Sunday, October 21, 2007

Astami and Navami and Living Goddesses

On her ninth day, Navami, we ask for blessings for our tools and instruments. It is still one of Saraswati’s days and all the implements She inspires us to use are worshiped. Books, pens, my computer, beads and jewelry tools, anything that is necessary for my Work goes on the altar.

Saturday was the last morning ritual of the festival. I felt a little sad to know this daily ritual that has brought such a deep sense of power and grace to my life, is coming to an end. According to Durga’s myth, after the victory celebrations on the tenth day Durga returns to Her sacred abode in the mountains. It is not that She is no longer with us, She will always come when called. However, every year after the puja, the intensity of Shakti wanes, and we are asked to integrate the myriad lessons, insights and feelings we have opened to during the puja. Durga reminds us that She will always return-all we must do is call out Her name. I know this is true, but I will miss the warmth and empowering resonance that these rituals have provided. I will miss the mystifying ways the various Goddess energies and mantras have felt in my body. It has been very healing and restorative. For the past 9 days I have woken before dawn and have fully offered my Self to these pujas. I have felt Her strongly. She comes through in so many awesome ways. I sense that because of this regular worship I am more aligned and conscious of Her different expressions. I am deeply amazed by the ways Her energies are playing out in my life.

On the eighth and ninth days the battle Durga is fighting heats up. The myth tells of Her battle with Mahisasuramardini, the shape-shifting buffalo demon. In Nepal, these final three days belong to Kali (while Saraswati receives homage during the first three days). In any case, we must battle the remaining asuras or vestiges of negative thoughts, and open to the tremendous wisdom that Saraswati promises us.

On Friday, the eighth day after puja one of the devotees at this local temple gifted me with a copy of the Mahisuramardini Strotram. A wonderful chant/song narrating Durga’s battle with the demon. Actually, She is called Ambika, Chandika, and Parvati before She takes the name Durga, the Invincible One. Durga is the name of the demon She slays and liberates to its essentially divine essence. By assuming the name of a demon, Goddess shows that even that which we consider bad or negative is ultimately a part of Her. Like Durga, we can free ourselves from its limiting stronghold. Every morning we have sung this 15 minute chant and some have even danced. The words themselves induce a trancey energy. I find it impossible to sit and just read the words to the music. My body instinctively moves, sways, pulses with Shakti. This is Saraswati’s grace. Music, art, dance. The gift of this music from a sister devotee really touched me. I can now listen to it whenever I like. Although I do not know this woman, I have seen her almost every morning at the ritual and we both have recognized Durga in each other. It is an honor to make these connections with women, especially when I consider how a significant theme of the Durga puja in South Asia is that it is a reunion between mothers and daughters. Despite the patriarchal brahmanic overlays, I have experienced this festival as a ritual celebrating the bonds between women-which my own research has shown is its true origin.

A few minutes later, on this same day, another woman, who has been one of the main priestesses for the puja (and who looks like Durga!!! She is radiant with Durga’s energy!), invited me to help build the Sri Yantra for the Vijaya Dashami-Durga’s Victory, the tenth day. Synchronistically, I was wearing my Lalita necklace (the Sri Yantra is a manifestation of Lalita) and knew I needed to invoke some of Her delightful energies into my life. These necklaces are not your every day adornment. They are sacred, imbued with Goddess energy, and have continuously offered me and my clients who wear them many mystical and spiritually affirming experiences. It was no coincidence that the first day I wear a Lalita necklace to the puja I am invited to co-create a Sri Yantra out of colored rice. The Sri Yantra is Goddess Herself. And this Durga priestess, L. is truly an embodiment of Her.

On one of the first mornings of the puja I looked at this priestess and saw Her as a living emanation of this beautiful Chandi/Durga mask a friend in Bombay had given me. She has Shakti, and her presence has felt very familiar to me. Something I can only ascribe to Maa. Then on the evening of the eighth night I learn that this priestess, L, works in a crematorium! How Kali-esque! Kali and Her bevy of fierce goddesses frequent and perform ritual practices in the cremation ground. On the Tantric path we learn and experience how life and death walk hand in hand. Death, like life, is merely a state of being. Every moment we are experiencing death, whether it is of as thought, or experience, or something larger like the loss of physical body or forms. Many of the rituals revolve around confronting those things/people/places that we fear most. When L. told me how She burns bodies and how beautiful the experience is to her, I was deeply moved. It is a tremendous blessing for these souls, who are leaving this world, to have their physical forms offered to Her sacred flames by a priestess of Durga and Kali.

One of the many gifts I have received during this puja time is to continue to recognize Her in living women. I know many women in my own chakra of yoginis who are embodiments of Saraswati, the Black Dakini Throma, Lakshmi, Chamunda, Tara, and other Goddesses. And over the past week I have been exposed to many many more living women who are integrating goddess energies into their lives and consciously living Her myths. The myths have come even more alive for me. It is clear that these stories must have been based on women’s lives and expressions of femininity/female experience. For those of us who live unconventional lives, it is especially heartening to not only hear stories of unfettered yoginis, but to actually know them and witness their radical liberated and fearless dance within this world.

Astami and Navami have brought a multitude of rich blessings this year. Before Durga's mythical battles were won during the ninth night, before the rituals commemorating Vijaya Dashami, Durga's victory day, I have personally experienced a major shift in consciousness that consequently has attracted even more profound experiences around the power of women, especially women in groups. Last night at the Bioneers conference I had the great honor of having dinner with Alice Walker and the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. The conversations, the heart opening, the teachings I received are something I must write about soon - but at a later time as I am too bleary eyed from lack of sleep and all the blazing Shakti. Tonight is Her great Victory Celebration. I must prepare for the final puja and open my heart to the victories and awareness that are still to come.


Ambika said...
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Bobbin Cat said...

How can tantra help a woman enhance her inner qualities?

Ambika said...

I posted my response on the blog! Jai Maa!