a number of amulets respectively. Besides, Ocean brought for her glittering jewels, Shesha, a necklace inlaid with celestial gems, and Himavana, his lion for her vehicle. On behalf of gods, sage Narada narrated to the Devi all about gods' miserable plight and Mahishasura's atrocities and prayed her to kill him. In a fierce battle she killed the demon and earned for her the epithet 'Mahishasura-mardini', now almost her other name.




Devi Mahatmyam: (Glory of The Divine Mother)
Devi Mahatmyam: (Glory of The Divine Mother)






Though sage Markandeya has widely used the term 'Devi' to denote this Female Divinity, but his emphasis is largely on her demon slaying aspect, and epithets like Chandika, which he has used not less than twenty-seven times in the Devi-Mahatmya, reveal his mind and its image of the Devi.






Continued in Page 2

Next Page »

Post a Comment
Post Review
  • I love to read your pieces about God as Feminine in the Hindi tradition. There's lots more on god as mother here -- It's well worth a visit!
    by Mary on 17th Jul 2007
  • Thank you for another beautiful, and informative article.

    I look forward to receiving these each month.
    by Sarabeth Emet on 21st May 2007
  • Excellent piece of work, very well written, described and illustrated. Kindly keep up the good work.
    by Dr Ravi K Puri on 21st May 2007
  • It is a continuous pleasure to read your interesting and useful (to a devotee of the sacred in all forms ) letter, a true bridge, anthakarana, between lands and imaginations, thanks.
    by Pierluigi Ferrari on 18th May 2007
Parcel received is brilliantly packed by your dispatch team. Excellent collection, beautiful Micro-art work. The items are exactly same as displayed. Hats-off to the collection team. The shiva linga Ring & Garuda pendant were superb. Its pleasure shopping every time. God bless your team with good energy to continue this Real collection work.
Badarinath, India
Jamavar arrived so quickly and is beautiful, thank you!
Your service is exceptional. I am very pleased with your professionalism.
Shambhu, USA
Statue rec'd & it is beautiful, thank you!
Fran, New Jersey
Very good collection. Once ordered previously I had received exactly what has been displayed on the website. Very honest and genuine. But there was little delay in delivery. Nice experience shopping in this website.
Badarinath, India
I’ve received my blue scarf and I am delighted. I am impressed by your professionalism. Thank you so much! I will place another order soon.
Celine, France
Received the consignment in time. Excellent service. I place on record your prompt service and excellent way the product was packed and sent. Kindly accept my appreciation and thanks for all those involved in this work. My prayers t the Almighty to continue the excellent service for the many more years to come. Long live EXOTIC INDIA and its employees
A very thorough and beautiful website and webstore. I have tried for several years to get this Bhagavad Gita Home Study Course from Arshavidya and have been unable. Was so pleased to find it in your store!
George Marshall
A big fan of Exotic India. Have been for years and years. I am always certain to find exactly what I am looking for in your merchandise.
John Dash, western New York, USA
I just got my order and it’s exactly as I hoped it would be!
Nancy, USA.
Subscribe to our newsletter and discounts
Share with friends
Related Links
"This middle path lies in between extreme asceticism on one side, and extreme indulgence on the other…. When standing under a Ashok tree, tired and exhausted, she raised her right hand for seeking support of a branch of the tree…. The unique balance that defined his entire life was pre-determined in this duality….One day, in the palace garden he frightened his attendants…. He ate less and less till his diet reduced to a sesame seed, and himself, to a mere skeleton…. Seven days after the attainment of enlightenment gods sent food for breaking his fast…. However, he postponed his ‘nirvana’ for three months till he visited the places he had reminiscences of."
The Light That Enlightened Millions
(The life of Buddha in the popular mind)
"It concedes that for an orderly social life a division into four groups based on the principle of varnadharma is necessary…. Each individual sometimes acts in a sattvika manner while at other times he may act in rajasic or tamasic manner, which means that the manifestation of a particular guna depends on circumstances…. Though all the three gunas are present in everyone, different persons are driven to act differently…. The karma that I have to perform should depend on my inherent gunas and should have the ability to regulate these gunas…. There is no instant transition to moksha…. An individual has to make his way towards moksha only through worldly life."
Varnashrama Dharma: A Logical View
"But to pull this statement out of context and give it as an advice for anyone is far from correct…. But how is one to recognise the guru? Obviously, he will be able to understand the difficulties of the disciples and clarify to them the meaning of the scriptures on the basis of logic and experience…. They will have to search in their own neighbourhood only….The guru chosen by him should be at least better than himself!…. Of course, if the ideal guru whose features have been enumerated in the beginning is available, then the sadhaka should immediately go and surrender to him…. It is just like going to another teacher for higher education, after completing the education in a school."
The Qualities of a Guru and How to Find One
" Contrarily metaphysicians and theologians perceived his form as it manifested in the Upanishads and Puranas….The ‘Advaita’ philosophy also contends that the entire Creation is just the extension of One…. Dance illustrates one of the ever-first cosmic acts with which Shiva seems to have tamed violent motion and separated from it rhythm, moves that communicated emotions and states of mind – human mind and the cosmic, and disciplined and defined pace…. Unlike Vishnu who resorted to dance for accomplishing a contemplated objective, Shiva has been conceived more or less as a regular dancer performing for accomplishing an objective as also for pure aesthetic delight…. Unfurling locks of hair and his snakes floating into space portray the dynamics of the act."
Shiva, the Nataraja
"Once as he was engaged in puja, a saint came to visit him….Like a true householder attached to his family, Gajendra sported in the water with his wives, children and friends…. Understanding that his end was imminent, they all slowly withdrew, till Gajendra was left alone…. If we reflect on it calmly, we will realise that there is no house in the world where the story of Gajendra does not play out…. The one who is careful towards the end is able to reform his death…. Gajendra’s hymn of praise is one of the greatest philosophical poems in the annals of world literature."
Moksha of Gajendra: Liberation by The Formless God
"Vyasa Ji explained through a story how it came to be that the Pandava's marriage with a single wife was in conformity with dharma….The gods, along with their king Indra, were sitting on the bank of a river when they saw a beautiful golden lotus floating on its waters…. Both were playing a game of dice…. On hearing Shiva’s words, Indra started shaking with fear… Without death, the burden on the earth becomes too much…. Her birth had the sanction of all the three Gods - Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu."
Devi Draupadi: Resolving the Paradox
"During one such sacrifice, nine spiritually charged men entered the sacrificial hall….As for Bhagavat Dharma, it is the dharma spoken by God directly from his own mouth…. Like a person eating food finds himself gratified simultaneously in three ways…. We are all constantly taught by spiritual texts to offer or dedicate all our actions to God. However, the question remains as to how to practically carry out this injunction…..The only fruit of wealth is dharma... Therefore, there is no need for the Vedas to enjoin us to these things for which we already have a tendency….The real intention of the Vedic injunctions in these matters is to make a person abstain from them…”
Nine Teachings from Nine Yogis: The Essence of Bhagavat Dharma
"We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects…. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him…. Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life…. The veil comes up again and the duality returns…. In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief)."
Ananda: Understanding the True Nature of Happiness
"She has always believed that this would redeem her of her distress….A coconut, otherwise an ordinary dried fruit or the source of edible, or at the most, beauty oil, has always been revered as an auspicious object effecting good and well-being and the food that gods most loved….The tree in the Buddhist tradition was later identified as Bodhi-tree, seated under which Buddha had attained Enlightenment….Body gestures and symptoms, signs, indications among others must have been the early man’s tools of communicating oneself and knowing and understanding the world around….Kirttimukha was initially conceived as a mystical mask….Lion does not figure in the wide range of animal toys or figurines excavated from Indus sites."
Auspicious Symbols in Indian tradition
"Only a certain fraction of this karma is chosen by God in order to form the blueprint of our next birth…. The fruit that one experiences in this birth is due to prarabdha and a portion of the present agami…. Similarly, a fish in the Ganga does not accrue punya because of always living in Ganga…. A good karma can be annulled by a bad karma and a bad one by a good one…. Sometimes we also hear that prarabdha cannot be got rid of. It has to be spent through…. Bhagawan Vyasa says that for the full result of the karma to manifest, three things are necessary…. Then how to understand the statement that prarabdha should unavoidably be experienced?"
Theory and Practice of Karma: Some Salient Features
"The Bhagavad Gita, while describing the qualities of a wise person says…. This verse is vividly illustrated in the story of king Rantideva occurring in the Srimad Bhagavatam…. He did not believe in hoarding, was above all attachments and was highly patient…. They were all trembling due to starvation and thirst….bowed to the dogs and their owner…. What I want is only this: That I be able to go and live in the hearts of all beings and undergo sufferings on their behalf, so that they may become free from all miseries."
An Example of Living Vedanta: The Story of King Rantideva
"Here is a fragment from one of the most poignant episodes of Indian history…. This piece of history is from the Mahabharata…. She was dying with shame but inside, like a true kshatrani (woman of the warrior race), she was burning with anger…. I have heard that women who follow dharma were never brought before a public court….Greed is the destroyer of dharma. I do not desire a third boon…. Draupadi was as forgiving as mother earth herself…. Just then Arjuna saw his dear friend Bhagawan Krishna approaching him…. “Leave him, leave him. He is a brahmin and worthy of our worship. Their mother should not cry, like I have at the death of my children."
Analyzing the Eternal Dimensions of Dharma Through Itihasa (History)
"Who would not satisfy his wife who is but his better half?…. Later, he took a bath, performed pranayama and meditating silently on the pure, eternal light, repeated internally the Gayatri Mantra…. Once it so happened that goddess Lakshmi was out of Vaikuntha…. Despite being older, they always maintain the appearance of five-year olds…. Seeing the great saints he welcomed them with reverence…. It is never for one single purpose but to fulfil many functions at the same time…. He ensured for them a glorious death."
God’s Lila, Understanding the Collective Impact of Avatara
"Actually, the one who worships Bhagwan Vishnu should get rich and the one who worships Shiva should become an avadhuta like Him…. Then he works hard again to acquire wealth. I render all his efforts futile…. However, Bhagawan Vishnu is not like that, it takes longer to please Him…. As a consequence, they later harassed the great God Himself…. On the seventh day, he bathed in the holy waters of Kedarnath and began to cut his head with an axe to offer into the fire…. The boy bowed respectfully before the demon and asked…. No one who commits sin against a great person can be safe and happy in this world."
Shiva and Vishnu: A Unique Aspect of Their Worship
"Whenever he gets the time, he should go and live amongst people who have given up worldly life…. A wise person should serve his body and family only to the extent that is functionally necessary…. The person who lays claim on the surplus wealth is nothing but a thief…. He should share all objects of enjoyment with everyone, right down to dogs, sinners…. Such is the attachment to one’s wife….How despicable is this body, which if buried is going to become the food of worms, or excreta if eaten by animals….Since a son is to thus revere his elders even after their death, what to say that he is expected to serve them when they are alive…. The person wishing to follow the path of dharma should steer clear of the five forms of Adharma."
Narada Teaches Yuddhishtra a Householder’s Dharma
Show More
TRUSTe online privacy certification
All rights reserved. Copyright 2016 © Exotic India