In My Meditation Today: I noticed how a part of me was forever seeking validation from the outside – from my spouse, my children, my co-workers, – wanting assurances from them that I was ok – that I was worthy of being loved and admired. I decided to turn that search for validation inward and validate myself every time I noticed myself looking outward. I am more than OK, I am an amazing human being, and I deserve not only to be loved, but I deserve to be cherished. Most importantly – I do not need anyone else to do it for me.
The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each part describes a battle between good and evil and most often the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us. A more useful interpretation for me, however, is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because the fight to live always expressing your highest potential is hard, ugly and metaphorically bloody and gory.
In the fifth chapter of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother, the Devas find themselves in a familiar situation. The demons Shumbha and Nishumbha and their armies have taken over their kingdoms and driven the demi-gods out. Dispossessed and desperate the Gods remember the Divine Mother’s promise to respond to any entreaty for help in their time of need, and they travel to the foothills of the Himalayas to pray to her. The hymn that the Devas recite to ask for Devi’s help is one of the most significant sections of the myth for me. It is the most explicit description of the presence of the Devi in all that we see and experience in the world.
You are sleep and awareness; hunger, and thirst; shadow and light; abundance and misery; intelligence and the confusion that causes errors; power and humility. You are everything that is manifest physically, emotionally and spiritually they say.
As the Devas finish praising the Goddess, she appears in front of them and reassures them that she will take care of Shumbha and Nishumbha. She sets up residence in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her radiance and beauty are irresistible, and Chanda & Munda – Shumbha & Nishumbha’s servants who are passing by are dazzled by her beauty. They go and tell their Masters about this most beautiful example of womanhood and urge Shumbha and Nishumbha to add her to their collection of superlative objects. Intrigued by the description of this unsurpassed beauty, the demon kings send a messenger to invite Devi to their kingdom to marry one of them. Sugriva, the messenger, approaches the Devi. He starts off with a description of his Master’s wealth and prowess and ends his message with the invitation from Shumbha to marry one of the kings.
Devi responds “ Everything you say about Shumbha and his brother is true but I am afraid I cannot accept the invitation yet. You see, in my youthful foolishness, I promised that I would only marry a man who can defeat me in battle. So before I can marry either Shumbha or Nishumbha, they will have to face me in battle.”
Astounded by the temerity of a “mere woman” challenging his masters to battle, let alone suggesting that they might lose to her, Sugriva threatens to drag Devi off by her hair. Unperturbed, Devi reiterates the fact that she cannot break her vow. Anyone who wants to marry her must defeat her in battle. The chapter ends with Sugriva stomping off in a rage after uttering several threats to Devi.
I LOVE this part of the myth at so many levels. In the first place, there is the reiteration of truth that the Divine Mother manifests as all of our experiences. There is thus no experience or emotion in life that is to be pushed away or rejected as inferior or bad, Therefore my developing concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance.”
Then, there is a clear demonstration of the objectification of women in Chanda & Munda’s description of the most beautiful woman in the three worlds.
Finally, there is the perfect response to the objectification in the delicious conversation between Sugriva & Devi – an excellent example of a woman who is so confident about her worth and herself that she had no qualms in clearly stating the price for winning her over. This depiction of a female protagonist is one of the many reasons I fell in love with the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. In so many ways it is the complete antithesis of the myths that most young Indian girls grow up hearing and being encouraged to emulate. The heroine in Ramayana – the mythological character most often cited as the role model for a Hindu wife, is shy, docile, needy and completely powerless. Her biggest virtue is her chastity and loyalty to her husband. She is a safe and non-threatening role model. Even though she is an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, she is never depicted as a woman who wields the power of the Goddess. Small wonder then that it is Seeta who is held up in Hindu households as the ideal wife. It is a model that will not upset the status quo and will allow the patriarchy to go unchecked.
On the other hand, the heroine of this myth is powerful, purposeful and focused. Devi knows her value; she understands her power; she is clear about her purpose and never wavers from it. She does not look to the outside world for validation; she does not need it; she is complete in herself.
After years of unconsciously seeking to be a Seeta, I know that I am well on the way to becoming a Durga when I begin to understand that I am an amazing human being, and that I deserve not only to be loved but to be cherished. It is especially clear when I know that I do not need anyone else to do it for me.