Creator and Preserver:
As Virgin and Mother, the Goddess is considered to be the very spring from which every kind of love flows into the world. From the vast ocean of her being the morphogenetic field that produces all forms the Goddess gives birth to all living things. The pouring forth of this love-energy from her timeless, formless source into the field of time constitutes a sacred mystery.
Representations of the Goddess as a crouching woman giving birth to the manifold forms of her creation can be found in Indian art. As the Sky-Goddess Aditi, she pervades all space and is mother to the Gods so revered by the Indo-Aryans.
Maya the Sanskrit word for “magic” and “illusion” describes her role as the originator of all material things, all that is perceptible to the senses.
Displaying the protective and maternal side of her nature, she revels in her multitudinous manifestations and joyfully embraces the bounty of her gifts. Sculptures adorning Hindu temples frequently depict the Virgin Goddess as a young, beautiful and voluptuous woman. Sometimes she stands on her own, at others she is paired with her God-consort.
As Earth Mother, she is also a deity closely associated with Nature and fertility. Images of her priestesses, the Yoginis and Saktas, often incorporate organic forms such as branches or vines, symbolising Nature in its most instinctive form, proliferous and fruitful. Plants, leaves and flowers are commonly used in Indian medicine and, when they appear in portrayals of the Earth Mother they are considered to reflect the magical powers with which she is endowed.
Adorned with jewels and ornaments, she represents all that is precious. She alone is the eternal jewel whose brilliance encompasses and illuminates the universe.
One of the most ancient cults of the Goddess is that of Sarasvati, who is both worshipped as a sacred river of the same name and as the instigator and protectress of the spoken word, as well as all intellectual and artistic pursuits.
One of the most recent forms of her manifestation is that of Bharat Mata, Mother India, a militant aspect of the Goddess that is much concerned with the cause of Hindu nationalism.
Another manifestation is that of the beneficent Lakshmi, bringer of prosperity and abundance. During the autumn festival of Diwali, people all over the country light lamps in her honour to guide her into their homes.
The Goddess is also revered as Sati the pre-Vedic Virgin Bride who epitomises the loyal and virtuous wife who is faithful to her husband even unto death. This idea of wifely perfection is dear to the Indian way of thinking. Although in a metaphysical sense it means Sati is totally at one with her own true being, it is also an ethical concept.
Sadly, the idea of the “perfect wife” who is faithful unto death developed into the practice of suttee, in which a dutiful spouse was expected to accompany her husband to the world beyond through self-immolation voluntarily or otherwise in the flames of his funeral pyre.
In her aspect of the Great Mother, Devi’s devotees believe the presence of the Goddess exists within all her creations. She is their Mother. She gives them life. She nurtures them through her physical manifestations and she is present in their times of need. Through her worship, too, her devotees can transcend the world of illusion and reach out to her true being.
As Devimahatmia, Mahadevi or Durga (one of her most ancient titles), the eternally existent mother who nurtures and protects her offspring, the Goddess’s influence swept across North India and was particularly popular in the regions of Bengal and Rajasthan.
Famous for her sakthi in battle, Durga the Unassailable used the strength of her will, her knowledge and force of action, to defeat the purveyors of evil and to vanquish the demonic forces upsetting the balance of the universe.
Riding on a lion or tiger, her multiple arms wielding auspicious weapons, she was Cosmic Energy personified. When her mission was fulfilled she returned to her mountain home, promising to nourish the earth and protect her worshippers, only returning should her divine force be needed again.
At the height of this great cosmic battle, Durga was aided by the awesome Kali, who burst from her forehead to devour or crush the army of demons. As Kali drank the seed-blood of her enemies, she rendered impotent the destructive phallic power of her assailants.
Kali represents the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. With her dishevelled hair and lolling blood-drenched tongue, she presents a fearsome figure.
As the active power of Time, her three eyes look to past, present and future. Her thin waist is encircled by a girdle of human hands, symbolising the accumulated deeds of karma. Around her neck hangs a rosary of fifty skulls, each one inscribed with a magic letter of the Sanskrit alphabet representing the sacred word, or mantra, which vibrates within the primordial creative energy of the universe.
The Goddess’s four hands are also symbolic of her function: one wields a sword to cleave the threads of bondage, another grasps a severed head, representing the annihilation of the ego. Her two remaining hands are poised in gestures to dispel fear and inspire her devotees with spiritual strength.
Paintings and sculptures sometimes depict the fearsome Goddess standing on the inert body of her consort, Siva, awakening him into action with her sheer primordial power and energy.
As Smashanakali she resides in cremation grounds and her priestesses, the Dakinis or Skywalkers, undertake the role of Angels of Death.
Terrible though her aspect as Destroyer undoubtedly is, the mystical experience of the Goddess in this form can liberate the devotee from ego-consciousness and spiritually unite him with the Goddess in her oceanic formless state.
Abstract forms can also depict the Goddess in her various forms.
As Creator she is symbolised by a downward pointing triangle, the yoni, representative of female sexuality.
As Preserver, she takes the form of a straight line, and as Destroyer she is recognised in the form of the circle.
In her unmanifested state as the Source of all life, the Goddess is depicted simply as a dot, the bindu, or seed-state of her being.