Nava-Durgā as Ideal Model for the Development of Women to Attain their Natural Full Potential

– Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Science has taken a dominant position in the world for at least for the past 500 years or so, making every aspect of life being examined through the lens of science, or at least scientifically. Thus are the fields such as social science, political science, in addition to hard sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Corona pandemics has brought a few previously ignored items of discussion regarding men and women. Women are less vulnerable to Corona infection and Covid disease by about half compared to men. In addition, their immune reaction is so strong that anaphylaxis reaction from Covid vaccination is entirely occurring in women. There are several other biological differences between men and women (Singh, https://myind.net/Home/viewArticle/the-irony-of-empowering-the-powerful-women), mostly favoring women physically and biologically, which gives them on average 5-7 years higher longevity. How does it translate into the social behavior, structure, and treatment of women in the world generally? India traditionally being a matriarchal society (yes, it is contrary to general belief, but I am talking about matriarchy meaning mother and patriarchy meaning father, as opposed to ladiarchy and maniarchy! Singh, https://www.umassd.edu/indic/faculty-and-staff/director/india-new-england-jun-2007/) also needs to be looked at rationally and objectively.

Culturally, women in India under ideal conditions have high place in the society – Durgā, Saraswatī, and Laxmi. With all those superior physical and mental power as indicated above, there is perhaps no doubt left why women are referred to as the Shakti or power! Even 30-40 years ago, at least in eastern UP, girl names had Devi (divine) added as a suffix. It reflected what society perceived and professed for women’s high place. Kanyā pūjā is still common throughout the country during the Navarātrī celebrations. To rationally examine the practice of Kanyā pūjā during the Navarātra, one needs to examine first the nine forms of Durgā described for the purpose.

What do these forms truly represent, how they are symbolized with body forms, what items they carry in their hands, what they ride, and what people expect to get when they worship them. While considering such traditions, one needs to be cognizant of their symbolic nature. For example, it will be utterly ridiculous to consider a lady with 10 hands riding a tigress no matter how courageous she may be! It will be equivalent to a cardboard model of river bridge of an engineer makes to design a real bridge but someone tries to take a car over the cardboard bridge.

When considered in a scientific way, the NavaDurgā represents phases of a woman’s life, which undergo a lot more physiological and psychological changes naturally. Thus, the nine forms of Durgā in fact represent the life stages of a woman, starting as a daughter (Shailputrī) and ending with a wise woman (Siddhīdatrī) who can provide advise and blessing with her experiences.

प्रथमं शैलपुत्री च द्वितीयं ब्रह्मचारिणी।

तृतीयं चन्द्रघंटेति कूष्माण्डेति चतुर्थकम् ।।

पंचमं स्क्न्दमातेति षष्ठं कात्यायनीति च।

सप्तमं कालरात्रीति महागौरीति चाष्टमम् ।।

नवमं सिद्धिदात्री च नवदुर्गाः प्रकीर्तिताः ।।

which translates as the first is Shailputrī, second Brahmavādinī, third, Chandraghanṭā, fourth Kushmaṇdā, fifth Skandamātā, sixth Kātyāyanī, Seventh Kālrātrī, eighth Māhāgaurī, and ninth Siddhīdatrī. The characteristics, features, actions, etc. are listed in Table 1, which also carries phase of life a woman’s life in the comment section.

Interestingly, and coincidentally, these features of development match with the hormonal changes that occur in a woman’s life (Figure 1).

Table 1. Names and characteristics of Nava-Durgā with message for female development

NameQualityArms Rides onActionFeatureComment – a message for girls/women
ShailputriReborn after Sati, power of nature, and embodiment of Tri-devasTwoNandi OxNoneEarly ageStage of a kanya or a young girl or daughter
BrahmavadiniAscetism and penanceTwoOn footNoneTeenagerTime of learning
ChandraghantaBell-shaped half moon on forehead, courageTenTigressCan be malevolent but is sereneYoung lady Young and courageous with a lot of capability
KushamandaRadiant with energyEight LionessCapable of killing demonsLearning over, doing begins Confident
SkandamataMother of Skanda, sits on and carries two  lotus flowersFour Ferocious lionCaring and teachingMotherly, devotedAbove the messy world
KatyayaniAngry, Vengeance against demonsFour Magnificent lion Killed MahishasurProtectiveNatural instinct of a mother to protect
KalratriDestroyer, dark complexionFourDonkeyKilled Shubmha and Nishumbha Fiercest and ferociousRepresents time as darkness that engulfs all eventually
MahgauriBright, shiny, intelligent, wiseFourBullNoneForgivingFull of wisdom
SiddhadatriLeft half of Ardhanarishwar, Treats sura and asura the sameFourLion or TigerNoneGives boons of siddhisUltimate mother of all, giving blessings

Also, perhaps as a result of changes in their physiology periodically they are more aware of their nature, and thus women in general reflect the sāttvic thoughts and action. And, indeed, the society prospers when that sanctity is maintained.

Many a time the pedagogical meanings of many ancient shlokas and practices are either not understood or taken superficially. For example, Manusmriti states that ‘yatranariyasya pujyante ramante tatra devta’. This is wrongly translated as – where women are worshipped that becomes god’s abode. Another way to translate the same shloka would be that where women rise to the level of being worshipped, gods make that place as their abode. This would mean that all those living in her house will behave like devās!! The onus, therefore, is on the innate strength of women to raise their level with their knowledge, practice, management, and caring of the society. But that sounds too inordinate and cumbersome, especially in modern system of society where my troubles are someone else’s fault for both men and women!

Figure 1. Life stages and hormonal changes in women (From https://www.otsuka.co.jp/en/nutraceutical/about/nutrition/womens-health-and-nutrition/).

India’s great tradition of considering girls as representatives of goddess like Durgā, and celebration of this tradition at least twice during the Navarātras begs the question whether boys also get to learn about their place and position in the society. Curiously, Nava-Durgā forms of devīs originate in the Ardhanārishwar! It is quite likely that the Kanyā pūjā during the Navarātra is to remind the young girls of their potential to realize to be in a privileged position of the society. In this way, young boys are treated step-motherly by the society, leaving them to fend for themselves. It is high time that boys also get to be reminded of their potential and possibilities with role models similar to Nava-Durgā. It couldn’t be more fitting than to consider the 11 Rudras as the role model for boys and men to shape their ideas to pursue. Therefore, the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, USA, in collaboration with Kuruom Jankalyan Sansthan in village Kuruom near Ayodhya decided to make a debut program of Ramkathā as the platform to discuss, during April 22 – May 2, 2021, the features and traits of eleven Rudras for guiding boys in the world to grow and realize their full potential.

– Prof. Bal Ram SinghSchool of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA, USA

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