Bengali Devi Shakti Ma Photo's depicting, Babu Kishan's Lineage Baul, these are some of the Goddess's of our family. The one and only Lineage Vaishnava Tantric Bhakti Bauls of Birbhum Bengal India.
Historical Perspective of Sati
By Shrikanth Krishnamachary
Published in IndicToday on January 14, 2019
The custom of Sati is among the widely cited and the most reviled of Hindu practices, despite being more or less extinct for nearly 190 years. Long after its ban in 1829, Sati remains in public discourse by virtue of being a polemical weapon.
Whenever there is a defense of any tradition, the common heard retort is –
“Oh…what about Sati? Was that not also a tradition? Did we not get rid of that?”
More often than not, this weapon is used rather liberally in contexts where it is out-of-place. Recently the journalist and political commentator Rajdeep Sardesai used Sati as a polemical weapon while arguing in favor of changing the rules of admission at the shrine of Shri Ayappa at Sabarimala.
Sati remains alive not just in Indian public discourse, but also continues to fascinate the West, some 300 years after modern Europeans first encountered the practice. It is used as a polemical tool by some to denigrate the rituals and culture of Santana Dharma.
For some outsiders of a feminist persuasion Sati is a convenient stick to critique the “treatment of women” in traditional India. For others of a more religious disposition, it is a stick to critique Indian religion, and make a case for the superior “Christian” civilization.
In the West for much of the past 300 years, Sati has been mis-translated as the practice of “widow burning” – implicitly suggesting murder. This is despite the fact that Sati for the most part was a voluntary act. The great Harvard political philosopher, Harvey Mansfield, once invoked Sati in an interview with the Harvard review of Philosophy in 1993, while critiquing multi-culturalism in the West.
Here’s what he said –
“To appreciate another culture one should really try to see where it disagrees with ours, and why it does so. For example, why did the Hindus burn widows on the funeral pyre? It’s not enough to simply reject that out of hand as an oddity…Why did they do that? What was the reasoning behind that? …. In other words, what are the arguments on its behalf?”
To be perfectly honest, Mansfield’s questions are valid.
However the Hindu response to these questions has been somewhat confused, often defensive, and sometimes resigned, with the odd exception. Among Indian progressives / liberals, the responses have tended to border on self-flagellation. Among the more right-wing Hindus, the responses go typically like this –
Response 1: “Oh…Sati was an incredibly rare practice, exaggerated by missionaries and dishonest East India officials”
Response 2: “Oh. Sati was non-existent in Ancient India. It is a medieval practice that arose in reaction to Muslim depredations among certain royal houses”
While it is true that Sati was a rare occurrence and that its incidence increased in medieval India, these responses are not entirely honest. Firstly there is a tendency to conflate the medieval practice of Jauhar in north-west India with Sati, a much older practice that predates it by many centuries. Secondly these somewhat defensive responses do not acknowledge the long history of Sati in India and the several arguments both for and against it within the Hindu tradition over the past two millennia.
The Indian liberal reaction in contrast is one of self-flagellation. This response has its own problems. It doesn’t acknowledge the relative rarity of the practice. It is oblivious to the numerous critiques of Sati within the Hindu establishment for much of the past 1500 years. So Indian responses have mostly disappointed.
There are some exceptions like the early 20th century historian Anant Sadashiv Altekar, whose work – “The Position of Women in Hindu civilization” published in 1938, remains a classic and is well worth reading to understand Sati, among other things. This essay is an attempt to trace Sati as a practice over the past 2000+ years. While I have referred some primary sources, many of the pointers are taken from Anant Altekar’s fine work.
Widows in Vedic literature
The practice of the widow sacrificing her life upon her husband’s death is not unique to India. It has been observed among Thracians by Heredotus, Manchus in China in later times, and also among ancient Scandinavians. But these were not very widespread practices. It is quite likely that the practice was more prevalent among the warrior class and arose from the belief possibly that the departed may require all their “possessions” in the next life.
In an Indian context, what strikes us is the total absence of Sati in the Vedic period. There is neither an intellectual justification of widow self-immolation in any of the Vedic texts, nor a narrative reference to an actual occurrence. In Rig Veda, Mandala 10.18.7/8 in fact implicitly exhort the widow to live on
इमा नारीरविधवाः सुपत्नीराञ्जनेन सर्पिषा संविशन्तु
अनश्रवो.अनमीवाः सुरत्ना आ रो हन्तु जनयोयोनिमग्रे
उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ
Translation – Ralph Griffith
“Let these unwidowed dames with noble husbands adorn themselves with fragrant balm and unguent. Decked with fair jewels, tearless, free from sorrow, first let the dames go up to where he lieth. Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman: come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover”
So clearly there is no explicit encouragement to the woman to ascend the funeral pyre here. In the Atharva Veda (Book 18), there is another hymn, which is even more unambiguous in encouraging the widow to have a family. Here is the verse
इयं नारी पतिलोकं वृणाना नि पघत उप त्वा मर्त्य प्रेतम ।
धर्मं पुराणमनुपालयन्ती तस्यै प्रजां द्रविणं चेह धेहि ॥
Translation from Hindi (Ram Sharma Acharya)
“O Dead man. This lady who cares for your lineage to continue, is practicing her Swadharma, and is now going to come near you. But let her in future have kids, grandkids, and prosperity”
This suggests that while the lady was present near the pyre and lay beside her husband in a symbolic way, after the funeral she was encouraged to live on and even remarry if necessary. So it is clear that at least in the early to middle Vedic period, there was no mention of Sati, nor was it likely practiced.
Even the later layers of Vedic literature like the Brahmanas and Upanishads do not mention Sati or anything even approaching it. In the Asvalayana Grihya Sutra, we have this verse, which in the latter part interestingly cross-references the Rig Veda verse we have already encountered.
तामुत्थापयेध्येवरः पतिस्थानीयोऽन्तेवासी जरध्यासो
“उधीर्षःव नारि अभि जीवलोकम्” इति
Translation (Hermann Oldenberg)
“After the wife lies beside the corpse at the funeral, her brother-in-law, being a representative of her husband, or a pupil of her husband, or an aged servant, should cause her to rise from that place with “Arise, O wife, to the world of life”.
What’s interesting is that the Rig Vedic injunction referred to earlier in the thread (Arise to the world of life) is invoked in this Grihya Sutra verse many centuries later. This shows the consistency of thought at work over a very long period of time.
Rig Veda Mandala X probably belongs to an epoch that is definitely some centuries preceding 1000 BCE. While Asvalayana Grihya Sutra is a much later text probably belonging to 600-700 BCE. Yet you see a verse in the latter referencing the former, to drive home the same positive point.
In roughly the same epoch, in the Taittareya Āranyaka text, we come across this verse –
धनुर्हस्तादाददाना मृतस्य श्रियै क्ष्त्त्त्रायौजसे बलाय
अत्रैव त्वमिह वयँ सुशेवा विश्वास्स्पृधो अभिमातीर्जयेम
Translation (paraphrasing Altekar’s):
“On returning from the funeral pyre, the widow brings back with her the husband’s instruments like bow, jewels, etc. We hope the widow and her relatives can lead a prosperous life”
The early Buddhist literature (Pali canon) does not discuss Sati either. So it is clear that Sati was most likely non-existent in the centuries succeeding Buddha (5th to 3rd century BCE). Sati is not mentioned by Megasthenes and Kautilya (~300BCE). Nor is it prescribed in the early orthodox Smritis of Manu and Yajnavalkya (dated variously between 300BCE and 300CE).
Niyoga in pre-classical India
In fact right up to the beginning of the Common Era, widows were not just encouraged to live on, but there was also the practice of Niyoga wherein a relative of the dead husband could potentially be authorized to have a kid with the dead man’s wife if he died childless. But post 300BCE criticisms started brewing in orthodox Hindu society against Niyoga – a practice admittedly liable to great misuse.
Here’s Manu on Niyoga. He first describes Niyoga but also condemns it, which suggests that even in his time, the practice was not totally extinct.
देवराद् वा सपिण्डाद् वा स्त्रिया सम्यक्नियु क्तया ।
प्रजेप्सिताऽऽधिगन्तव्या सन्तानस्य परिक्षये ॥ ५९ ॥
Translation (Ganganath Jha):
“On failure of issue, the woman, on being authorized, may obtain, the desired offspring, either from her younger brother-in-law or a ‘Sapiṇḍa’ “
विधवायां नियुक्तस्तु घृताक्तो वाग्यतो निशि ।
एकमुत्पादयेत् पुत्रं न द्वितीयं कथं चन ॥ ६० ॥
“He who has been authorized in regard to a widow shall, anointed with clarified butter and with speech controlled, beget, at night, one son,—and on no account a second one”
But notice Manu here –
विधवायां नियोगार्थे निर्वृत्ते तु यथाविधि
गुरुवत्च स्नुषावत्च वर्तेयातां परस्परम्
“When the purpose of the ‘authorization’ in regard to the widow has been accomplished, the two should behave towards each other like an elder and a daughter-in-law”
But Manu was not happy with Niyoga, and positively discourages it
ततः प्रभृति यो मोहात् प्रमीतपतिकां स्त्रियम्
नियोजयत्यपत्यार्थं तं विगर्हन्ति साधवः
“Whenever anyone, through folly, ‘authorizes’ a woman whose husband is dead, to beget children,—him the good men censure”
While the discussion on Niyoga may seem like a digression in a Sati thread, it is important to understand it. It clearly suggests that the whole idea of widow self-immolation would have been anathema in a society that was worldly enough to explore Niyoga to keep the lineage alive.
Earliest literary instances of the practice: Sati in the two Itihasas
In the two epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, Sati is extremely rare. In Ramayana, there is one case of Sati in Uttara Kanda, but not in the main epic. In Mahabharata we have the famous case of Pandu’s second wife Madri who becomes a Sati. Even in the case of Madri, at least in some recensions, the sages and well-wishers urge her against Sati. But Madri is adamant as she regards herself as responsible for Pandu’s death and is suffused with guilt. So it is perhaps closer to a guilt-driven suicide than a case of Sati
While Madri is no doubt a very early Sati case in the history of Indian literature, she is an exception and not the rule. Even in Mahabharata, there is no other widow who undertakes Sati, though this is a story of warrior widows.
In contrast Niyoga still is prevalent in the Mahabharata epic. Most famously we have the instance of Vichitravirya’s wives – Ambika and Ambalika (and their maid), bearing sons through Veda Vyasa, who was Vichitravirya’s half-brother.
So right up to 400 CE or so, when the epics were finally set in their present form, Sati was hardly known in much of India. Nor was there a single intellectual justification or argument in its favor in the very vast corpus of Vedic literature and Dharma texts.
Earliest historical instances of Sati
We have discussed the earliest instance of Sati in “literature” which is most likely that of Madri in Mahabharata. But what is the earliest historical occurrence of Sati that we know of? The earliest historical occurrence is widely acknowledged to be that of the wife of the Hindu general Keteus who died in 316BC fighting against the Greek Antigonus. Keteus had 2 wives. As with Pandu’s wives, both of Keteus’ wives were eager to die but the younger one got her wish.
But this is a very early instance of Sati, which seems a bit out of place, as the literature of that period is totally ignorant of Sati. Post this instance, we don’t get to hear about Sati for a long while except for the Madri exception in Mahabharata.
Gradual rise in Sati’s popularity
But in the first few centuries of the Common Era, there is change in the air. Ideals of asceticism have become increasingly popular in society, and this is reflecting in the literature of the time. Poets and dramatists of the classical period (200AD to 600AD) are gradually becoming aware of Sati. And this is reflecting in their writings. Most notably Bhasa, Vatsyayana, Kalidasa and even Shudraka. In Bhasa’s Urubhanga and Duta Ghatotkacha, we see the dramatist deviating from the older Mahabharata epic. In these plays we see the wives of Abhimanyu, Duryodhana and Jayadratha committing Sati, unlike in the Mahabharata epic. This is also the time when we see more historical occurrences most notably that of King Harsha’s mother (circa 7th century AD). She commits Sati even before her husband’s death (Harsha’s father) as there is no chance of his recovery from poor health. Around this time, we also note the emergence of a new generation of Dharma texts that are more sympathetic to the practice, though they don’t necessarily mandate it, most notably Vishnu Smriti, and Parāśara Smriti – two very late Dharma texts of the second half of the 1st millennium CE
In Parāśara Smriti, we come across this verse –
तिस्त्रः कोट्योडर्धकोटी च यानि रोमारि मानुषे
तावत्कालं वसेत्स्वर्गे भर्तारं यानुगच्छति
“If a woman follows her departed lord, , she will dwell in heaven for as many years as there are hairs on the human frame- which will reach the number of 3 crores and a half”
So there is a change in climate at work here. Practices like Niyoga are now clearly a thing of the very ancient past. While the reform on that front was perhaps desirable, there was overcompensation in the other direction. Sati now did become idealized as a remarkable religious act of great merit. Nevertheless it was still extremely rare, and hardly obligatory.
Critiques of Sati in the tradition
But this change in climate was also greatly opposed by other contemporary thinkers (E.g.: Medathithi, Bana). So it did not result in any major increase in the incidence of Sati. Medhathithi was among the earliest commentators on Manu Smriti. He is usually placed after 8th century CE. His writings show that this inclination towards Sati among some Smriti writers was vociferously opposed by others like himself. In his commentary on Manu, Medhathithi argues –
“As in the case of men, even for women suicide is forbidden. As for what Aṅgirasa has said—‘they should die after their husband’,—this also is not an obligatory act, and so it is not that it must be done”
The poet Baṅa, who lived in the 7th century was horrified by the emergence of Sati
“To die after one’s beloved is most fruitless. It is a custom followed by the foolish. It is a mistake committed under infatuation. It is a mistake of stupendous magnitude”
Tantra literature also is very clear in opposing the emerging trend of Sati (albeit voluntary in character) “The Woman is the embodiment of the supreme goddess and if a person burnt her with her husband, he is condemned to eternal hell” (Source: Mahanirvana Tantra)
Sati in Medieval times
But Sati grew in popularity particularly in Kashmir, where several historical occurrences of the same are documented in Kalhana’s history (Rajatarangini – the great 12th century work). It remained rare everywhere else. In fact the oldest Sati stone in Rajputana dates only to 838AD
Rajatarangini of Kalhana documents several Satis as well as aborted Sati attempts. Most notably the Kings Kalasha and Utkarsha were followed in death by their wives as well as concubines. The famous Kashmiri queen Didda of 10th century avoided Sati by bribing a minister to come to the cremation ground and dissuade her from getting on the pyre. An intriguing strategem.
Sati cases are also common in the 11th century work Kathasaritasagara – possibly written in Kashmir. But outside of Kashmir, Sati remains extremely rare, notwithstanding the tacit support for it in some late Smriti works of the time like Parāśara Smrti and Angirasa Smrti.
In the coming few centuries, Sati did become fairly prevalent among ruling Rajput families. This was also the period of the rise of Jauhar. But it remained barred for Brahmins. Even as late as 15th century, it was primarily a Kshatriya practice. In the Deccan, Sati was an outlier event and extremely rare.
In medieval times, we hear more about Sati from the travels of Europeans. When Ajit Singh of Marwar died in 1724, 64 women mounted the pyre. However when Shivaji died, just one of his wives became a Sati. But notwithstanding the rise in incidence, there is little to suggest that the practice had lost its voluntary character
There is an 11th century inscription in Karnataka that tells of a lady named Dekabbe who would not listen to her parents and insisted on mounting the pyre. Much later in 18th century we have the instance of the great Ahilyabai Holkar’s own daughter Muktabai, who became a Sati in 1792, despite the entreaties against the same by her great mother.
Tavernier, a 17th century traveler, tells of an instance where a girl of 22 went to Patna to show the ruler there that she was a willing party by burning her hands till they were reduced to ashes.
In terms of the rarity of the practice, Altekar estimates that even at the peak of its prevalence in the medieval period, perhaps one in thousand Indian widows became a Sati. Though he also speculates that the percentage was way higher among Rajput rulers (possibly 25% in his words).
Sati in 19th century
Now let us fast forward to East India Company rule in early 19th century. This was when we started collecting more concrete numbers on Sati cases, often through missionary organizations. Here are the number of Sati occurrences from Bengal between 1815 and 1828.
Place # Sati cases : 1815 to 1828
Now the numbers collected in early 1800s strike us as odd, in part because of the very high concentration in Bengal – a region not hitherto associated with Sati. This is surprising, given that historically the practice was far more prevalent in Kashmir and Rajputana than in Bengal.
Though a total volume of under 10,000 cases over a 13 year period may not be very big. But there is definitely room to be sceptical about these numbers, as argued in Meenakshi Jain’s fine work on the subject.
The final blow to Sati came in 1829 when William Bentinck banned it all over British India. But this was for the most part received well by Indians. In fact many Indian rulers had already taken measures against Sati before Bentinck’s ban.
Had it been a practice with very wide support, there definitely would have been far greater opposition to the ban placed on it than what was observed in the 1830s. Some thinkers like Radhakanta Deb (of the conservative Dharma Sabha) opposed the ban as they felt it was an interference in Indian matters by a foreign hand. But these were anomalous reactions without serious popular backing.
That brings us to the conclusion of the piece. While Sati has a long and checkered history, it has been banned for over 190 years. It is very much a thing of the very distant past, and we have no living memory of it. It was always a marginal practice. Nevertheless studying its history teaches us a lot about Indian intellectual history.
AS Altekar’s Position of Women in Hindu civilization
Rig Veda translation- Ralph Griffith translation
Atharva Veda Samhita translation : Ram Sharma Acharya
Manu Smrti – Ganganath Jha
Painting; gouache, Sati Ceremony, Tanjore, 1800
Credit : Copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Rapture, Rasa and its Re-enactments in Subcontinental Aesthetics: Priya Sarukkai Chabria
The incredible diversity of cultural practice and the bewildering plurality of aesthetic style and sensibility across South Asia might presuppose an indecipherable state of ongoing chaos. But there is, possibly, an invisible thread, an intangible pattern and purpose running through it.
Through its ancient, continuous and assimilative cultural history, India has transmitted aesthetic theories and critical traditions—folk, tribal and classical—across its living artistic traditions. Such shared narratives and representations raise the human capacity of empathy and community understanding, and help in expanding individual struggles to a larger scale of understanding.
As a discipline, traditional subcontinental aesthetics was thought to be complex, subtle, and inclusive of both folk and tribal (desi) and classical (margi) traditions. It was said to incorporate the gamut of human feelings and emotions, accepting both the beauteous and the ugly and the refined and the vulgar.
The Natya Shastra is among the many canonical texts claiming or aspiring to be in the category of the Fifth Veda, or the Pancham Veda. The God of Creation, Brahma, is said to be the originator of this work. It is also said to have been meditatively culled from the Rig Veda for literary text, the Sama Veda for music and dance, the Yajur Veda for acting and theatrical representation, and the Atharva Veda for aesthetic mood and theory.
Indian literature and drama refer back constantly to the two concomitants of rasa (emotive essence) and bhava (emotive mood) which lie at the core of artistic creativity. This induced state of aesthetic appreciation is to be relished by a saha-hridaya, or a sensitized spectator. Rasa is a polyvalent word that means taste, flavour, sap, curative agent, relish, essence, aesthetic rapture and much else besides.
At its heart, rasa theory associates tasting with aesthetics on the basis of the physicality of emotions and concinnated ingredients that complex tastes and aesthetic moods demand. Further, it accommodates the double helix of artistic adventure: the artist abetted by empowered readers who ‘complete’ the work by adding to it their rasa of appreciation. The parallel to contemporary approaches to literary theory and aesthetics is evident.
A saha-hridaya is literally one who shares the heart. The nine emotions, the navarasa, are sukhadukhatmak, evoking both pleasure and pain. Five of the rasas, sringar, hasya, veera, adbhuta and shanta, are joyous, while the other four, karuna, raudra, bhayanaka and vibhatsa, evoke pathos, anger, terror and revulsion.
The theory of rasa began with the Sanskrit text of the Natya Shastra, where eight bhavas were first described. The ninth bhava of the evolving navarasa is the shantam bhava of peace, equilibrium and praxis. Two more fundamental moods, of vatsalya or maternal love and bhakti or devotion were subsequently added to this lexicon.
The grammarians and theologians of Sanskrit poetics and scholarship were masters of analysis and cataloguing. The clarity and rigour of these classifications was subjected to even further hair-splitting analysis and pedantry, in time often leading to a dogmatic overstatement and obfuscation. But the underlying concept of the rasa and the rasika, and of the navarasas remained an underpinning of aesthetic activity, fruitful to its traditions and roots.
Rasa, or intense aesthetic pleasure, is the crucial element that illuminates the rigorously defined theories of Indian literary and artistic appreciation. Poetic intuition awakens the mystic third eye, the trilochana, allowing the creative mind to access both the past and the future through the trance-like state of higher understanding. This aesthetic pleasure is shared with fellow aesthetes, rasikas, or saha-hridayas who reach a similar state of heightened joy and perception by sharing the artist’s creation, which could be literary, musical or graphic.
The theory of rasa is still contained in the intangible scaffolding of much of Indian and, occasionally, even South Asian classical and popular expression, be it visual, graphic, dramatic or literary representation.
This module of diverse essays examines the layered heritage of the Fifth Veda in a contemporary light, and its significance. It searches patterns and insights to illuminate the persistence of memory in creative and artistic responses. Scrutinising submerged idiom, hidden metaphors and iconic continuities through the contradictions of Bollywood and art films, contemporary music and literature, it studies the stream of rasa that flows through select artistic visions like the mythical subterranean Saraswati River.
The module also contains essays that deflect this theory, reject and focus on artistic revolutions, suggesting that others too appropriated and/or discarded the undoubtedly elitist theory. Finally, it acts as a sampler to the thinking of artists and scholars on the rich rubric of the navarasas.
Investigating cultural roots and heritage is important for both the intuitive and empirical understanding of creative experience. It is through the continued assertions, or willful negations of these persistent ideas that we can more fully appreciate the evolving metatext of the millennium.
With this module, we seek to reach out to a new generation of readers, rasikas and saha-hridayas to, if possible, renew the understanding and potentials of the Fifth Veda.
Durga Mahishasuramardini or Loro Jonggrang, Prambanan, Central Java, Indonesia - 9th century.
Statue of Durga Mahishasuramardini or according to local legend known as Loro Jonggrang, inside northern cellar of Shiva temple, Prambanan, Central Java, Indonesia.
Prambanan or Rara Jonggrang is a 9th-century Hindu temple compound in Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, dedicated to the Trimūrti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Transformer (Shiva). The temple compound is located approximately 17 kilometres (11 mi) northeast of the city of Yogyakarta on the boundary between Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.
The Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple of ancient Java, and the first building was completed in the mid-9th century. It was likely started by Rakai Pikatan as the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty's answer to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty's Borobudur and Sewu temples nearby. Historians suggest that the construction of Prambanan probably was meant to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Central Java after almost a century of Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. The construction of this massive Hindu temple signifies that the Medang court had shifted its patronage from Mahayana Buddhism to Shaivite Hinduism.
A temple was first built at the site around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan and expanded extensively by King Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom. According to the Shivagrha inscription of 856 CE, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva, and its original name was Shiva-grha (the House of Shiva) or Shiva-laya (the Realm of Shiva). According to the Shivagrha inscription, a public water project to change the course of a river near Shivagrha temple was undertaken during the construction of the temple. The river, identified as the Opak River, now runs north to south on the western side of the Prambanan temple compound. Historians suggest that originally the river was curved further to east and was deemed too near to the main temple. The project was done by cutting the river along a north to south axis along the outer wall of the Shivagrha Temple compound. The former river course was filled in and made level to create a wider space for the temple expansion, the space for rows of pervara (complementary) temples.
Some archaeologists propose that the statue of Shiva in the garbhagriha (central chamber) of the main temple was modelled after King Balitung, serving as a depiction of his deified self after death.
The temple compound was expanded by successive Mataram kings, such as Daksa and Tulodong, with the addition of hundreds of perwara temples around the chief temple. Prambanan served as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Mataram, with most of the state's religious ceremonies and sacrifices being conducted there. At the height of the kingdom, scholars estimate that hundreds of brahmins with their disciples lived within the outer wall of the temple compound. The urban center and the court of Mataram were located nearby, somewhere in the Prambanan Plain.
Digital Rare Book:
Durga Saptasati Or Devi Mahatmya (700 Mantras on Sri Durga)
By Swami Jagadisvarananda
Published by Ramakrishna Math, Madras - 1953
Read book online:
Download pdf book:
Durga, in the form she is worshipped at Durga Puja in Bengal
Printed by: Bengal Art Studio - 1895
© Trustees of the British Museum
Carved terracotta plaque showing a striding goddess Durga with eight arms holding a sword, vajra, bell, elephant goad and other emblems; stamped with an inscription.
Image and text credit:
© Trustees of the British Museum
Nine Forms of Durga & The Special Prasad Offered to Them
by Sushmita Sengupta
Here are the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga that are worshiped on each day of Navratri and thebhog or prasadthat is specially prepared for them to seek their blessings.
1. Goddess Shailputri
The first manifestation of Durga is Goddess Shailputri. According to scriptures, she holds a trishul and a lotus in her hands, and rides a bull called Nandi. As per Shivpurana, Goddess Shailputri in her previous birth was born to Daksha Prajapati, and was named ‘Sati’. Deeply devoted to Lord Shiva ever since her childhood, Sati meditated earnestly to beget Lord Shiva as her consort. Lord Shiva bestowed upon her the desired boon and accepted her as her consort. The union was not accepted well by Sati’s father Daksha Prajapati, who insulted Shiva by not inviting him in one of his special gatherings. Infuriated upon the humiliation meted out to her husband, Sati immolated herself and sacrificed her life in honour of her husband. In her next birth Sati was born as a daughter to Himalaya, the Lord of Mountains and thus, was called Shailputri. Sailputri is also worshiped as Parvati or Hemvati. The first day of Navratra is dedicated to worshiping Shailputri. Devotees offer pure desi ghee on the foot of Shailputri. An offering of pure ghee is said to bless the devotee with a life free of diseases and illness.
2. Goddess Brahmacharini
The second day of Navratri bhog is dedicated to Goddess Brahmacharini. She is depicted as a monastic goddess in Hindu scriptures, two-armed, clad in white and holding a rudraksh mala and a sacred Kamandalu. Her stance is of utmost piety and devotion. Her meditative form is related to the severe penance undertaken by Sati and Parvati in their respective births to attain Lord Shiva as their beloved consort. She is also known as Tapasyacharini. It is believed that when Parvati was engaged in her deep meditation to please Lord Shiva, she was reduced to a mere skeleton. Her austere penance gained her the name of Bharahmacharini by all the devtas and Gods who were awestruck by her reverence. Worshiping this form of Shakti is known to invoke the spirit of penance, renunciation, virtue and nobility. Goddess Brahmacharini is a lover of simple food and offerings. Devotees serve a bhog of sugar and fruits to Goddess Brahmacharini.
Navratri 2018: The second day of Navratri bhog is dedicated to Goddess Brahmacharini
3. Goddess Chandraghanta
The third manifestation of Durga is Goddess Chandraghanta. She is depicted as a fierce 10-armed Goddess, roaring in anger. Chandraghanta is worshiped on the third day of Navratri. She has a golden complexion and on her forehead she wears a crescent moon, which is why she is called Chandraghanta by her devotees. According to scriptures during a great battle between gods and the demons, the sound vibrations produced by her ghanta (bell) took the lives of many wicked enemies. She rides on a lion and is believed to destroy all evil and wicked. The ferocious Goddess is pleased by offering milk, sweets or kheer.
Navratri 2018: The third manifestation of Durga is Goddess Chandraghanta
4. Goddess Kushmanda
On the fourth day of Navratri, Goddess Kushmanda is worshipped. The name Kushmanda is made of three other words ‘Ku’ (little), ‘Ushma’ (warmth or energy) and ‘Amnda’ (egg) which means the one who created the universe as the “Little Cosmic Egg” with energy and warmth. According to Hindu scriptures, the universe was a dark space and it was Goddess Kushmanda who produced the Cosmic Egg with her smile. Devotees worship the Goddess by observing fasts and offering Malpua as bhog.
Navratri 2018: On the fourth day of Navratri, Goddess Kushmanda is worshipped
5. Goddess Skandmata
The fifth manifestation of Durga is Skandmata who is worshiped on the fifth day of the Navratri also known as Panchami. Goddess Skandamata is depicted as a four-armed deity, who carries a lotus in two of her arms with a Kamandalu and a bell. She is also seen carrying little Kartikay on her lap. Kartikay is also known as Skanda, hence giving the goddess the name of Skandamata. Her posture is calm and serene. She is seated on a lotus, but a lion is also her vehicle. A bhog of bananas is offered to the goddess and it is said to keep the devotees in good health.
Navratri 2018: The fifth manifestation of Durga is Skandmata who is worshiped on the fifth day of the Navratri
6. Goddess Katyayani
Worshiped on the sixth day (Shashti) of Navratris, Goddess Katyayani is a form of Shakti who is depicted as having four arms, and carrying a sword. She rides a lion, and can be pleased with true devotion and piety. She is the daughter of Sage Katyayan. Devotees offer honey as prasad to Goddess Katyayani. Her blessings fill their lives with sweetness and help them get rid of bitter troubles.
Navratri 2018:Worshiped on the sixth day (Shashti) of Navratris, Goddess Katyayani is a form of Shakti
7. Goddess Kaalratri
Goddess Kaalratri is worshiped on the seventh day of Navratris. According to the Hindu scriptures, Goddess Kaalratri is etched as a four-armed deity who rides a donkey. She carries a sword, a trident and a noose. She is the fierce form of Durga, dark and ferocious in appearance. She possesses three eyes on her forehead that are known to contain the entire universe. She breathes fierce flames of fire, and lustrous rays emanate from her. Fierce on the outside, Kaalratri bestows her true devotees protection from evil-powers and spirits. Devotees offer jaggery or sweets made with jaggery. The prasad is also given to Brahmins along with Dakshina.
Navratri 2018: Goddess Kaalratri is worshiped on the seventh day of Navratris
8. Goddess Mahagauri
Durga Asthami or the eight day of Navratris is dedicated to Goddess Mahagauri. As per the scriptures, Mahagauri worshiped as the four-armed deity who rides on a bull or a white elephant. She carries a trishul and a damru. When Parvati decided to go on an austere penance to beget Lord Shiva as her consort, she renounced all comforts and lived in a forest for deep meditation. Her meditation continued for several years - braving heat, cold, rain, and terrible storms. Lord Shiva, impressed by her deep penance, appeared before her and showered the holy water of the Ganga over her. The Gangajalwashed off all the dirt. She regained her natural beauty, and came to be known as Mahagauri. Goddess Mahagauri is offered coconut as bhog by devotees. It is widely believed that donating coconuts to the Brahmans on Ashtami, blesses a childless couple with a child.
Navratri 2018: Durga Asthami or the eight day of Navratris is dedicated to Goddess Mahagauri
9. Goddess Siddhidatri
Worshiped on the ninth day, Goddess Siddhidhatri is projected as a four-armed deity sitting calmly on a lotus. She also holds a lotus, mace, discus and a book. This form of Shakti signifies the ushering of knowledge and wisdom over ignorance. Siddhi in Sanskrit translates to accomplishment. Thus, Goddess Siddhidhatri signifies perfection. On the ninth day of Navrartris, devotees observe a fast and offer til or sesame seeds as bhog. This is believed to protect the devotee and his family from unfortunate mishaps.
Navratri 2018: Worshiped on the ninth day, Goddess Siddhidhatri is projected as a four-armed deity sitting on a lotus
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