Devi: The Great Goddess
“The Great Goddess, known in India as Devi (literally “goddess”), has many guises. She is “Ma” the gentle and approachable mother. As Jaganmata, or Mother of the universe, she assumes cosmic proportions, destroying evil and addressing herself to the creation and dissolution of the worlds.
She is worshiped by thousands of names that often reflect local customs and legends. She is one and she is many. She is celebrated in songs and poems.
Devi is all-important in Hinduism, but there are also forms of female divinity in Buddhism and Jainsim. Today millions of Hindu men and women conduct regular pujas to Devi through one of her many manifestations.
For some she is their primary deity while for others she is part of a greater pantheon. All Hindu goddesses may be viewed as different manifestations of Devi. In some forms she is benign and gentle, while in other forms she is dynamic and ferocious, but in all forms she is helpful to her devotees.
There are many approaches to looking at Devi chronological, religious, or by function. Here we have chosen to observe Devi through her six main functions, beginning with her most forceful and dynamic form and moving toward less potent forms.
Devi is first seen as cosmic force, where she destroys demonic forces that threaten world equilibrium, and creates, annihilates, and recreates the universe. Next, in her gentle, radiant dayini form, she is the gracious donor of boons, wealth, fortune, and success. As heroine and beloved, Devi comes down to earth and provides inspiring models for earthly women.
Devi is then seen as a local protector of villages , towns, and individual tribal peoples, where she is concerned only with local affairs. In her fifth aspect, Devi appears as semi-divine force, manifesting herself through fertility spirits, and other supernatural forms. Finally, she is also represented in woman saints, who are born on earth but endowed with deep spirituality and other-worldly powers.”
“By you this universe is borne, By you this world is created, O Devi, by you it is protected.” (Devi-Mahatmya).
Throughout India, devotees honour Devi in their temples and at wayside shrines. Flowers garland her image with brightness, the light of countless lamps illuminate her presence and the blood of thousands of animals stains the stones of her altars crimson.
The Goddess is older than time, yet time itself. She is formless, yet to be found in all forms. Her presence is in all things, yet she transcends all things. She is ever-changing, yet eternally changeless.
She is both the womb from which all life flows forth and the tomb to which all life returns. Devi the Shining One source of the life-giving powers of the universe, who is experienced by her ecstatic worshippers as the Primal Cause and Mother of the World.
Pre-dating the patriarchal Male Trinity by thousands of years, the Goddess was once worshipped throughout the ancient world. Now, only in India does her cult remain widespread and part of a vibrant, living tradition in which her presence empowers and stirs the hearts of her devotees with adoration and devotion.
The veneration of Devi can be traced as far back as 20,000 BC. A bone image of the Great Mother was discovered at Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh dating back to that period. She was also revered at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley from 2,500 BC.
Closely associated with the land itself, villagers in rural India paid tribute to the Earth Goddess, adorning branches of trees and placing shrines within them which carried her image. Smooth, oval-shaped stones also marked her sacred sites.
Women were her channels and it was through them her rituals were performed, rites for the dead and ceremonies to promote fertility and fruitfulness of the land.
The Goddess became united in a Divine Marriage with the Gods of the Male Trinity: Sarasvati with Brahma, Lakshmi with Vishnu, and Parvati, Kali and Durga with Siva. Once given a priestly blessing, veneration of the Goddess as the God’s consort was incorporated in the regular rituals. As Sakti, she became the powerful spiritual energy without which the God was unable to act.
The Goddess is multi-faceted, known by myriad names and personified in many forms. As well as responding to the names of Parvati, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Sakti, she also manifests under the titles of Gauri, Uma, Sati, Aditi, Maya, Ganga, Prakriti, Gayatri, Tara, Minaksi, Mahadevi, Kundalini, Durga, Kali, Chamunda and in many other guises.
The great mountain peaks of the Himalayas Annapurna, Nanda Devi and Chomo-Lung-Ma (known to Westerners as the world’s highest mountain, Everest) all testify to her divine presence.
Like the facets of a diamond, these varying forms of the Great Universal Energy that is Devi are merely reflections of the countless aspects that make the whole, the Absolute.