Durga, the warrior goddess of the Hindu pantheon, responsible for the creation of the Universe, is generally represented as a multiply armed goddess wielding weapons of all sorts. She rides a fierce lion and invariably victorious in a battle where she slays all manner of evil forces. The Demon King Mahishasura had threatened the divine Gods and hence she was endowed with the powers by those Gods to accomplish the task. Hence, the divine Goddess who is endowed with more power and potency undoubtedly forms an important source of inspiration for the visual imaginings of Bharat Mata and her sons and daughters. Durga, the Goddess served as a divine figure mapped on to the Mother India so as to empower her with weapons and associate her with battle and victories so as to slay the foe of this soil.
Bankim Chandra Chatterji, in the well-known foundational poem “Vande Mataram,” invokes Maa Durga as the Goddess of the nation, ‘Thou art Durga holding her ten weapons of war.’ Prior to this work, in another work, Bankim Chatterji draws an analogy between Durga and the Mother Goddess, ‘Was this my Mother? Yes, it was she! I knew her for my mother, the land of my birth (janmabhumi), made of earth, in the form of clay, adorned with endless gems, now hidden in the womb of time. Her ten bejeweled arms—the ten points of the compass—stretched in these directions. They were adorned with various powers in the form of different weapons, the enemy crushed at her feet, the most valiant of lions taking refuge there, destroying the foe! I shan’t behold this form now . . . But one day I shall—her arms the directions, wielding her various weapons, subduing the enemy, and roaming on a lordly lion’s back . . . I saw in the midst of that stream of time this golden image of Bengal!’
Goddess Durga’s enduring influence on the anthropomorphic Mother Goddess can be seen, in ‘Ananda Math’, another works of Bankim Chandra, where Bhavananda of the AnandaMatha retorts to another person Mahendra, ‘the mother and the land of birth are higher than heaven’ and sings a song which includes two stanzas,
Of my hands thou art the strength,
At my heart devotion thou,
In each temple and each shrine,
To thy image is we bow,
Durga bold who wields her arms,
With a half score of hands,
The science Goddess Vani
And Lakshmi who on Lotus Stands,-
What are they but mother thou,
To thee in all these forms, I bow!
Anandamatha, Or The Abbey of Bliss, is the story of a group of Sannyasins who are vaishnavites fed up with the rule of Mussalmans and the meddling of the white man over the motherland and hence draw inspiration from Kali-Durga Goddess to attack the foes. For the divine purpose, the Sannyasins or the ‘Children’(of the Mother) renounce their family and after their tasks are completed they can rejoin them. Mahendra is one such man who can sense the ordeal of the subjects under the given King’s rule and is enchanted with Bhavananda’s song so as to join the order of Sannyasins for the liberation of the motherland. After the vow, Mahendra was guided by one of Sannyasis through the idols that were worshipped in the abbey, which resonates with the idea of how the motherland was once enriched with wisdom, knowledge and wealth and the current ordeal to which the mother has been turned into.
The first image was of Shri. Vishnu, ‘a four-handed image bearing in its four hands, the Conch the Disc the Club and the lotus, the Kaustuba Shining in its breast and the Sudarshan Chakra before it looking as if it turned. Two huge decapitated forms stood before it painted as if drenched in blood, representing Madhu and Kaitabha. To the left stood Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth,’ and on ‘to the right was Saraswati, the Goddess of learning surrounded with books and instruments of music. On the lap of Vishnu sat a charming figure, fairer than Lakshmi or Saraswati’ to which the Sannyasi confirms as ‘The Mother’.
The further imagery to which Mahendra proceeded was the chamber of the Jaggadhatri, the Sannyasin comments,
‘In the past, she trampled under her feet the lion, tusker and the other beasts and built her own palace over their homes. She was adorned in a full set of ornaments, She was like young man of the morning and is painted in its hue.’
The next image was of Kali, seeing at which Sannyasi’s tears rolled down saying, ‘Look what the mother has now become!’ ‘Oh the Kali!’ exclaimed Mahendra.
‘Yes Kali, covered with the blackest gloom, despoiled of all wealth, and without a cloth to wear. The whole of the country is the land of the death and so the Mother has no better ornament than garland of skulls. Her own good she cruelly tramples under the foot.’
The imagery as described in a literary way by the Sannyasin and Bankim Chatterji in effect may not align with the scriptural texts, however, the tour of Mahendra and the allegorical interpretation starting with bowing down to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and music to Kali with a garland of skulls around her neck associates it with the idea that the Mother once triumphant over the evil forces and who wore the garland of knowledge and music is now seen with the garland of skulls due to her foes.
Eventually, Bankim Chatterji in his work imagines the Mother Goddess who is all-powerful with a mighty weapon who can trample enemy at her own will. At the end of this tour into the Abbey, Mahendra bows down to a ten-armed Goddess trampling the enemy as the vahana lion kills the other foes. The monk while describing the imagery says,
‘Her hands point to the all sides; the weilder of many arms and chastiser of her foes she stands- with luck giving Lakshmi to her right and Vani the spring of Knowledge and science to her left. With her stand Kartik the emblem of strength and Ganesa the God of success.’
The last imagery of the Mother is what the children or the Sannyasins aspire for! For them, the Bharat Mata or the Mother Goddess is multi-armed like Durga who can trample her enemy and at the same time bring upon the qualities that Goddess Lakshmi and Vani and the Gods Kartik and Shri. Ganesha symbolically stands for!
Another votary of Bharat Mata, who mapped the literary symbolism of Durga onto the Mother Goddess was Bipin Chandra Pal, he observes in The Soul of India,
‘The reawakening of national consciousness and aspirations in India in our own time has revived the ancient idealism of the shakti cult; and Durga, Kali, Jagaddhatri, Bhavani and all other great forms and symbols used by Hindu worshippers, have received a new meaning. All these old and traditional Gods and Goddesses who have lost their hold on modern minds have been re-installed with a new historic and nationalist interpretation in the mind and the soul of the people. Hundreds and thousands of people have commenced to hail their mother-land as today as Durga, Kali and Jagadhatri. These are no longer mere mythological conceptions or legendary persons or even poetic symbols. They are different manifestations of the mother. This mother is the spirit of India.’
B.C.Pal advocated for the worship of Kali as the form of Sakti, as
‘All strength from the nations have gone out. Inertia has been elevated almost to the ideal of religion among the people. Laziness has been ennobled to the position of divine peace and all has contributed to the decay of national life. They must realize the highest good can only reach through bitter struggles.’
Hence, Kali, as a form of Sakti needed to be worshipped, for national reawakening, he further adds,
‘I would therefore recommend Kali Puja in villages, on every new moon day. It cannot be ordinary Kali Puja. We have the tradition of Kali worship whenever there are epidemics and troubles in the country’.
The suggestion of Kali Puja, was not just for national reawakening but to instill fear among the white men and demoralize their morale. He insisted upon puja of Raksha Kali where 108 white goats could be sacrificed as,
‘It would put courage into drooping hearts….They are trying to demoralize us. We too may perplex and demoralize them by organization of [Raksha kali] pujas.’
The above part of the excerpt is from the article ‘New India’ published on 6th June,1907. The substance of the article was penned down in English however it was originally delivered in Bengali.
To be Continued…..