The history of mankind has mostly been hostile, uncompromising and tasting for women. Although mythologically many women have been celebrated and worshipped as goddesses and deities in our part of the world, the reality of women even in today’s world is still miserable and challenging. During the grand celebration of the Durga puja, we still read news of rapes, female infanticides and domestic violence. This male-dominated capitalistic society has turned women into a cultural capital. Still the strangest contradiction lies when the same society and the same patriarchs celebrate the arrival and stay of Maa Durga and worship her ritualistically.
Devi Durga is considered as the mother of the universe by the Hindus. However, religion is a fundamental belief. I dare not talk about Devi Durga from the religious point of view. I am rather interested in the mythological Durga as mythology has added a more powerful and interesting profile to this fundamentally philosophical and religious construct. Mythologically, Devi Durga is the symbol of feminine energy and an epitome of power. She is called Devi or Shakti. She single-handedly vanquished the tormenting buffalo-demon Mahishasura who devotedly worshipped God Brahma for turning him into the most powerful and indestructible creature on the heaven and earth. Lord Brahma bestowed a boon of immortality and absolute power upon him seeing his earnest dedication. As soon as his wish was fulfilled, he became the most vindictive demon. Then Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu combined all their energies and powers to create a feminine energy that would dismantle the demon’s tyranny. They created Durga.
Moreover, she is beautiful and seductive, but never treats her beauty or art of seduction to seek help from any male god. She is on her own. Like the demons, she has also dismissed the traditional notion of femininity. She is worshipped, because she is incredible and the most powerful goddess. Unfortunately, in real life, strong-willed and warrior women are not worshipped. They are, in fact, strongly criticized and even cast-off from the normal society as they do not fit into the conventional patriarchal world. We worship the goddess who comes to her paternal house for 10 days. Then after shedding tears for her departure, we start mistreating our real-life durgas.
Nonetheless, Devi Durga, despite eliminating all evils from the universe, could not deny her role as a wife and a mother. She returns home and again starts caring for and nurturing her children and husband. Devi Durga, the most powerful female deity, is not a contradiction, rather a norm in our society. In a patriarchal society, a woman, even when she goes out of her comfort zone and earns money, is expected to do the lion-share of household chores too. As a goddess, she is worshipped. As a woman, she is subjugated and exploited.
Now, the patriarchal society would say that Durga is a goddess after all unlike the women they see around them. It is important to have mythological knowledge and ungendered understanding that Durga was created by embodying the collective energies of the great Gods. She has not created herself. All the skills, talents and abilities she has got in her have been constructed and reared up by the Gods. She is a derivative form of the male energies too. That is to say, when women are nurtured, guided, guarded and inspired by their male counterparts positively, they can become Durgas too. It requires enormous supports from the men for women to be like Durga.
Durga is a collective being of many different avatars. She can be a caring mother, a loving wife, a seductive lover, and an aggressive warrior too. She can transform herself as time and situation demand. Like Durga, many other women have also proved that they can be mentally and physically so strong that they can do anything like men. Her strong will and profound love for her loved ones beautifully embody duality in her entity. She is loving and ferocious. She is the protector of peace and also the ravager of the evils. Durga is just like our mothers. Durga is just like us!
Durga resides in the women next door. Durga is the most positive feminine force. She is a metaphor that can be internalized. Teaching our sons and daughters how to worship Durga during the Navaratri period is not enough. Teaching our children mythological and religious histories of Goddess Durga and Durga puja is not just enough. It is high time we encouraged our daughters to understand the cultural construct and underlying metaphor of Devi Durga. It is really high time we made our sons understand that every single woman carries the traits of Durga in her feminine being.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong