Durga Saptashati, also known as Devi Mahatmya, is, first and foremost, an ode to women empowerment. It celebrated the nine aspects of Goddess Durga in the form of beautiful poetry, perhaps the finest in Sanskrit literature.
As a husband and a father, I believe it applies to all women , not just the goddess Durga, because every woman carries all the nine aspects of Durga within her, at least in a latent form. Let us start with the first, Shailputri, literally meaning the daughter of the mountain.
When my daughter was born, and I looked into her beautiful eyes, I thought she was an angel from heaven. Many other parents, I am sure, have had this experience. In other words, she was an angel in human form, descended from the mountain top.
When I look at my wife, I see a bit of the Shailputri in her. She is very proud of her father, as every good daughter should be.
A few years after birth, the girl – child becomes a student. She becomes a brahmacharini, the second aspect of Durga. She acquires knowledge about the world created by Brahma. My own daughter made this journey with flying colours,doing very well in school and in engineering college. Every girl child is entitled to an education, it is her birthright.
Once the girl is educated, she is ready to get married. She assumes the form of Chandraghanta, a married woman. At this stage in her journey, she can make her voice heard, fight for justice and ensure that her husband follows the righteous path.My wife has been a guiding light to me, preventing me from making wrong decisions, or taking too many shortcuts in life.
As she continues her life journey, the woman discovers her hidden potential and becomes Kushmanda, a form of Mahashakti, or unlimited power. Every woman has this power, and exerts it with a firm hand, within her orbit of influence. My wife and my daughter have been doing this, exerting a gentle power in their households, making their world a much better place.
Women also have a unique capability—they can become mothers. When they wield this power, they become Skandamata, the mother of Skanda, also known as Kartikeya. When I read this verse in the Saptashati, I was reminded of the Indian name for Alexander: Sikandar. Every mother views her child as a Sikandar, a conqueror of the world. This reminds me so much of my own mother. In her eyes, I was the best the world could produce, no one else could even come close. I think of my own son, he is always a hero in his mother’s eyes. Even when she is mad at him, for any reason, he is still her hero.
Life is not always fair to women. Sometimes, they have to stand up and fight for their rights and even protect the men in their life. When this happens, the woman assumes the form of Katyayini, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur. I have seen this aspect in my wife, she is willing to fight for her rights, against injustice and, for the rights of others around her.
As the fight continues, a woman can assume the form of Kaalratri, who controls time itself. This is her most destructive form, and, nothing can stand in her way. As William Congreve said: Hell hath no fury like a women scorned.
When her fury is fully vented—very often on her husband—the woman quietens down and assumes the form of Mahagauri. She is once again a homemaker, a devoted wife and a nurturing mother, the very foundation of good family life. I prefer to see my wife in this form all the time, but she slips into the Katyayini form from time to time, no doubt due to some of my stupid antics. After all, men are more like Shiva, also known as bhola, or, innocent who prefer to live out their lives in a mildly intoxicated state.
A woman reaches her highest potential when she becomes Siddhidhatri, the bestower of siddhis, or spiritual attainments. No one can reach the highest spiritual states without the help of women. Just look at the example of Sujata, who gave a helping hand to Buddha, just before he became fully enlightened. Siddhidatri also represents a woman who provides education, knowledge and discipline to the kids in her family. When I look back at my own life, I realize I have learned so much from my grandmother, who devoted her life to the study of Ramayana. I also learn all the time from the women in my life, specially my wife. My mother gave me a love of classical music that has sustained me all my life. All the women in my life have been Siddhidatris for me.
The next time you meet a woman, don’t be taken in by the beautiful outer facade.She carries within her all the nine aspects of the Goddess Durga, some in a latent form. Make sure you invoke the benign forms when you interact with her, for she is full of hidden strengths and enormous destructive powers.