From time immemorial, facts have been blended with fiction, to make existence more palatable, I suppose, where reality ends and the myth– or mythology–begins, is such a digestible and heady blur, that we accept it in its toto. Be it the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine, or the creation of the Divine Mother Goddess, Durga, are all a matter of belief. They bring colour and purpose into our otherwise, dreary lives!
One version (which may not hold scrutiny) is that towards the end of the Ice Age, around 6000 BC, the inhabitants of the Russian steppes, the Aryans, started migrating elsewhere; seeking better pastures. Some went towards the West, to Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia, and the British Isles, others to the East; to the fertile lands of India, through the Khyber and Bolan, passes in the Himalayas. Some, however, say the Aryans had their origins in the Nordic Alpines. The original homeland of the Aryans is referred to in the Zoroastrian scriptures, the “Vendidad”, as the lost “Ayarre Vaejans”, or the seed of the Aryans. They believed the Sky was the Father, and the Earth- the Mother of all beings. Women alone could give birth. Childbirth was associated with fertility– and blood. We worship, out of fear, what we do not sure exist, or which frightens us. The Aryans, thus, worshipped Nature– whose benevolence they depended on, and whose fury they were petrified of. They also venerated the pot, as a symbol of the womb and fertility. With them, the early Aryans brought their deities and myths. A powerful deity was needed to lead them in battle giving way to the birth of Indra, the King of the demi-gods. But when the Aryans arrived on the banks of the river Indus (“Sindu”– meaning a large body of water), more than a thousand years before they had settled dark-skinned, curly-haired people, whose ancestors were from Namibia in Africa. The light-skinned, blue-eyed, to ensure Aryans drove these people down to the southern part of India. They fought not only with these Dravadians (“Dravida” means, “flowing waters”) but also amongst themselves. (Notably, Harappa and Mohenjadaro– the Indus Valley Civilization– were Dravidian). While the Aryans could never conquer the people of southern India, they made forays to expand territory, but without much success. But, to some extent, nevertheless, they could bring some influences of their Mother Goddess worship upon the Dravidians.
The Aryans had three classes in their Society. Priests, warriors, and those who tended to their vast herds of cattle. The present-day caste system is an off-shoot from these primary groupings. Hindus in the North and the South, are, from tribal ancestry. All our gods carry weapons and have animals or birds as mascots, to represent their particular prowess. Except for Durga and Kali, who are depicted as being armed, all the other goddesses have with them, musical instruments and birds representations of their expertise so-to-say.
According to mythology, the demons overcame all three worlds i.e. the Earth, Heavens and the netherworld, which plunged into an orgy of violence, led by Mahish-Asura, the buffalo demon. Mahish was the progeny of Rambha, a demon King, who along with his brother, Kasamba, had prayed to Agni for powerful sons to shake up the three worlds. Kasamba was killed by Indra, who had taken the form of a crocodile, while he was meditating in deep waters. Agni, the god of Fire granted Rambha the boon he sought. Rambha mated with a she-buffalo, who gave birth to Mahish whose mother was killed by a he-buffalo, just after his birth. His father was also, thus, slain. But, because of the special boon from Agni, as his body was consigned to the fires for cremation, Rambha arose as “Raktabeej”. Mahish swore vengeance against Indra and all the gods.
The gods were in despair – and furious. Their anger lighted up their faces, and at a single point, their collective energies created the shape of a young woman: Durga! Her face was made from the cosmic light of Shiva, the Destroyer. Her ten arms were from Vishnu, the Preserver. Her legs, from Bramha, the Creator. Shiva gave her his trident, with a spear end; Krishna, his rotating chakra; Varun, the god of the sea, a conch; from the wind god, Vayu, she received arrows. Indra, King of the demi-gods, gifted her with his thunder-bolt and his white-skinned elephant “Aryavrata”; Yama, the God of Death, presented her with a Rod and a Noose. Heaven’s architect crafted a magic armour for her and adorned her with priceless jewels; the god of forests gave her a magnificent lion to ride into battle. Durga, the embodiment of ‘shakti’– the Eternal Mother– first destroyed the armies of Shushambhu and Nishambhu and went on to behead Mahish-Asura. Shakti is the moving force behind all action in the phenomenal cosmos, the Hindus believe. In the North, Durga is seen as a beautiful bride, whereas in the south, she is depicted as more warrior-like, as Chamundi or Amba. She symbolizes the victory of Good over Evil.
It is quite probable that the Aryans, in order to justify their incursions to the south, spun the myth of Durga.
Mahish was an ancient King of Mysore. He was swarthy and very dark-complexioned. Like a buffalo! But because of this fearsome ending to the tale, hundreds of thousands of buffalos are cruelly ritually slaughtered not only in Nepal but in parts of Bengal, Assam, and elsewhere in India, as a symbolic decapitation of Mahish-Asura by Durga, on Vijay Dashami (Dashera). At the Gadhi Mata ceremony, each year, one hundred thousand buffalos are butchered in a single day at Kathmandu in Nepal; calves in front of their mothers and vice versa.
I subscribe to the conviction that, for those who believe, no explanation is needed. And, for those who do not, no explanation will suffice! Whatever be the debatable origins of the myth, according to historical records, worship of Durga publically, (Durga Puja), in the spring, began in or around 400 A.D. It was also a great social event when everyone met and enjoyed themselves. Matrimonial matches could be made; disputes settled.
Be what it may, Hinduism has no founders. Manu, Yagnivalika, Narada were merely lawgivers. It is all-encompassing and timeless. Goddess Durga is the representation of Mother, whose love alone is pure. We, her children, pray to her for protection.
Author: AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK
Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a lawyer based in Pune. He has his practice including in the Bombay High court as also other High courts as well as he appears as Counsel in the Supreme court. Although essentially having his practise on the criminal side he is an all-rounder having taken up matters in the matrimonial courts as well. He is a prolific writer and an unabashed champion of women rights.
Late scholars have preferred to reject the Aryan Invasion theory. The content that the Hindu civilization is of Harappan origin. They have made this claim from the DNA examination of the ear bone from the skeleton of a woman who had died 4,500 years ago, found at the site at Harappa. The tests carried out did not support the Aryan invasion hypothesis, they argue, which was foisted by the British to undermine the Hindutva aspect. I am no stranger to controversy! My readings (and conviction) support the Aryan foray assumption. Whatever it may be, this article is on Mother Durga. Some may consider her creation to be a Nobel Lie. But it is set out in our sacred texts, over the aeons. It is all a matter of belief.