Mythology is not history. But it does provide a peep into the culture of the people who inhabited a particular area in the hoary past. The myth of devis has a pan-Indian influence, which is centuries old. The myths glorify the motherhood of the devis and worship them as creators. At Kamroop Kamakhya, the vagina is worshipped and the ritualistic Brahmins have even set aside five days of ‘menstruation’ every month. At Manglagauri in Gaya district of Bihar, the breasts of Devi are worshipped. But are these myths just a celebration of motherhood, of the woman as a creator? Or in them is hidden a long history of social struggle?
In fact, despite the advent of the so-called modernistic thinking, writing on the myths of Devis is still fraught with grave risks, especially against the backdrop in which this article has been written. There is no doubt that our inspirational heroes like Mahatma Phule, Dr Ambedkar, Periyar and others have launched bitter assaults on these myths but things have not changed much since their times.
In the Hindu religion, there are innumerable myths surrounding the devis. And Durga is one of them. Durga’s story first appears in Markandey Purana, which was written somewhere between 250 AD and 500 AD. The story is recited by the Brahmins as Durga Saptashati According to Durga Saptashati, Durga has many different forms and names. She is Jagadjanani (the creator of the universe). But, at the same time, she was born from the tej (power) of (male) gods and that was the source of her strength also – the strength which she uses to avenge the defeat of the gods.
Durga kills many Asurs, including Mahishasur, Shumbh, Nishumbh, etc. Much has been written about the struggle between the Aryans and the original inhabitants and the names the Aryans gave to the original inhabitants. In many parts of the country, Asurs are worshipped. Thus, the myth of Durga is the story of the original inhabitants versus Aryans battles, which has been glorified by the Brahmin bards.
AH Salunkhe and Neeraj Salunkhe, activists of the Maratha Sewa Sangh and scholars of Bahujan tradition, linking the myths of Durga, Urvashi, Amba, etc with Bahujan tradition, describe them as gannayika (literally heroine of a group). Presuming this theory to be correct, the battles which the gannayikas waged must have been either in the nature of wars between tribal clans or they must have been fought on the provocation or under control of the Aryans. Since these gans belonged to the same country hence they must have been aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each other and that knowledge could have been employed to vanquish them. It was because of this that the Aryans must have used the gannayikas to expand their kingdom and in turn, glorified them.
Durga Saptashati says that Durga consumed liquor in the battlefield and then she kills Mahishasur. Some between-the-lines interpreters of this story insist that Mahishasur was killed by deceit and that Durga took advantage of her feminine charms. Subsequently, the Asurs Shumbh-Nishumbh invite Durga to come to them. Here also, there is a scope for a subtextual interpretation. And the basis of it is the texts that Durga was unmarried i.e. no god accepted her as his wife. And so, she can be counted amongst the apsaras like Urvashi and Maneka, who were the nymphs of the gods.
A linguistic analysis of the words used in the story brings out further facts. Mahishasur’s slaying is called Mahishasur mardan. This can be interpreted in two ways. One that Durga was equipped with masculine strength, with the power of the gods (that is what Durga Saptashati says) and that is how she accomplished the mardan (trampling or crushing) of Mahishasur. The word mardan, however, has sexual connotations. Thus, on the basis of the word used and the fact that Durga consumed liquor before killing Mahishasur, there are possibilities of a subtext to the story.
One thing, however, is clear: that the only sentiment behind the worship of Durga and other devis is not paying tributes to the power of creation. It has some hidden meanings too, which can only be understood via the Bahujan rendition of the Brahmanical scriptures.
Published in the October 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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