‘Devi’ is the Sanskrit root-word of ‘divine’, and is synonymous with Shakti, the female aspect of the divine, as conceptualized by the Shakti tradition of Hinduism. She represents consciousness, and is quintessentially the core form of every Hindu Goddess.
Scholars suggest that the Indus Valley culture (pre-3000BC, near the banks of the river Indus) had a cult of the Great Mother or the Divine Mother, similar to such cults in the Mediterranean, and some have even speculated that this may have been the earliest form of Shaktism.
In the Aryan culture of the Vedic civilisation and religion, the literature describes a number of significant goddesses including Usha, Prithivi, Aditi, Saraswati, Vac, Nirrti, Ratri, Aranyani, Puramdhi, Parendi, Raka, Dhisana and many more, each representing bounties and riches, or one of the female manifestations of the Supreme.
Devi, the Hindu Mother-Goddess, is symbolic of the supreme power in the universe; wife or embodiment of the female energy of Shiva (the Destroyer of evil), having both beneficent and malevolent forms or aspects. She, as the divine feminine, is an equal counterpart to the divine masculine, and hence manifests herself as the Trinity herself – the Creator (Durga or the Divine Mother), the Preserver (Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati) and the Destroyer (Mahishasura-Mardini, Kali and Smashanakali).
The Mother-Creator, generally referred to as ‘Maa Durga’ (‘Maa’ meaning ‘mother’), or Devi Durga, has, like her daughters Devi/ Maa Lakshmi and Devi/ Maa Saraswati, 108 names. Her different names are, in alphabetical order : Amba, Ambika, Anika, Annada, Annika, Aryahi, Baruni, Bhagavati, Bhargavi, Chandika, Dakshayani, Deveshi, Durga, Ekaa, Ishana, Ishani, Ishi, Jyotsna, Kirati, Kuja, Kumari, Nandana, Nandi, Niranjana, Patala, Pinga, Pingla, Pragalbha, Rima, Rudra, Sadabhuja, Sadhana, Sadhika, Sanatani, Sarvagjna, Sasthi, Satviki, Saumyaa, Shambhavi, Sharada, Sharanya, Sharvani, Shatakshi, Shibani, Shivakanta, Shrividya, Shuddhi, Shulini, Shyama, Shyamala, Siddhama, Sinhayana, Srirudra, Stuti, Subhadra, Surasa, Sureshi, Tanisi, Tarita, Toshani, Tripura, Triputa, Tvarita, Vajra, Vamika, Varalika, Varuni, Vasana, Vidya, Vishalakshi, and Yadavi. Each name has a different symbolic reference, and the same goddess has different forms, with respect to what her name means. One name means power, another means wind; one means strength and another, light; one means knowledge, while yet another means, daughter; and many more. (Devi/ Maa Durga : picture below)
Devi/ Maa Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual. The word ”Lakshmi” is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Laksme’, meaning “goal.” Lakshmi, therefore, represents the goal of life, which includes worldly as well as spiritual prosperity. She too, like her Devi Durga, has 108 names, the well-known ones being : Aditi, Ashoka, Bhaskari, Bhuvaneshwari, Buddhi, Chandrarupa, Chaturbhuja, Daridriya Dhwamsini, Deepa, Hiranmayi, Indira, Jaya, Kamakshi, Kamala, Karuna, Lakashokavinashini, Navadurga, Nitya Pushta, Padmini, Prabha, Ramaa, Sanghavi, Samudratanaya, Satya, Shraddha, Shubha, Sudha, Varalakshmi, Vasudha, Vasundhara, Vibhuti, Vidya, Vimala, Vishnupatni. She represents ten qualities and objects, namely : food, royal power, universal sovereignty, knowledge, power, holy lustre, kingdom, fortune, bounteousness, and beauty. (Devi/ Maa Lakshmi : picture below)
Devi/ Maa Saraswati, the flowing one, is one of the most celebrated goddesses from the Vedic period through current times. She is the goddess of speech and learning, and is the creator of Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas. She is the consort of Brahma, the creator and member of the Hindu Trinity. She is equally revered by Hindus, Jains and the Buddhists. Her iconography depicts her association with art, science and culture, which is dramatically different from some other major goddesses who are identified with fertility, wealth, and battles. The different names which represent the Goddess’ various forms are Bani, Bharathi, Gyanada, Ira, Kadambari, Mahasweta, Medha, Prajna, Saradha, Shardambha, Vani, Vagishwari, Veenapani, Vidya and many more. (Devi/ Maa Saraswati : picture below)
Devi/ Maa Kali is the Goddess of time and change. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation of evil forces still has some influence. She is the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga. In many sources, she is praised as the highest reality or greatest of all deities. Her figure conveys death, destruction, and the consuming aspects of reality. The goddess has 1008 names, and each one represents a different power. The ones that are known among the common masses include Bhadrakali(she who is the divine Remover of Darkness), Kapalini(she who is the Bearer of the Skulls of Impurity), Kamya (she who is desired), Chamunda(she who moves in the Paradigm of Consciousness), Parama(she who is Supreme), Jagajjivamayi(she who is the Manifestation of all life in the Universe), Haimavati(she who is born of Himalayas), Vani(she who is Words), Matangakumbhavaksoja(she whose breasts give nourishment to Existence), Jvala(she who Radiates), and many more. (Devi/ Maa Kali : picture below)
Other major goddesses include Sati Maa(a form of Goddess Parvati), Mahadevi(the powerful form of Shakti), Sita Maa(the consort of Lord Rama), Ganga Maa(the Goddess of the Holy river), Yamuna Maa(another Goddess of the Holy river), Gayatri Maa(the Goddess of Learning), Maa Annapurna(the Goddess of Harvests).
However, violence against women in India is an issue rooted in societal norms and economic dependence. Discriminatory practices are underlined by laws favoring men. Inadequate policing and judicial practices deny female victims proper protection and justice. Although female participation in public life is increasing and laws have been amended, India still has a long way to go to make Indian women equal citizens in their own country.
In a recent book entitled “India Dishonoured: Behind a Nation’s War on Women”, Sunny Hundal discusses various features of Indian culture that foster violence against women. He writes that India’s brand of religiosity and ingrained ideas about the “‘honour’ of women” make it particularly difficult to secure the change in attitudes required to address violence against women.
(photo from : http://www.countercurrents.org/ranjan300113.htm)
In the present day, women have to struggle very hard to pursue respectable careers and to survive like their male counterparts. Women in India have held some of the top jobs in the land including that of presidency. Even then, they still continue to face atrocities and violence cases such as like rape, forced prostitution, dowry killings and brutality. According to a report by Thomas Reuters, India is ranked fourth among the most dangerous countries for women among the G20.
CFR’s Isobel Coleman highlights three things to know about the case, and discusses the larger issue of violence against women in the country:
1) Gender Inequality at the Root: “In India, girls are valued less than boys,” she says, “and this results in many inequalities in society.” In addition to rampant sex-selective abortions, Coleman points to significant disparities in access to health care and education.
2) A Culture of Complicity: “Culturally, there’s not enough exposure and conviction against those who are perpetrating acts of violence against women,” Coleman says. Citing examples of cases where police officers have pressured victims to keep silent or even marry their rapists to avoid prosecution, she says there is “a culture of complicity around violence against women.”
3) Opportunity for Change: The recent demonstrations are unprecedented in India, and could mark a turning point, Coleman says. “It could in fact result in some substantive changes for women. In particular for violence against women, but more broadly throughout society,” she says.
Rather ironic isn’t it, that a nation which has over 2000 goddesses and deities that men and women alike worship with great devotion in times of need, fortunately for the media, reports of such great violence against women have been brought to the view of the public eye. And if we ponder about it, we cannot help but wonder, how many crimes have gone unreported, and unpunished. Not everyone seems to remember that every woman is a form of the ‘Devi’.