The Hindu festival of Navaratri, the nine-night celebration of the Goddess in all her forms, culminates in Vijaya Dashami, a day honoring the Victory of the Goddess Durga over the Buffalo-Headed Demon, Mahishasura.
This Friday I was honored to take part in a Vijaya Day ritual here in Vermont. One of the other participants had just returned from “Occupy Wall Street,” a growing movement of thousands of people in New York City, gathered together to shed light on, among other things, the immense disparity between the wealthy 1% in this country and the rest of us. (http://occupywallst.org/)
He described this gathering as incredibly peaceful—very different from other mass demonstrations at which he had been present in the past. There was yoga and meditation in the mornings, and people were singing and playing music together into the night. Folks were sharing food, making new friends, and making decisions by consensus. Young and old, from students to steelworkers, these people from diverse backgrounds and experiences were united by a common vision of living in a society in which justice and equality reign, rather than corporate greed running the show.
Durga is the goddess of Unity, Justice, Righteousness, and Freedom. It seems to me that her story is a good one to remember right now.
In the story of the battle between the Goddess Durga and Mahishasura the Buffalo Demon, Durga, (whose name means “Tough Going” as in our modern English word “durable,” or the Spanish word “duro,” meaning “hard”), wins. Riding on her ferocious tiger, Durga wins because she is empowered by the unstoppable force of Love. She is invincible.
You see, Durga was created through the combined powers of all the Gods for the purpose of fighting this particular demon, Mahisha, whom none of them could defeat on their own. This Buffalo Demon was wreaking havoc all over the face of the earth. The Gods, like loving parents, were concerned for the welfare of all the inhabitants of the earth, so they joined their energies to create a new, never-before-seen force: Durga!
Unlike other Devis, Durga has no father or husband and is therefore beholden to no one in particular. She is free, independent, and powerful; she has agency, choice, and free will (svatantria). However, having been empowered by the collective to be able to respond, she, out of all her freedom, chooses to use her power to be responsible to the common good, for the benefit of those who entrusted her with their power.
(Imagine, for a moment, that this is what Democracy looks like…)
Now, what about that Buffalo Demon? Where did he get his power? Well, the strange answer is: He did a lot of yoga!
Mahisha was a very dedicated yogi who practiced so many austerities that that Gods were forced to grant him a boon (the gift of a special power). He asked to be invincible to everyone. But, perhaps because he was, besides being a yogi, a misogynistic pig, he added, “Well, invincible except to a woman,” (thinking, of course, “Ladies never go out to battle demons!”)
He hadn’t counted on Durga Ma!
Durga represents the power of community, the strength that comes from unity and cooperation. She belongs to no one, yet stands for everyone. Like a mother tiger, she is motivated by Love, and ferociously defends freedom, justice, and equality for all.
So, she chopped off the Buffalo Demon’s head and that was that.
It seems there might be a fine line between Devi and Demon. Both characters in this tale were empowered by the Gods. One chose to use her power for the common good, in alignment with the Love that created her. One chose to use his power for his own benefit, to the detriment of everyone else. Both characters are svatantric, free to choose; it’s how they choose to wield their power that determines whether we consider them demonic or divine.
All of us, having been gifted human bodies, have some degree of freedom and choice in this world. We, too, are svatantric. Some of us, however, have been given more than others. Depending upon the color of our skin, our gender, where we were born and to whom, etc, we may experience more or less access to power and privilege. When we have been given the ability to respond (i.e. to speak up, stand up, or take action) we are given the option of becoming, like Durga, responsible. When we recognize that there are people around us who, for whatever reason do not have the same ability to respond, we have the choice of speaking up, standing, up, taking action on their behalf.
What would Durga do?
Wherever there is injustice, oppression, or inequity, and people respond by choosing to stand up, speak up, and take action in alignment with the Love in their hearts, Durga is there. Whenever people choose to use their power and privilege for the common good and on behalf of those who are oppressed or disempowered, Durga is there. Whenever people choose to respond to injustice with ferocious Love, peacefully, yet powerfully asserting their will, Durga is there.
Durga is Here. Durga is at Occupy Wall Street and a million other places in this world right now. Durga is that feeling you have in your chest when you hear of or witness something that is unfair, unjust, or wrong. She arises out of Love with all the fierce passion of a mother tiger. Though perhaps asleep or dormant in some, she lives in the hearts of everyone, everywhere.
What is it that calls forth the Durga energy in you? What is it that incites you to stand up, to speak up, to take action? When you honor that energy inside your heart, what happens? It takes enormous courage to stay aligned with that powerful, fierce energy of Love. And yet that is what the world needs now. For the energy of Love is invincible, and if fully and bravely expressed, perhaps even in never-before-seen ways, as we are seeing at Occupy Wall Street, it will, like Durga herself, always be victorious.
As Dani Montgomery writes in, “Poem for an Activist Who Doubts Herself:”
We’ll be the light on our granddaughters’ faces
When they pierce the sky with victory.