Durga Devi is first honoured in the famous Vedic Durga Sukta, composed of Vedic verses to Agni going back to the most ancient Rigveda.
Ma Durga arises from Agni, the universal principle of fire and light, as its force of purification. Durga holds the radiant colours of Agni as its most powerful flame. She is the cosmic form of Agni as the Sun/Surya, which is why she rides the lion. She dwells like the Sun, as the Atman in the hearts of all beings.
Durga shines brilliantly with the power of tapas, which is the Yoga Shakti, the ascending yogic force. Tapas is focused concentration that generates the heat necessary to transform the mind. It is the inward turning of awareness that draws the light of perception within us, dispelling the darkness of our subconscious nature. Ma Durga wields the power of tapas like a lightning bolt to remove all wrong thoughts, fears and attachments. To understand and honour Durga we must introduce tapas into our own lives, rigorously developing our power of discernment for introspection and self-inquiry.
Durga as a term means a fortress or a citadel where we retire for protection. Ma Durga as our spiritual mother is our ultimate refuge from the many hostilities of the outer world. Yet the term Durga also means going beyond difficulty, with the ultimate difficulty being death itself. Ma Durga takes as a ship across the sea. In this regard Durga, like Agni, is the power of the Divine Word, Pranava or OM that delivers us from the darkness of Maya to the eternal truth of the Supreme Brahman.
Durga as the one who takes us across all dangers is called Tara, a power the Buddhists also honour. Hers is the power of wisdom that saves us, with our own ignorance being the greatest threat to our happiness. Durga is called Aditi, the Infinite Mother of the Vedas lauded as the Divine ship that we ascend to Svasti, the bliss of universal well-being.
Durga as the Supreme Mother
Durga is Maheshvari who holds the triple powers of Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Kali as the universal forces of manifestation, sustenance and dissolution. Her nine days or Navaratri reflect her triple powers each in its own threefold expression. As such Durga is Jaganmata or Jagadamba, the Mother of the Universe.
In no other major religion of the world is the Goddess so boldly and colourfully worshipped as the Mother of the Universe, as she is honoured in Hindu Dharma. She is not just Mother Nature or Mother Earth but the Supreme Mother, the transcendent absolute of which all the worlds, universes or Brahmandas are mere waves upon her infinite sea.
The Navaratri festival in India is the longest, most dramatic and direct worship of the Universal Mother anywhere in the world. Through it the Mother of the Universe can enter into our own homes and hearts.
How then should we honour Ma Durga during her festival season? Certainly in any way that we are inspired to, but we should also participate in the great traditional celebrations found throughout India and wherever Hindus live, which carry the momentum of generations of worship and many millions of worshippers today flowing like a great flood.
The purpose of Hindu celebrations is not simply to provide happy occasions for us personally or for our community, though these are part of them. It is to show that human life reaches its summit in the celebration of the Divine, of which the mother is the most endearing form. Such spiritual celebrations take us beyond our limited human needs and link us to the universe as a whole in the unlimited fabric of the cosmic life that is an expression of overflowing Ananda as the Upanishads state.
We are here on Earth not merely to survive or to gain prominence over others. We are here to link the physical life bound by time and death with the immortal life that is eternal. Ma Durga has the power, wisdom, dynamism and grace to enable us to achieve this ultimate transformation, if we awaken her presence within us. Her Navaratri provides the occasion.
(Dr David Frawley, or Pandit Vamadeva Shastri, is a Western-born Vedacharya, who teaches an integral approach to Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda and Vedic studies. He is the author of 50 books published in 20 languages, and is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan from the Government of India. He is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)