Monday, October 22, 2012

Shubho Maha Saptami: Who or rather what are Maa Adi Shakti and Maa Kaalraatri?

Author's Note: You may read Shubho Mahalaya – Maa aaschhen: HERE.

The ever-mesmerizing Bhavani Dayani can be read: HERE.

Today (20.10.2012) is Maha Saptami (the seventh day of the Durga Puja). Therefore, let me begin this post with the auspicious Gayatri Mantra (also known as the Savitri Mantra):

Aum, Bhur bhuvah svah,
tat Savitur vearenyam |
bhargo Devasya dhimahi,
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat ||

Gayatri Mantra - Pandit Jasraj:
Though it is difficult to translate the Gayatri Mantra, let me make an attempt: Our ancients derived all their knowledge from Mother Nature (Prakriti) Herself; and passed it on to their deserving pupils or disciples (shishyas) - in the 'guru-shishya parampara' or tradition. This 'illumined knowledge' (jnana) was accumulated by the great sages of yore (the Munis, the Rishis, the Yogis, the Maharshis and the Brhmarshis) through the ages - from nature (Prakriti), universe (Brhmaand) and space (Vyoma.) 

The word - vyoma, contains the word "OM" or "AUM" - the sound of primal energy, the sound of the universe itself.

Through the Gayatri Mantra, our ancients are trying to acknowledge all of this and are also paying their respects to the greatest guru of all (the greatest teacher of all - Mother Nature or Prakriti and Creation or Shrishti; i.e. the ones from whom all knowledge and wisdom emanates). Our ancients are, therefore, referring to them (the various sources from whom they have accumulated their knowledge, viz., AUM, Prakriti, Space) as 'devasya' - divine-like; and are urging them to continue to guide and enlighten humankind in future as well. 

[Divine probably comes from dev, which in turn comes from daaivic - meaning: noble traits or qualities. Therefore, divine = one who possesses noble traits or qualities. It can be animate or inanimate. Daaivic is also the root word for devi - one who possesses noble traits or qualities; and is essentially a reverential honorific for a female - entity, person, power, force or energy, that is worthy of respect and worship.]

Sankatmochan Hanumanashtak - Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra:

Jay Durge Durgati Pariharini - a Bhajan by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (Jai Maa Durga - the eliminator of all sufferings and obstacles - from this world and from one's being):

During these auspicious 10 days, as you already know, devi Durga is worshiped. Durga Puja also coincides with Navratri or the nine auspicious nights, wherein all the nine forms or ruup-s of the divine Mother, Maa Shakti or Maa Durga, is worshiped - one form per day. Maa Shakti is also referred to as Maa Adi Shakti. Both are one and the same. [Shakti = Power, Energy or Force. Maa = Mother. Adi = timeless.] Here is a depiction of Maa Adi Shakti:

Nava Durga Stuti or Stotram/ नवदुर्गास्तोत्र:

On Saptami - i.e. on the seventh day, Maa Adi Shakti's seventh form - her fierce yet compassionate ruup: that of Maa Kaalraatri - is worshiped.

Now, who or rather what is the divine Mother (Maa Adi Shakti)? And who or rather what is Maa Kaalraatri?

Here is how I see it: That immense force or energy behind the cosmos, the force or energy that our ancients referred to as Shakti - has no beginning (adi) and no end (anant). Shakti is not created (i.e. has always been or has always existed). Shakti is timeless (adi), formless (nirākārā) and without gender, just like the force known as gravity. Shakti is not an object, as It is Adrisya, beyond the reach of the eyes. [Shakti = Power, Energy or Force. Maa = Mother. Adi = timeless.]

Yet, since this great force or energy (Shakti) supports Creation - by holding/keeping the other forces or energies (of the cosmos) in place - this formless force or energy (Shakti) has been acknowledged as feminine - and is referred to as She. This force or energy (Shakti) perhaps also negates/subdues/stops/or destroys any negative (i.e. aasuric) forces or energies (of the universe or the cosmos) from acting upon or influencing the universe or creation - thereby protecting the universe (and creation) from any harm or from annihilation.

As we know: in nature a female gives form to new-life and nurtures and protects it. Similarly: by holding together or keeping the other forces or energies in place, Shakti gives form or shape to the universe and to creation, and has, therefore, been referred to (and revered) as the Jaganmata, the Jagatdhatri, the Jagatjanani, the Vishwajanani - the Mother of the universe or the Mother of creation, the divine Mother Herself.

Maa Durga or Maa Shakti is not a person, but that formless energy behind the cosmos. It is also the most important force or energy behind the cosmos, the One that gives form and shape to the Universe (Brhmaand) as well as nurtures and protects it.

As mentioned earlier, this force or energy (that our ancients called Shakti) probably also negates/subdues/stops/or destroys any negative (i.e. aasuric) force or energy (such as poison) - from acting upon or exerting any influence on the universe or on creation; thereby protecting it - from being harmed or from being annihilated. [Remember: Vishnu = Vish + Nu and Vish = poison.]

Also: Shiv spelt backward is Vihs, i.e. Vish in another form, and it means: poison; therefore, these two forces - Shiv and Vishnu - are one and the same (Hari-Hara). It could be that the Shiv-force [or energy] absorbs a great amount of the poison and hence has been referred to as Neelkanth or 'the blue-throat-ed one', but (maybe) it also emits some amount of it. Or, it could be that the other half of the Shiv-force (i.e. Vishnu) emits poison, that Shakti - absorbs or negates, and does not allow (this poison) to enter into creation (Srsstti) or spread into the universe (Brhmaand). The energy or force that our ancients called "Brhmaa" signifies Creation. And this force emerges out of the "lotus-naval" of the force or energy known as Vishnu. Here "lotus" is a metaphor. A lotus grows in muddy water, yet remains untouched by it. Brhmaa or Creation emerges out of poison (Vishnu), yet remains untouched by it. This is perhaps due to the actions of this cosmic force (or energy) known as: Shakti.

Maybe, a sub-force (or energy) also emanates from the main force or energy (Shakti) - and this sub-force completely and totally acts upon the other formless force or energy, the one that our ancients called "Shiv". This sub-force (whom our ancients called: Kaali) keeps the Shiv-force (of the cosmos) inert. Remember: our ancients have depicted Maa Kaali as standing on the chest of Shiv, and Shiv lying inert at Her feet.

If this fearsome Shiv-force of the cosmos is not held down in place and made to remain inert, it will result in Tāṇḍava or Tāṇḍava nṛtya (huge turbulence in the cosmos, in the universe and in creation). It will result in Pra-laya or Mahapralaya, i.e. total destruction and annihilation.

Since this sub-force (or energy: Kaali) emanates from the main force or energy (Shakti) - the former (i.e. Kaali) has been referred to as a form (or ruup) of the latter (i.e. of Shakti).

And since this sub-force of Shakti - known as Kaali - too helps in maintaining the form or shape of the universe (by keeping the Shiv-force in place) apart from playing a role in protecting the universe (and creation) from negative forces or energies (by negating or destroying them, or maybe: by absorbing some amounts of the poison, etc) - it too is referred to as a feminine force - a She, and revered as a Mother (Maa). She is powerful, She is fierce ... and yet, She is kind, compassionate and protective - of Her children (i.e. of Creation and of everything that is a part of it). [Maa Kaali is also referred to as: Shyama Maa, Adya Maa, Tara Maa, Dakshina Kalika, Chamundi, Bhadra Kali, Shyamashana Kali ... and so on.]

Our ancients have also termed the Shiv-force as "Kaal". "Kaal" means, "time". The universe (Brhmaand) or creation exists till the Shiv-force or "Kaal" is inert. The sub-force of Shakti, known as Kaali, also means "time". And till the time the Kaali-force remains undisturbed and exerts its influence or pressure on the Shiv-force - thereby keeping it inert, the universe (Brhmaand) or creation (Srsstti) shall remain safe from any danger of annihilation.

Both "Kaal" and "Kaali" also mean, "dark". "Raatri" means night, and that too is dark. The colour Dark can be used to indicate something fearsome, something mysterious or unfathomable or something that possesses great depth. It IS also what the universe or creation and the forces or energies behind it - represent. 

Our ancients have depicted Shiv, Vishnu and Kaali as dark-blue. Dark-blue is used to indicate something fearsome, like a gathering storm, a cyclone, a tornado, a hurricane or an eclipse. Or perhaps something far more fearsome: Pra-laya or Mahapralaya - destruction and annihilation. It also means: something mysterious or unfathomable; i.e. something that possesses great depth (and hence is unfathomable). Perhaps it means that: no matter how much we endeavour, we cannot subjugate or decipher nature or creation. A lot of it will still remain unfathomable to us - as "the cosmic illusion" or "maaya" - despite our best efforts.

Vishnu and Shiv are also known as Hari and Hara (respectively). Hari and Hara means: green.

Therefore, dark (Ghanshyam), dark-blue (Shyam) and green (Hari-Hara) are the colours of the universe and of creation, rather they signify or encompass creation per se. Our ancients' understood this and therefore revered nature, creation ... and the forces or energies behind it all.

They propitiated the elements, forces and energies behind the cosmos, behind creation (Srsstti) and behind the universe (Brhmaand) - through "puja" or "homa". In all of this, a certain pattern or specific rules or steps was followed. Particular kinds of flowers, leaves, herbs, ghee, fire, sandalwood paste, incense, camphor, etc; specific mantras, stotras, shlokas (i.e. hymns); and (most importantly) the ones that chanted these mantras, stotras, shlokas had to follow a certain lifestyle. Without that (i.e. if they did not adhere to or follow the lifestyle as prescribed in the ancient texts), they could not chant the mantras, stotras, shlokas or perform the rituals ("puja" or "homa"). Also: their diction had to be perfect; no guru could be a guru (teacher) without perfect diction, and no shishya (disciple) could get the blessings of the guru without perfecting their diction. Sanskrit is a language that needs to be "spoken" from the depth of one's being, and not merely from the voice-box; it is a language derived from nature and creation. [There is no "religion" or "ism" associated with "puja" or "homa"; since the word "religion" or its connotations were unknown to our ancients. "Sanaatan Dharm" is a way of life. Sanaatan = timeless, Dharm = path or way of life. It is essentially an accumulation and reflection of the wisdom and illumined knowledge (jnana) - that our ancients (men and women) derived or gathered from nature and from creation. There is no "founder". "Sanaatan Dharm" was never a cult movement or any movement for that matter, to unite people under a single "founder", 'coz there has never been a "founder". "Sanaatan Dharm" was never meant to be a religion or "ism"; it is essentially a blend of wisdom, illumined knowledge and Vigjnana - that can be acquired only when one open's the mind's eye or manas-chokhshu.]

The mantras, stotras, shlokas, et al have been composed in Sanskrit - a language steeped in antiquity, and derived from nature, creation and from the universe itself. When these mantras, stotras or shlokas were chanted, they resonated with nature, and with the elements: i.e. with the forces and energies behind the cosmos and the universe. And this is why there was a complete emphasis on diction. [Without that, it would be empty chanting, there would be little or no resonance with nature or creation; and that would serve no purpose at all.]

Some years ago, I have had the good fortune of listening to a very aged priest (Sanskrit: purohith; derived from puro = society or locality, hith = for the good of) - chanting some mantras, stotras and shlokas. Believe me, I am at a loss to describe what I felt and the calm that enveloped me. It is an experience in itself, one that is impossible to put down in words. One cannot describe it ... it has to be felt.

Only a handful of such purohith-s remain ... or maybe not. The one I have mentioned above, was clad in a simple but clean attire: a white cotton dhoti and an off-white cotton kurta; a red sandalwood tika on his forehead, feet shod in simple wooden sandals (khadam) and exuding peace and serenity from every pore of his being. Despite his age he walked erect, his voice was deep and did not quiver.

It once again made me wonder how people that led a simple life and chanted the ancient mantras, stotras and shlokas regularly, or our maestros and virtuosos - of classical music and dance, lived such a healthy life, even when they were well into their 80s or 90s. While the exponents of "living it up", "fast-life" or the proponents of head-banging "music" - seem to follow the 'live fast, die young and (try to) leave a good-looking corpse' principle, unerringly. 

The force or energy known as Shiv - in His fierce form is also known as Bhairava, while the force or energy known as Kaali is Bhairava's "counterpart"; and so, Kaali is also known as: Bhairavi. The holiest of our Raags is known as Shree Bhairavi. And when the great maestros sing it, who knows, perhaps the notes rise up and reach that immense force known as Kaali. And who knows what that does? Who knows what effect resonance has? The philosophy or "way of life" followed by our ancients was rooted in wisdom, knowledge and vigjnana. Vigjnana is not to be confused with what is today understood as science, 'coz science has a lot to do with yantra-s or machines. In Vigjnana, one's mind's eye is open.

Our ancients left us many gifts, we - the moderns, have squandered almost all of it, thanks to our arrogance and petty-mindedness. While our ancients revered and preserved nature in all her beauty and glory, and made it an essential part of their being, we - their so-called descendents, have excelled in destroying nature, thanks to our relentless greed. Our ancients gave us many lessons: not to destroy, exploit or denude Prakriti or nature's gifts to mankind. We have done - for several generations now - the complete opposite. We must reflect on our actions and try to make amends - collectively. Or else, we shall all perish. Together.

We are champions at flaunting fancy-sounding terms (global warming, greenhouse effect, carbon footprint and what-not) but we do not even pause to think: what impact all these and much more are having on the forces or energies behind the cosmos. What impact all of these is having on the forces or energies known as Shakti and Kaali ... or on Shiv? And how far away is Pra-laya or Maha-pralaya, if we are to continue doing whatever we have been doing (and that too with such unabashed gusto)?

If we are to delay annihilation or total destruction, we must understand and accept the greatness of nature (Prakriti) and of creation (Srsstti). We must understand and accept that no matter how much we endeavour, we cannot subjugate or decipher nature or creation. A lot of it will still remain unfathomable to us - as the "the cosmic illusion" or maaya - that our ancients have written about.

It is time to reflect ... and a time to bow to Maa Prakriti and to Srsstti

Here is Yaa Devi Sarva Bhooteshu by Pandit Jasraj: [It is a famous stuti bhajan and an extract from Shri Durga Saptashati; sung in reverence of the the divine Mother who is resonant in every object as the illusory power or Maaya. She is Knowledge. She is Energy. Glory be to Her. O Mother, we prostrate before thee.]:

Note: In my next post, I will try to explain as to why the formless forces or energies behind the cosmos or the formless elements of nature have been given a form or shape - by our ancients.

(Do stay tuned…)

Pictures: 1. Pic 01 - The sacred symbol AUM - AUM is the sound of primal energy, the sound of the universe itself. 2. Pic 02 - Maa Durga - another name for Maa Shakti or Maa Adi Shakti. 3. Pic 03 - Maa Adi Shakti or Maa Shakti. 4. Pic 04 - Maa Durga in her fierce form - the Kaalratri ruup (the seventh form - Nava-durga). 5. Pic 05 - Maa Kali. 

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