Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

Worshipping Shakti, The Supreme Mother

Prem Khatry


In Nepal and the Indian Subcontinent, Shakti worship is a graceful, colorful and festive phenomenon. There are scores of Shakti or Power-places in the region and Nepal.
One important part of the Durga Puja is animal sacrifice. Taleju of Hanumandhoka receives 54 goats and 54 buffalo on the Nawami night. Dakshinkali is one deity where animal sacrifice is essential. In Dadelhura, the Ugratara Bhagawati receives blood. This year also the animal rights and the vegetarians’ community appealed to the public that dashain must be celebrated as a vegetarian event. Tamasi (violent and excessively excited) food has no place in any major religions of earth. Speaking to ABC television, Dr. Govind Tandon said the excessive use of meat and alcohol during a festival season like Durga Puja, campaign for veg and alcohol free food should be encouraged. Why focus on goat herding and mutton importing to the current scale? Farmers should be encouraged to grow healthy, green food.
Compared to Siva and Vishnu pilgrimages, Devi peeths are more in numbers. This is because Nepal Himalaya is a country of Uma-Parvati, the consort of Lord Siva. Other mother goddesses sprang forth, as the puranic story goes, from Uma or Bhagawati, the Supreme mother as there was a fight going on with the demons and devas, the male powers were losing their ground until Devi Durga announced her decisive part to subdue the demons. She created the Matrikas as forms of Durga, out of her own body and the power balance went to the gods. Dashain or Vijaya Dashami is all about the celebration of the nine day long war between the gods led by the goddesses and the demons led by the fierce demons led by Mahisasura.
The word ‘Mother’ reigns supreme as soon as the festival season sets in in Nepal Himalaya. The worship of Mother Goddess is not limited to one faith, one region and/or one culture. The Mother Goddess cult It is universal with different details in terms of philosophy, arts and performance. At a time when Durga Puja is a household word of respect and devotion, this article will limit its scope in the ancient city of Lalitpur with some new decisions taken for the continuation of divine dances related to Devi, the source of Power, Shakti.
Hindu and Buddhist cultures have several special festivals in honour of the divine mothers. Seven/Eight Mother goddesses and 10 mahavidyas are popular among the Hindus where Tara, vidyadhari, khadgayogini, other yoginis are popular among the Buddhists. Other ethnic communities have locally created and honored nature and life-experience related female deities of their own cults. As ancient Nepali society transformed from matriarchal to patriarchal over time, more male deities mentioned in the Puranas came into prominence yet the role of the mother goddesses remained prominent in all the cultures that flourished in Nepal.
Colorful performance of mother goddesses popularly called Devi Nach, of dance of the goddesses is a popular culture in the Newar culture of Kathmandu. These dance dramas and performances were created and developed during the Malla period as the cult of mother goddess like Taleju or Bhawani and Navadurga became very powerful during that period. However, as time passed, many such dances waned and disappeared from the festival scenario. Other Newar settlements of Kathmandu and other settlements also have khadgajatra and devi jatra.
As UNESCO began to inquire about these aspects of intangible cultural heritage of Nepal, the Newar people of Kathmandu awakened and began to go back to the past to make efforts to revive these historical dances and plays. In Patan, the City of Fine Arts, the Municipality also helped the local experts to re-create performances like the Kartik Naach and in more recent times other dances like the Navadurga of Patko. This dance was initiated by the royal palace in the medieval times but was forced discontinued forty years ago. The ward chief Nirmal Shakya says the dance will make a come-back after 40 years. This is the result of the old or guru and the young, the dancer, generations.
The ward chief is proposing that the municipality must establish a permanent fund for the purpose of organising such historically and culturally important events for the preservation of culture in the days ahead. It is important to note that Patan a cultural city must be realised through sustainable programs at people’s level
Several devi dances are now reviving due to the interest of the younger generation who will have to go through special training with the senior gurus. The forgotten past is thus coming to life gradually. This example set in Patan must be replicated countrywide as part of intangible cultural heritage.
Finally, Durga Puja or Dashain is the most important festival of all. Celebrated right after the farming season, this is called the ‘Sharadiya parva’ or the Autumn Festival. The weather is clear, one has enough leisure time after the farming works and one has to wish bounty in the farm production. Celebrating the festival with family members, chain of relatives and friends, employees and villagers gives a strong sense of ‘togetherness’. From devotional songs and processions to visit the devi shrines in the morning to entertainment in the day and evening, dashain keeps the people occupied with a host of activities.
(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)