Celebrating Women as Warriors

Kali & Durga Pujas - Calcutta, India

This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

“The Mother of Enlightenment pervades the heavens; the Mother of Enlightenment pervades the atmosphere;  the Mother of Enlightenment pervades Mother and Father and child. All Gods of the Universe are pervaded by the Mother, the five forms of living beings, all Life. The Mother of Enlightenment, She is to be known.”  -Kali Puja     
The Mother God has been worshipped in India for five thousand years. Her name, Shakti, means energy. Hindus pray to Her, “O loving Mother, thou hast two aspects, the terrible and the peaceful.” Her “terrible” energy manifests as the warrior goddesses, Durga and Kali, whose festivals are celebrated throughout India. Both Goddesses conduct relentless battles with evil.

Durga Puja

Durga Puja (puja means worship) celebrates the Goddess Durga’s victory against Mahishasura, a shape-shifting demon so intractable that none of the Gods could stop him from destabilizing the cosmos. The frustrated deities met to devise a new strategy.

They each breathed fire and from the flames Durga appeared: beautiful enough to distract enemies and powerful enough to eradicate them. The God’s returned their great powers to Shakti: each handed Durga his best weapon, which she brandished in one of her ten hands. Her mount was the animal-equivalent of her personality: a lion.

When she rode into battle against Mahishasura, he tried to seduce her with compliments. She roared with rage. Even though he masqueraded in many forms, Durga pursued him mercilessly.  Ultimately, he assumed human form and stepped from his water buffalo disguise. She slay him with the trident Lord Shiva had given her, and saved the world.

Kali Puja

On the night of new moon, 29 days after Durga Puja, Kali Puja occurs. Who is Goddess Kali to be so beloved in Calcutta, a city whose very name is an anglicized version of Kalighat, her temple?

Kali bolted to life during a battle Durga conducted with particularly malicious, wily demons. When her enemies brandished their weapons, Durga’s face went dark with rage; suddenly the fierce Goddess Kali burst from Durga’s forehead and hurtled into battle tearing the demons apart, crushing them in her jaws. She grasped two demon generals and decapitated them in one furious blow.

There was more to do. Durga beckoned Kali to help her quash demon Raktabija whom Durga and her assistants, a fierce band of sixteen called the Matrkas, mothers, had wounded. He was bleeding and every drop of blood he shed reproduced him a thousand times. There were mini-Raktabijas everywhere. Kali didn’t hesitate. She sucked the blood from the demon’s body, then gobbled his countless copies.

Although there are many schools and methods of worshiping Kali, devotees believe that by approaching the divine through her terrifying form, they will realize that “opposites” (death/life, evil/good, destruction/creation, ugly/beautiful, female/male) are different sides of the same coin; duality is illusion, the world is whole.

Buy the Book


copyyright © 2004 - Paola Gianturco | Site Map