She goes by various names. She’s Shailaputri–the daughter of Himalaya. She’s Brahmacharini–the one who meditates deeply. She’s Chandraghanta–the one with a crescent moon in her hair. She’s Kushmanda–the one who created the universe with her warmth and energy. She’s Skandmata–the mother of Lord Skanda. She’s Katyayani–the daughter of Sage Katyayan. She’s Kaalratri–the dark one who breathes fire. She’s Mahagauri–the beautiful one who meditated to be Lord Shiva’s consort. She’s Siddhidhatri–the perfect one.
Every Navratri, Hindus all over the world worship Goddess Durga for her various attributes. They hail her for defeating evil and exalt her as the warrior goddess. However, Durga Puja is not just about victory of good over evil. It’s also a celebration of Goddess Durga–the physical manifestation of Shakti–as the mother of all creations in the universe.
Often manifesting as a female embodiment of fertility, Shakti is the divine source of creation in Hinduism. After all, it’s the female energy that’s blessed with the power to give birth. Alternative medicine expert Deepak Chopra is known to have said: “The all-pervading energy source of existence or Shakti manifests itself as creation. Shakti is the divine mother who gives birth to and nurtures the newborn–whether it is a new-born baby, a brand new relationship, a fresh idea, or a magical manifestation. Although Shakti is beyond the boundaries of gender, form or colour, we call It Mother because of its mothering and creative qualities.”
Theology and philosophy academician David Kinsley, too explores Shakti as the central energy force of the trine nature (creation, sustenance, destruction) of the cosmos. In his book Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Tradition, he explains that Shakti is connected to Brahma, the creator, through her rajasic nature (passion/ creation); to Vishnu, the one who sustains, through her sattvic nature (balance/ preservation); to Rudra, the destroyer, through her tamasic nature (chaos/ destruction). According to him, Shakti is the self-born force, which can neither be created nor destroyed by any other existence in the universe.
“Every deity is rendered powerless without Shakti’s presence. It’s especially the case with Ardhanareshwara, the divine fusion of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (energy).”
It’s not only Kinsley who heeds to the idea of Shakti as a central energy. Certain Hindu scriptures mention Shakti’s powerful presence in various deities. Explains Vedic scholar Dr Giridhara Shastry, “In the Durga Saptashati passage of the Markandeya Purana, there’s an instance wherein Shakti manifests as Brahmini in Brahma, Vaishnavi in Vishnu, and Rudrani or Maheshwari in Rudra. This way, Shakti manifests as the core energy of all deities, to wage war against rakshasa (demons).” No wonder the Durga Saptashati is especially revered as a sacred text for performing the Chandi Homa (sacrificial fire for Goddess Durga) during Navratri.
Interestingly, Brahmini also manifests as Saraswati (wisdom to create), Vaishnavi as Lakshmi (abundance to sustain), and Rudrani as Maheshwari (divine will to destroy). It’s evident there can be no action without the feminine energy. It’s also believed that every deity is rendered powerless without Shakti’s presence. It’s especially the case with Ardhanareshwara, the divine fusion of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (energy). In Soundarya Lahari, a Sanskrit treatise on beauty and kindness of Goddess Parvati (physical manifestation of Shakti), a verse goes Shivashakta yukto yadibhavati shaktaha:. Translated, it means Shiva is functional only when his Shakti is active. So, Shakti isn’t merely the feminine half of Ardhanareshwara; she’s the very root of Shiva’s life. Shiva is pure consciousness, and Shakti the raw energy needed to manifest that consciousness in the physical world. Shakti is the yin to Shiva’s yang.
So, no matter which physical manifestation of hers we choose to believe in, Shakti remains the fundamental energy of our very existence. She’s the vibrant feminine energy that enables destruction, creation, and sustenance. She’s the destructive energy that brings about a balance in this world. She’s the fertile energy that enables life. She’s the motherly energy that sustains us. Navratri, then, is a celebration of Shakti’s destruction of evil, her creation of life, and her preservation of the innate goodness within us.