A spectrum of vibrant colours, chaos of patterns and their countless reflections render a kaleidoscope truly fascinating. Similarly, a myriad of traits, volatility of expressions and the ability to create infinite transformations in the world around her make a woman truly enigmatic. “She is so glorious that one’s eyes cannot see the splendour with which she shines. She can be terrifying like a vengeful lightning and life-giving like the morning sun. Both her forms are incomprehensible,” writes Benedictian abbess and poet Saint Hildegard, in one of her illustrated works Scivias.
Perhaps, the air of mystery surrounding her is why the woman has been revered and rejoiced as a goddess since ancient times. Despite the cultural dichotomy prevalent today, legendary goddesses with their dynamism and drive still shine forth. Soulveda explores a few festivities that celebrate the multiple facets of goddesses across cultures.
Grace and beauty
When one pictures anything feminine, grace and beauty are probably the first attributes that command attention. Incidentally, in the Greek mythology, Aphrodite is revered as the goddess of beauty, grace, sensuality and pleasure. She is identified with planet Venus, which symbolises femininity and poise. The festival Aphrodisia is still relevant even today and is celebrated in the months of July and August.
Hathore is celebrated as the goddess of beauty and a patron of cosmetic art in Egypt. Known as the mistress of life, she is considered the embodiment of romance, perfume, dance, music and all the fine things in life.
Devotion and determination
In the Hindu mythology, goddesses Sita and Parvati are synonymous to devoutness. But the singular devotion and resolve of Radha is exemplary. Albeit a mortal, her unwavering love for Lord Krishna inspires millions to celebrate Radha Kalyanam–one of the lesser known festivals in India. As per ancient scriptures, Radha’s love was unrequited. Nevertheless, to this day, wedding rituals are conducted for the idols of Radha and Krishna to symbolise the divine union of the creation with its creator.
The legendary Chinese Mooncake Festival, dedicated to the moon goddess, is celebrated in Southeast Asia. The legend goes that a skilled archer Houyi was given the elixir of life as a reward for slaying demons. However, unwilling to part with his wife Change, he was hesitant to drink it. Meanwhile, another rival archer who coveted the treasure entered Houyi’s home while he was away and tried to persuade Change to hand over the elixir to him. Change’s devoutness to Houyi and her persistence to not part with the treasure led to the misfortune of Change consuming the elixir herself. It is believed that she chose to live on the moon as it was the closest she could be to her husband henceforth.
The Roman goddess Minerva is believed to be an incarnation of intellect and wisdom. She is believed to be the origin of creativity.
Creation and nurture
A festival that depicts a woman’s motherly instinct and her natural tendency to procreate is Hina Matsuri. Popularly known as the Doll Festival of Japan, it is celebrated by mothers in the month of March. The custom is to display traditional dolls on tiers to showcase to their daughters all that they are culturally required to understand during their transition to womanhood.
Similarly, in Western Africa, Ala is the Mother Earth goddess who nurtures both the dead and the living alike in her womb. She represents the cycle of life from birth to death, just like the seasons of time. Often depicted with a child in her arms, she represents fertility, motherhood and nurturing. She is worshipped during the new year celebrations in Ghana, which is observed for 13 days. The merriments are characterised by people dancing to expel evil, honouring the departed and praying to Ala for good harvest.
Creativity and wisdom
The Roman goddess Minerva is believed to be an incarnation of intellect and wisdom. She is believed to be the origin of creativity. Well known as an inventor and alchemist, her work in the realms of engineering, music and medicine has inspired several Roman men and women to follow her footsteps. Although Quinquatria is the legendary Minerva Festival, several festivals are celebrated in her name even today.
Likewise, the Hindu Goddess Saraswati represents light, knowledge and truth. Clad in a red-bordered white saree, seated on a white lotus, she holds the string instrument Veena. She is celebrated not only in India but also in Southeast Asian countries such as Bali, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Japan. An embodiment of fluidity, she inspires the flow of knowledge, creativity and intellect. This flow in turn, purifies a person spiritually.
Within each woman is a sacred temple of goddesses–an amalgam of qualities–waiting to surface.
Strength and spirit
The African goddess Oya is a warrior with a zest for life. She derives strength from nature, her ally. Despite her wild and irrepressible passion, she is bound by the fire of truth, which she is said to have created herself. She incinerates dishonesty, deceit and injustice. Therefore, as much as she is feared, she is also loved and regarded as a protective mother. A clairvoyant, she possesses psychic abilities and intuition which she uses to communicate with the spirit world. She is celebrated in the month of February on Feast Day.
Along similar lines, Goddess Durga from the Hindu mythology is also a warrior who combats evil and demonic forces, which threaten dharma. She is regarded as the manifestation of raw energy. Despite being feared, she is looked upon as a mother. In India, Durga Pooja is celebrated with fervour in the months of September and October to commemorate the victory of good over evil.
While praising goddesses from across lands, these legends and festivals bring to life these distinctive traits of women. In the words of Saint Hildegard: “The goddess is present with everyone and within everyone. So beautiful is her secret that no person can know of the energy with which she sustains people and spares them in boundless mercy”.
This paves way for one lingering thought. Within each woman is a sacred temple of goddesses–an amalgam of qualities–waiting to surface. Perhaps, this temple is buried under the weight of changing times. Perchance, fearless expression is the only way goddesses can revive the woman from within.