The 1500 Year Old Feminist Angle

In My Meditation Today. This is less meditation and more contemplation. The stories we tell our children ( or the television shows or movies we watch with them) are more than “fun” activities. The stories we select, the characters we like, and the commentary we provide as part of these rituals are codes. The codes tell them what we like and do not, what makes us happy and sad, what we are comfortable with, what makes us nervous, what our expectations are, and what disappoints us. Whether it is sexism, racism, homophobia, or Islamophobia, we do not have to teach our children prejudice and or shame explicitly. It is all learned through osmosis.

The Grand Story of the Divine Mother is told in three parts. Each describes a battle between good and evil, and most often, the story is interpreted as the forces of good and evil external to us.

However, a more helpful interpretation for me is that it represents the battle between my basest instincts and my highest potential. The battles are bloody and gory because a battle to live from your highest potential is hard, ugly, and metaphorically bloody and gory.

The eighth chapter of the myth is the third in the last section of the Grand Story of the Divine Mother. I am devoting two posts to it because there are two distinct aspects of it that I want to explore. In this post, I examine the surprisingly feminist slant in this myth that was written almost 1500 years ago.

In this chapter, Shumbha & Nishumbha’s battle with Devi continues. Despite her victory over Dhumralochana, Chanda & Munda, Shumbha & Nishumbha refuse to admit their powerlessness. They continue to send in bigger and bigger armies to try and capture her. It is almost as if Devi is enticing deeper and more powerful demonic forces to battle with her.

Can you see how this could be the description of a spiritual journey? As one steps onto the path and expresses a willingness to do the work, more and more of our hidden inadequacies and fears rise to the surface to be acknowledged and accepted, and brought into the fold.

It is essential to understand that in Hindu Mythology, it is a blessing to be killed by the Divine Mother ( or any divine entity) because it ensures that your energy becomes one with hers. Thus, there is no rejection or destruction. There is instead a welcoming into all that is.

As Shumbha & Nishumbha send in their biggest army, Devi summons reinforcements. She calls forth seven energies from Hindu  “Male “ deities Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, and Kumara. Three from Vishnu ( Vaishnavi, Varahi, & Narasimhi), Brahmani from Brahma, Maheshwari from Shiva, Aindri from Indra, and Kaumari from Kumara.

Each goddess is equipped with weapons associated with her particular male counterparts.

Although the weapon’s actual shape or name may differ, each one is a tool to help the aspirant go from ignorance to true knowledge. For instance, Brahmani carries a pot filled with water, and her role on the battlefield is to sprinkle this water on the demons. The water – knowledge-  releases them from ignorance.

In his book “ Encountering The Goddess,” Tom Coburn describes how the myth emphasizes the supremacy of the Goddess over the “male” deities whose power she summoned. The text is very clear about the powers Devi calls forth from the gods, which she has instilled in them. That she is the source of all of creation is re-emphasized in chapter nine, just before her epic battle with Shumbha.
The fact that the army about to fight the vast array of male demons consists of just seven Goddesses that Devi summons and herself is not the only exquisitely feminist angle in this chapter.

After she has prepared her army and is about to go into battle, seemingly out of nowhere, her husband Shiva comes to her and says – “ Let the asuras be slain quickly for my satisfaction.” Devi, who has managed the entire battle so far, is not about to meekly accept Shiva’s command.
As Shiva finishes speaking, much like in the last chapter, a terrifying version of her emerges and says to Shiva, “ You, yourself become my messenger to Shumbha & Nishumbha and tell them to go to the netherworlds or let my jackals feast on their flesh.”

She does not give a quarter, puts Shiva in his place, and earns the name “ Shivaduti” – she who has Shiva as her messenger.
These powerful images show female mythological characters who are completely at ease with their power and care little about how they appear to the world, and I had never heard of them as a young girl.

It is also a fact that I could not find an image of the Devi directing Shiva to be her emissary, but I did find an image of Shiva directing the Devi to kill the asuras :).

Patriarchy is powerful. There were a lot of strong female role models in my life, but there was not one who was comfortable with or even wanted to be seen as a POWERFUL woman. I sensed how nervous men, especially women around me, were even thinking about powerful, independent women. I learned through osmosis that it was unsafe to be a powerful female.


I have largely overcome that legacy, or a lot of it. I wish that the generations after me can get to where I am with less pain and more speed. Perhaps one way to do that is to examine the stories we are telling young girls and boys and become aware of the covert agenda inherent in our choices.
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