In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning

English translation and commentary.

“Fifteen or more centuries ago an unknown author or authors in northwest India wove together the diverse threads of already ancient memory and created a dazzling verbal tapestry that remains even today the central text on the Hindu Goddess. Called the Devīmāhātmya (“The Glory of the Goddess”), this poem of seven hundred verses is recited daily in temples and widely disseminated in the original Sanskrit and in vernacular translations. Part myth and part philosophy, part narrative and part hymn, it is a spiritual classic that addresses the perennial questions of our existence: What is the nature of the universe, of humankind, of divinity? How are they related? How do we live in a world tom between good and evil? And how do we find lasting satisfaction and inner peace?

Cast as the narrative of a dispossessed king, a merchant betrayed by the family he loves, and a sage whose instruction leads beyond existential suffering, the Devīmāhātmya teaches through a trilogy of myths. The sage’s three tales are allegories of outer and inner experience, symbolized by the fierce battles the all- powerful Devī wages against throngs of demonic foes. Her adversaries represent the all too human impulses arising from the pursuit of power, possessions, and pleasure, and from illusions of self-importance. Like the battlefield of the Bhagavadgītā, the Devīmāhātmya’s killing grounds represent the field of human consciousness on which the drama of individual lives plays out in joy and sorrow, in wisdom and folly. The Devī, personified as one supreme Goddess and many goddesses, confronts the demons of ego and dispels our mistaken idea of who we are, for— paradoxically—it is she who creates the misunderstanding in the first place and she alone who awakens us to our true being.

Our ancient ancestors, whose beliefs constitute this text, found enchantment in nature’s bounty, faced terror in its destructive force, and revered both aspects of their experience as manifestations of the Great Mother. As relevant today as ever, the Devīmāhātmya has the power to reawaken us to a sense of wonder at the surrounding universe through a dazzling, integrating, and ultimately liberating vision of reality.

This translation is the fourth by a native English speaker but the first ever to combine Western scholarship with an insider’s perspective, based on my 37 years of spiritual practice within the Hindu tradition. I attempt to convey, in modem English, a dignity and eloquence befitting a sacred text and to allow you easy access to its inspiration. I have included the Sanskrit original in Part IV in order to fulfill the needs of those who want to study the Devīmāhātmya in depth…”

File Type: pdf
Categories: Hindusim, Tantra
Tags: book, devimahatmya
Author: Devadatta Kālī

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives