RIDDLE IN HINDUISM
The worship of the Vedic Goddess was worship by courtesy. They were worshipped only because they were the wives of Gods. The worship of the Puranic Goddesses stand on a different footing. They claim worship in their own right and not because they are wives of Gods.
The worship of Gods is a thing common to all. But the worship of Goddesses is quite uncommon. The reason is that Gods are generally unmarried and have no wives who can be elevated to the position of Goddesses. How repugnant is the idea of a God being married is well illustrated by the difficulties which early Christians had in persuading the Jews to accept Jesus as the son of God. The Jews retorted saying God is not married and how can Jesus be the son of God.
With the Hindus the position is quite otherwise. They not only worship Gods they also worship Goddesses. This is so from the very beginning.
In the Rig-Veda several Goddesses are mentioned such as Prithvi, Aditi, Diti, Nishtigri, Indrani, Prisni, Usha, Surya, Agnayi, Varunani, Rodasi, Raka, Sinivali, Sradha, Aramati, Apsaras and Sarasvati.
Prithvi is a very ancient Aryan Goddess. She is represented either as wife or Dyaus heaven or of Parjanya. Prithvi is an important Goddess because she is said to be the mother of many Gods.
Aditi is chronologically one of the older Vedic Goddesses. She is described as the mighty mother of the Gods. The Gods, Mitra, Aryaman and Varuna are her sons. To whom Aditi was married does not appear from the Rig-Veda. We do not know much about Diti except that she is mentioned as a goddess along with and in contrast to Aditi and that the Daityas who were regarded in later Indian mythology as the enemies of the Devas were her sons.
The goddess Nishtigri is the mother of Indra and the goddess Indrani is the wife of Indra. Prisni is the mother of Maruts. Usha is described as the daughter of the sky, the sister of Bhaga and the kinswoman of Varuna and the wife of Surya. The goddess Surya is the daughter of Surya and the wife of the Gods Asvins or Soma.
The goddesses Agnayi, Varunani and Rodasi are the wives of Agni, Varuna and Rudra respectively. The rest of the goddesses are mere personifications of rivers or are mentioned without any details.
From this survey two things are clear. One is that a Hindu God can enter a married state and neither the God nor his worshipper need to feel any embarrassment on account of the God acting as though he was no better than a common man. The second is that the God’s wife automatically becomes a goddess worthy of worship by the followers of the God.
Leaving the Vedic times and coming to the Puranic times we come across the names of various Goddesses such as Devi, Uma, Sati, Ambika, Parvati, Haimavati, Gauri, Kali, Nirriti, Chandi and Katyayini, Durga, Dassbhuja, Singhavahini, Mahishasuravardini, Jagaddhatri, Muktakesi, Tara, Chinnamustaka, Jagadgauri, Pratyangira, Annapurna, Ganeshjanani, Krishnakrora and Lakshmi. It is very difficult to construct a who is who of those Goddesses. In the first place it is difficult to say whether each name stands for a distinct and separate Goddess or they are the names of the same Goddess. It is equally difficult to be sure of their parentage. Nor can anyone say with certainty as to who their husbands are.
According to one account Uma, Devi, Sati, Parvati, Gauri and Ambika are different names of the same Goddess. On the other hand sister of Rudra. Regarding Parvati the Varaha Purana in describing her origin says:
Brahma when on a visit to Siva on Mount Kailasa is thus addressed by him: “Say, quickly, O Brahma, what has induced you to come to me? Brahma replies, ‘There is a mighty Asura named Andhaka (Darkness), by whom all the gods, having been distressed, came for protection, and I have hastened to inform you of their complaints”. Brahma then looked intently at Siva, who by thought summoned Vishnu. Into their three refulgent glances sprang into being a virgin of celestial loveliness, of hue cherulic, like the petals of a blue lotus, and adorned with gems, who bashfully bowed before Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. On their asking her who she was, and why she was distinguished by the three colours black, white and red, she said, ‘From your glances was I produced: do you not know your own omnipotent energies? Brahma then praising her said, ‘Thou shalt be named the goddess of three times (past, present and future), the preserver of the universe, and under various appellations shalt thou be worshipped, as thou shalt be the cause of accomplishing the desires of thy votaries. But, O goddess, divide thyself into three forms, according to the colours by which thou art distinguished. She then, as Brahma had requested, divided herself into three parts, one white, one red, and one black. The white was Saraswati of a lovely, felicitious form, and the co-operator with Brahma in creation ; the red was Lakshmi, the beloved of Vishnu, who with him preserves the universe; the black was Parvati endowed with many qualities and energy of Siva.”
Here is an attempt to suggest that Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati and different forms of one and the same divinity. When one remembers that Sarasvati is the wife of Brahma, Lakshmi is the wife of Vishnu and Parvati is the wife of Shiva, and also that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were at war, this explanation given by the Varaha Purana seems very odd.
Who is Gauri? The Purana says that Gauri is another name for Parvati. The reason how Parvati was called Gauri is that when Shiva and Parvati lived on mount Kailasa, occasionally there were quarrels between them, and on one occasion Shiva reproached her for the blackness of her skin. This taunt so grieved her that she left him for a time, and, repairing to a deep forest, performed a most severe course of austerities, until Brahma granted her a boon that her complexion should be golden and by this circumstance she is known as Gauri.
Taking the other Goddess it is not quite certain whether they are different names for one and the same Goddess or whether they are different Goddess. In the Mahabharata there is a
hymn sung by Arjuna to Durga in which he says:
“Reverence be to thee, Siddha-Senani (generally of the Siddhas), the noble, the dweller on Mandara, Kumari (Princess), Kali, Kapali, Kapila, Krishna-pingala. Reverence to thee, Bhadrakali; reverence to thee, Maha Kali, Chandi, Chanda, Tarini (deliveress), Varavarini (beautiful-coloured). O fortunate Kalyani, O Karali, O Vijaya, O Jaya (victory), younger sister of the chief of cowherds (Krishna), delighting always in Mahisha’s blood’. O Uma, Sakambhari, thou white one, thou black one, O destroyer of Kaithabha! Of science, thou art the science of Brahma (or of the Vedas), the great sleep of embodied beings. O mother of Skanda goddess, art praised with a pure heart. By thy favour let me ever be victorious in battle.”
From this hymn it does appear that some of the Goddesses listed above are simply different names of Durga. Similarly, Dasabhuja, Singhavahini, Mahishamardini, Jagaddhatri, Chinnamustaka, Jagadgauri, Pratyangiri, Annapurna are the same as Durga or different forms of Durga.
There are thus two principal Goddesses. One is parvati and the other is Durga. The rest are mere names. Parvati is the daughter of Daksha Prajapati and the wife of Shiva and Durga is the sister of Krishna and the wife of Shiva. The relationship of Durga and Kali is not quite clear. According to the hymn sung by Arjuna, Durga and Kali would appear to be one and the same. But the Linga Purana seems to suggest a different view. According to it, Kali is distinct from Durga.
A comparison between the Vedic Goddess and the Puranic Goddess cannot be avoided by a student whose business it is not merely to write history but to interpret history. On one point there is a striking contrast, between the two. The worship of the Vedic Goddess was worship by courtesy. They were worshipped only because they were the wives of Gods. The worship of the Puranic Goddesses stand on a different footing. They claim worship in their own right and not because they are wives of Gods. This difference arises because the Vedic Goddesses never went to the battle-field and never performed any heroic deed. The Puranic Goddesses on the other hand went to the battlefield and performed great heroic deeds. Their worship was not by courtesy. It was based upon their heroic and thundering deeds.
(to be continued)
Source : ‘Riddles in Hinduism – Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 4 Pages 99 – 107, Published by Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1987.