A comparison between the Vedic Goddesses and the Puranic goddesses 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 Goddeses 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.
There was a great battle, it is said, between Durga and the two Asuras which brought renown to Durga. The story is told in the Markandeya Purana in full details.
A comparison between the Vedic and Puranic Goddesses raises some interesting questions. One of them is quite obvious. Vedic literature is full of references to wars against the Asuras. The literature known as Brahmanas replete with them. But all these wars against the Asuras are fought by the Vedic Gods. The Vedic Goddesses never took part in them. With the Puranic Goddesses the situation has undergone a complete change. In the Puranic times there are wars with the Asuras as there were in the Vedic times. The difference is that while in the Vedic times the wars with the Asuras are left to be fought by the Gods, in the Puranic times they are left to be fought by the Goddess. Why is that Puranic Goddesses had to do what the Gods in Vedic times did? It cannot be that there were no Gods in Puranic times. There were Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva gods who ruled in the Puranic times. When they were there to fight the Asuras why were the Goddesses enrolled for this purpose. This is a riddle which requires explanation.
The second question is what is the source of this power which the Puranic Goddesses possessed and which the Vedic Goddesses never had? The answer given by the Puranic writers is that this power was the power of the Gods which dwelt in the Goddesses. The general theory was that every God had energy or power which was technically called Sakti and that the Sakti of every God resided in his wife the Goddess. This had become such an accepted doctrine that every goddess is called a Sakti and those who worship the Goddess only are called Saktas.
With regard to this doctrine there are one or two questions that call for a reply.
First is this. We may now take it that notwithstanding the many names of the Goddesses as we find in the Puranas we have really five Puranic Goddesses before us—namely, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga and Kali. Sarasvati and Lakshmi are the wives of Brahma and Vishnu who along with Shiva are recognized as the Puranic Gods. Parvati, Durga and Kali are the wives of Shiva. Now Sarasvati and Lakshmi have killed no Asura and have in fact done no deed of valour. Question is why? Brahma and Vishnu had Sakti which in conformity with the theory must have dwelt in their wives. Why then did Sarasvati and Lakshmi not take part in the battle with the Asuras? This part is only reserved for the wives of Shiva. Even here Parvati’s role is quite different from that of Durga, Parvati is represented as a simple woman. She has no heroic deeds to her credit like the ones claimed for Durga. Like Durga, Parvati is also the Sakti of Shiva. Why was Shiva’s Sakti dwelling in Parvati so dull, so dormant, and so inactive as to be non-existent?
The second point is that though this doctrine may be a good justification for starting the worship of Goddesses independently of Gods, it is difficult to accept either the logical or historical basis of the doctrine. Looking at it purely from the point of view of logic if every God has Sakti then even the Vedic Gods must have had it. Why then was this doctrine not applied to the wives of the Vedic Gods? Looking at it from the point of view of history, there is no justification for saying that the Puranic Gods had Sakti in them.
Further the Brahmins do not seem to have realized that by making Durga the heroine who alone was capable of destroying the Asuras, they were making their own Gods a set of miserable cowards. It seems that the Gods could not defend themselves against the Asuras to beg of their wives to come to their rescue. One illustration from the Markandeya Purana is enough to prove how imbecile the Puranic Gods were shown by the Brahmins against the Asuras. Says the Markandeya Purana:
“Mahisha, king of the giants, at one time overcame the gods in war, and reduced them to such a state of want that they wandered through the earth as beggars. Indra first conducted them to Brahma, and then to Shiva; but as these gods could render no assistance, they turned to Vishnu, who was so grieved at the sight of their wretchedness, that streams of glory issued from his face, whence came a female figure named Mahamaya (another name of Durga). Streams of glory issued from the faces of the other gods also, which in like manner entered Mahamaya; in consequence of which she became a body of glory, like a mountain of fire. The gods then handed their weapons to this dreadful being, who with a frightful scream ascended into the air, slew the giant, and gave redress to the gods.”
How can such cowardly Gods have any prowess? If they had none, how can they give it to their wives. To say that Goddesses must be worshipped because they have Sakti is not merely a riddle but an absurdity. It requires explanation why this doctrine of Sakti was invented. Was it to put it a new commodity on the market that the Brahmins started the worship of the Goddesses and degraded the Gods?
Source: ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches’ Vol-4 (Riddles in Hinduism – Chapter 12), Published by the Education Department, Government of Maharashtra.