I just finished giving a workshop for women called, Shakti Celebration, where we tapped into a few Hindu Goddesses and used postures, meditation, chanting and music to connect to the strong female energy, shakti.  A request was made to share the stories of the 5 goddesses we used as inspiration on Saturday.  Following are the excerpts I used for the workshop.

To those who participated, thank you so much, it was a wonderful and joyous afternoon.

PARVATI – Daughter of the Mountain

 Parvat means mountain.  Parvati, daughter of Himavan, god of the Himalayas, is known as Daughter of the Mountain.  Her greatest pleasure is to serve Shiva, and she combines the roles of caring wife and affectionate mother.

 Shiva is passionate in his love for Parvati.  Of the many games they play together, one is a game of dice.  Once, Parvati was losing to Shiva, but gradually the tables turned and Shiva lost everything he had staked in the game, including the crescent moon and all his jewels.  When Parvati demanded that Shiva give her what she had won, the two fought.  Parvati stood her ground and removed everything from Shiva, including his loincloth.  This enraged Shiva and he stalked off into the wilderness, leaving Parvati behind.

 Tormented by the separation, she soon went in search of Shiva.  Taking the form of another woman, she approached the meditating Shiva.  He opened his eyes and, feeling attracted to this beautiful woman, jumped up.  When he realized that she was none other than Parvati, he laughed and fell into her arms.

 The association between Parvati and Shiva is often seen to represent the perennial tension between the ideals of the ascetic and the householder.  Parvati’s aim is to lure Shiva into the world of marriage, sex, and children to tempt him away from asceticism, yoga and other worldly preoccupations.  In this role, she is cast as a figure that enhances life in the world, who represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, and who cherishes the home and the family.

KALI – The Black One

 Kali is the goddess of dissolution and destruction who puts an end to all illusion.  She is called the Black One, for she is like the darkest night that swallows everything. She is frightening in appearance, with wild eyes, a tongue that hangs out, and dreadful teeth.  She is depicted standing on a corpse while wielding a bloody sword and holding the severed head of a demon in her hand. 

 Her most famous battle was with the demon Raktabija, whom the gods could not kill.  Every drop of his blood that touched the ground transformed itself into another demon.  Within a few minutes of attacking him with their weapons, the gods would find the entire battlefield covered with millions of demon clones.

 In despair, the gods turned to Shiva, but Shiva was lost in meditation.  So they approached Parvati, who immediately set out to do battle with the dreaded demon.  To protect herself, she took the fearful form of Kali.

 As Kali rode onto the battleground on her lion, the evil Raktabija became afraid for the first time in his life.  Kali ordered the gods to attack him while she spread her enormous tongue over the battlefield, thus preventing a single drop of blood from falling on the ground.  Raktabija was killed.  Drunk on his blood, Kali ran across the cosmos killing anyone who dared cross her path.

 Kali adorned herself with the heads, limbs and entrails of her victims.  To stop her, Shiva threw himself under her feet.  Kali calmed down, embraced him, and shed her ferocious form.

LAKSHMI – Goddess of Fortune

 Lakshmi personifies fortune, wealth, loveliness and grace.  She is the consort of Vishnu and represents liberation from the cycle of life and death.

 Although chosen by Vishnu to be his consort, Lakshmi remained an avid devotee of Shiva.  Every day she had a thousand flowers plucked by her handmaidens, and in the evening she offered them at an altar for Shiva.  One day, she counted two less than a thousand.  It was too late to pick any more, for evening had come and the flowers had all closed their petals for the night.

 Thinking it inauspicious to offer less than a thousand, she suddenly remembered that Vishnu had once described her breasts as blooming lotuses.  She decided to offer them as the two missing flowers.

 She proceeded to cut off her first breast.  Before she could cut off the second, Shiva appeared, extremely moved by her devotion, and asked her to stop.  He then turned her cut breast into the round bael fruit and sent it to earth with his blessings, to flourish near his temples.

 Lakshmi was notorious for consorting freely with various gods and had a reputation for fickleness and inconsistency.  In one text it is said that she is so unsteady that even in a picture she moves.  Thus she is known as the Restless One.

 Lakshmi is often associated with the lotus.  Rooted in the mud but blossoming above the water, the lotus represents spiritual perfection. To be seated upon the lotus suggests transcendence.  Lakshmi thus represents s state of detachment that transcends the material world.

SARASVATI – Goddess of Wisdom

 Sarasvati’s character and attributes are clearly associated with the Sarasvati River.  In a symbolic sense she suggest the sacredness of rivers or of water in general.  Sarasvati is said to bestow fertility and riches, for her waters enrich the land so that is can produce.  Like water, she also represents purity.

 Early literature describes Sarasvati as a goddess of speech.  The entire process of creation is said to have originated in the vibration of sound.  A mantra, which consists of sacred sounds, possesses great power, and the mantra of any particular god is thought to be equivalent to the god himself.  To chant a mantra is to make the god present.

 As the embodiment of speech, Sarasvati is present wherever speech is present, and when a child is born it is common for the grandmother to use honey to make a five-pointed star, called a Sarasvati, on the baby’s tongue.

 Sarasvati’s color is white, the color of peace.  Her clothes the lotus she sits upon, and her familiar swan are all white.  Her appearance is graceful and serene and shows a total lack of artifice.

 When she was first created, Brahma grew angry at her because she kept eluding his advances.  We do not know how, but legend has it that he managed to marry her.  Lore also has it that his young wife was too aloof and absentminded for his liking.  Once, when he had arranged for a major fire sacrifice at which his wife’s appearance was required, he repeatedly warned her not to take too long over her toilet, for he was concerned that she would miss the auspicious hour.  But Sarasvati, with her characteristic disregard for Brahma’s desire, prolonged her toilet and was late for the appointment.  When she finally arrived, a furious Brahama threw her out, replacing her with Gayatri, the daughter of a sage.

 Sarasvati, though married, never enjoyed domestic bliss.  According to most myths she had no children, possessed a fiery temper, was easily provoked, and was somewhat quarrelsome.  She is described as having a very independent will and never being very obliging to the male gods.

 As the disinherited daughter and estranged wife, Sarasvati lived in a state of self-imposed exile, focusing her gaze upon the distance.  Her capacity to recall things without anger or resentment is her great gift to writers, musicians, and the creators of various art forms – all of whom fight with tradition.

 Sarasvati’s ironic eye watches Kali’s tussle for power against male demons and Lakshmi’s subterfuges in the male world of power.  But she remains a witness, a dispassionate historian.  She is the one who believes in the ultimate futility both of all warfare and of the trappings of wealth.

  “Fair as a jasmine flower, the moon or a flake of snow,
Dressed in white, her hands adorned by the graceful veena staff,
Adorned by Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the other deities,
Protect me, Oh Goddess Saraswati, remover of ignorance.”
 

DURGA – The Invincible

 Durga is a fierce form of the mother goddess.  According to a legend, the gods could not defeat the buffalo demon, Mahisha, who was threatening the existence of the universe.  They begged Shiva, for his assistance, so Shiva advised all the gods to release their Shakti energy.  The energy that was thus released fused together in a blinding light, and there arose a magnificent, fully-grown goddess with many arms who was as beautiful as she was deadly.  The gods called her Durga, the Invincible One, and they armed her with all their weapons.  Durga rode to the top of a mountain on a lion.  In a bloody battle, she defeated Mahisha and his army of demons and thus saved the world.

 Originally Durga was seen as the embodiment of the natural forces that both grant life and take it away.  As such, she nourishes with the ingenuity and unfailing dedication of nature and protects with a vengeance.

 She is also known as the Unfathomable One, for she destroys ignorance.  In exchange for this she demands a sacrifice; in some stories, this sacrifice involves a human life.

 Durga is the power of realization and the destroyer of world of illusion.  She is sometimes known as Beyond-Reach and in this aspect is another manifestation of the consort of Shiva.  The lion she rides upon depicts courage.