Ma Durga is a symbol of Shakti: the manifesting energy. 

Ma Durga Shakti 

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee  

Don’t give thoughts: teach thinking!
– Swami Suddhanandaji

Take, for example, a seed: it contains within itself all the information needed to make a plant. When it is put in the earth, under the right conditions of the soil and the external environment, it sprouts into a beautiful, normal plant. That dormant, inactive potential of the seed “wakes up” and becomes active. It translates into visible movement as the seed breaks out of its covering to develop into a plant that grows, develops branches and leaves, flowers: a harmonious, balanced process that gives rise to a plant which then forms new seeds that start the cycle all over again. That movement is the manifesting energy that expresses itself in the diverse forms of the trunk, branches, leaves, flowers through a cycle of inactivity, activity, and balance: this is the cycle that underlies the whole of existence.  

On the other hand, if the conditions are not right: either from within (a damaged or diseased seed) or from without (unfavourable environment: soil and climatic characteristics) the seed may not sprout or grows into an abnormal plant.  

We human beings also start as a seed. If we think a little, we will realize that we have a body made up of physical materials, this body is endowed with a quality called life, we have a faculty called thinking which we associate with something we call mind and which we assume is lodged in our brain, and we are aware of our thoughts and of our own selves which all of us refer to as “I”. Looked at from another perspective, we are made up of: the physical, the vital, the mental, and the “I”.  

Like the seed which may turn out to be a normal or an abnormal plant, so too we humans are born with innate tendencies of inactivity, activity and harmonious balance (equilibrium), designated by the Sanskrit terms tamas, rajas, sattva which are the three gunas or psychological tendencies. The difference is that whereas the plant by itself does not have any control over its development, in contrast we are in a position to exert a degree of control over ourselves. Whether, therefore, we become normal or abnormal, especially in respect of our vital and mental qualities, depends on first, an understanding of our gunas and, second, how we allow them to influence the course of our lives. 

It is no secret that we live in a world where disequilibrium reigns supreme. We have to struggle all the time against the forces of ill-will and excessive greed which are forever at work. These forces begin with the individual and spill over to contaminate, embitter or even destroy his environment and those he interacts with. We call these forces asuras or demons: alas, they abound, and some of them are greater than the others: the mahishasuras. The more one tries to get rid of them, the greater their desire to spring afresh and to multiply. They take the form of wanting to dominate over others, of the myriad weapons that we keep inventing to maim and kill hordes of humanity. Think of the ongoing wars and zones of perpetual conflict around the world, and we have a very clear idea of what asuras are. They are both within and without us.  

But if we want, we have the means to nip them in the bud inside us. They manifest as an abnormal permutation and combination of tamas or negative tendencies comprising inactivity, laziness, lethargy, ignorance, darkness, jealousy, hate, fear; and of rajas or positive tendencies comprising activity, strength, drive, ambition, creativity, innovativeness. When there is a judicious mix of the two, balance and harmony or the tendency to sattwa prevails, and this is the ideal state we should wish for and aspire towards – both at the individual and collective level. 

Unfortunately, the majority of us are driven by tamas and rajas, and this is the reason for the misery of the world.  

Durga puja is meant to teach us, through allegorical examples of demons vanquished by the strength and power of Durga-shakti, that we must be ever vigilant to guard against our low tendencies, that this can be done by controlling ourselves, and that it is within our capacity to achieve the state of sattva. Thus educated and enlightened, we are then in a position to develop a harmonious relationship with our environment and our fellow beings so as to produce a better world.  

The puja is celebrated during nine nights – hence navaratri – symbolically as at night we have to shine the lights that overcome darkness. During the first three nights we invoke Durga-shakti to get rid of our negative tendencies, vices and defects; the second three nights are devoted to the Lakhsmi rupa of Durga Mata, popularly known as the Goddess of wealth: we pray for obtaining wealth (both material and spiritual); the last three nights we invoke the Saraswati aspect of Durga Mata, Saraswati being known as the Goddess of learning and wisdom.  

Why wisdom? Because, after having destroyed (hopefully) our negative tendencies, we need the discernment of wisdom to make judicious and just use of the wealth that we have prayed for – when we get it of course: this is not automatic!  

It can thus be seen that these three divisions correspond to the tamas, rajas and sattva aspects of our lives. As pointed out at the beginning, they are the very basis of all existence, which is embedded in a continuing interplay of potential and manifesting or dynamic energies that, at their most refined, express what we recognize as consciousness. Consciousness has a dimension of universality, sublimity and beatitude that we can experience during states of profound meditation. It is all up to us. 

Ya devi sarva bhuteshu buddhi rupena samasthita, namastasyai… 

* Published in print edition on 8 October 2010

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