The Goddess or Devi is God in Its Mother aspect. Devi, who is existence, consciousness and bliss, is thought of as a female, a male or pure Brahman. This volume Hymns to the Goddess is an endeavour of Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon) to translate the Sanskrit hymns in praise of the Goddess or Devi, scattered in Tantra and Purana texts, Mahabharata, and in the hymns of Sankaracarya, who was an incarnation of devotion and a great philosopher, Valmiki and Indra.
After a general introduction, the book starts with a hymn to Kalabhairava, the spouse of Devi, followed by Devi stotras. In these hymns, Devi is praised as Bhairavi, Bhuvanesvari, Adyakali, Laksmi, Tara, Mahisamardini, Annapurna, Sarasvati, Durga, Tripura in Tantra texts; Sarvavisvajanani, Ambika, Candika, Mahadevi and Jagadambika in Puranas, Durga, Arya, Durga in Mahabharata; Tripurasundari, Ganga, Ananadalahari, Yamuna, Narmada and Mahalaksmi.
Hymn to Kali (Kurpuradi Stotra), another book within the book, is a celebrated Kaula stotra, having commentary on the hymns. It, in addition to mantroddharadhara, contains stotras of dhyana, yantra, sadhana, madya, mamsa, maithuna and phala-sruti matters.
Sir John George Woodroffe (1865-1936), also known by pseudonym Arthur Avalon, was a British Orientalist whose work helped to develop in the West a deep and wide interest in Hindu philosophy and yogic practices. A lawyer by profession, he developed parallel interest in Sanskrit, Indian philosophy and religion.
Sir Woodroffe wrote or translated more than a dozen books: Introduction to the Tantra Sastra; Tantra of the Great Liberation (Mahanirvana Tantra); Hymns to the Goddess; The Serpent Power; Hymn to Kali: Karpuradi-Stotra; The World as Power; The Garland of Letters; Principles of Tantra (2 vols) and Is India Civilized? Essays on Indian Culture are some of them.
THE Goddess or Devi (as the Hindus call Her) is God (as the Western worshippers address Him) in Its Mother aspect. The "latter not uncommonly deem such attribution of feminine quality to be "heathenish"; but this condemnation (for the criticism has, of course, this intendment) is itself singularly foolish in that it is thereby implied that of two sets of terms (neither of which is in its strict sense applicable to the Deity as the Author of forms), one is, in fact, a more correct description than the other. In Navaratnesvara it is said: "That Devi, who is existence, consciousness, and bliss, should be thought of as a female or as a male, or as pure Brahman. In reality, however, She is neither male nor neuter (that is to say, that She is not bound to any particular form)." No one contends that the brahma-tattva in the supreme abode beyond appearances is masculine as opposed to feminine, or the latter as contrasted with the former. Like all else in this matter, words are but the babbling endeavour of our plane to express that which is above it. It is not easy, then, to explain the condemnation except upon the assumption that those who pronounce it think their mother's sex to be inferior to their own, and that thus Deity is unworthily described by any other terms than those of masculine excellence. But Hindus, whoever place the name of mother before that of father, and to whom garbha dharaposabhyam pitur mata gariyasi, have no partiality for such mistaken notions. On the other hand, it is possible that they might not understand the Christian expression "Mother of God", nor approve it even after they had learnt the limited and special sense which theology gives to this epithet. The tantrika would least of all admit the insufficiency of the conception of God as Mother. For the Devi manifests in his own mother, in his prakrti (as he calls his wife), and in all women. As Kubjika Tantra says: "Whosoever has seen the feet of woman let him worship them as those of his guru (strinam padatalam drtstvaguruvadbhavayet sada).Whilst male and female are both her aspects, yet Sakti is, in a sense, said to be more revealed in the female than in the male form. And so Mundamala Tantra says: "Wherever there is a sakti (female), there I am". On account of this greater manifestation, women are called sakti. From this, however, it must not be suppos that Sakti is less present in such forms as Siva and Krsna, and others. If, as the author of the Tantra Tattva says, a sadhaka who is a worshipper of the Krsnamurti desires to see Him as Kali, Bhagavan, who fulfils the desires of devotees, will assume that form. All forms come into existence upon the manifestation of consciousness in the play of Her whose substance is consciousness.
Though Saktanandatarangini says that Devi is worshipped on account of her soft heart yet the use of the term "Mother" has other grounds than those which are founded upon an appeal to the natural feelings which the sweetness of the word "Mother" evokes. The meaning of the term devi is or that which is by its nature Light and Manifestation. And the word is used in the feminine gender because the One, as Sakti and Prakrti, bears and nourishes all things as their Mother. The Devi is therefore the Brahman revealed in Its Mother aspect as creatrix and nourisher of the worlds.
Worshippers of Devi or Sakti are called Saktas. But those who have a true knowledge of sakti-tattva without which, according to Sastra, nirvanamoksa is unattainable, will in thought surpass the sectarianism which the terms "Sakta", "Vaisnava", and "Saiva" ordinarily connote. Whatever forms the Devi assumes in Her aspect with attributes are but Her forms. As the author last cited says, the sadhaka will know Her, whether the appearance be that of Krsna, Durga, or Mahadeva. The Vaisnava may consider Her as Vishnu in the form of Sakti, or the Sakta may look upon Her as Sakti in the form of Vishnu. To those who, immersed in the ocean of Her substance, which is citsakti, are forgetful of all differences which appertain to the world of form, Krsnasakti, Sivasakti, or Kalisakti, and all other manifestations of sakti, are one and the same. And so Ramaprasada, the Bengali poet and tantrika, sang: "Thou assumeth five principal forms according to the differences of worship. But, O Mother! how can you escape the hands of him who has dissolved the five and made them into one?"
The hymns to the Devi in this volume (introduced by a stotra to Her Spouse the Kalabhairava) are taken from the Tantra, Puranas, Mahabharata, and Sankaracarya, who was "the incarnation of devotion" (bhaktavatara) as well as a great philosopher; a fact which is sometimes ignored by those who do not wish to be reminded that he, whose speculative genius they extol, was also the protagonist of the so-called "idolatrous Hinduism". As his great example amongst many others of differing race and creed tell us, it is not, from the view' of religion, the mark of discernment (even though it be the mode) to neglect or disparage the ritual practice which all orthodoxies have prescribed for their adherents. Stava and puja are doubtless the sadhana appropriate to the first of the several stages of an ascent which gradually leads away from them; but they are in general as necessary as the higher ones, which more immediately precede the attainment of brahmabhava and siddhi.
Apart, however, from this aspect of the matter, and to look at it from the point of view of that modern product, the mere "student of religions", who is not infrequently a believer in none, a knowledge of ritual (to use that term in its widest sense) will help to a greater and more real understanding of the mahavakya of the Aryas than can be gained from those merely theoretical expositions of them which are now more popular. Those, again, whose interests are in what Verlaine called "mere literature" will at least appreciate the mingled tenderness and splendour of these hymns, even in a translation which cannot reproduce the majesty of the Sanskrit s10kas of the Tantra and Puranas, or the rhyme and sweet lilting rhythms of Sankara.
SANATANA BRAHMAN is called sakala when with Prakrti, as It is niskala when thought of as without Prakrti (prakrferanya), for kala is Prakrti. To say, however, that Sakti exists in or with, the Brahman is an accommodation to human thought and speech, for the Brahman and Sakti are in fact one. Sakti is eternal (anadirupa) and brahmarupa, and both nirguna and saquna? She, the Goddess (Devi), is the caitanyarupini devi who manifests all bhuta; the anandarupini devi by whom the Brahman, who She is, manifests Itself, and who, to use the words of Saradatilaka, pervades the universe as does oil the sesamum seed. Sa aiksata, of which Sruti speaks, was itself a manifestation of Sakti, the paramapurvanirvanasakti, or Brahman, as Sakti.
From the parasaktimaya issued nada, and from nada, bindu. The state of subtle body known as kamakala is the mula of mantra, and is meant when the Devi is spoken of as mulamantratmika. The parama-bindu is represented as a circle the centre of which is the brahmapada, wherein are Prakrti and Purusa; the circumference of which is encircling maya. It is in the crescent of nirvanakala the seventeenth, which is again in that of amakala the sixteenth digit of the moon-circle (candramandala), situate above the sun-circle the guru and the hamsah in the pericarp of the 1,000-petalled lotus. The bindu is symbolically described as being like a grain of gram which under its encircling sheath contains a divided seed - Prakrti-Purusa or Sakti-Siva.
It is known as the Sabda-Brahman. A polarization then takes place in parasaktimaya. The Devi becomes unmukhi. Her face is turned to Siva. There is an unfolding which bursts the encircling shell. The devatnparasaktimaya exists in the threefold aspect of bindu, bija, and nada, the last being in relation to the two former. An indistinct sound then arises". Nada, as Raghava Bhatta says, exists in three states, for in it are the three gunas. The Sabda-Brahman manifests itself in the threefold energies - jnana, ichha, and kriya sakti. For, as vamakesvara Tantra says, the Devi Tripura is threefold as Brahma, Visnu, and Isa. Parasiva exists as a septenary under the forms of Sambhu, Sadasiva, Isana, Rudra, Visnu, and Brahma. The last five are the mahapreta, four of whom form the support, and the fifth the seat, of the bed on which the Devi is united with Paramasiva in the room of cintamani stone on the jewelled island clad with clumps of kadamba, and heavenly trees set in the ocean of ambrosia.
Sakti is both maya and mulaprakrti, whose substance is the three gunas, representing nature as the revelation of spirit nature as the passage of descent from spirit to matter, or of ascent from matter to spirit (rajas), and nature as the dense veil of spirit. The Devi is thus the treasure house of gunas Mulaprakrti is the womb into which the Brahman casts the seed from which all things are born." The womb thrills to the movement of the essentially active rajoguna, and the now unstable gunas in varied combinations under the illumination of Siva (cit) evolve the universe which is ruled by Mahesvara and Mahesvari. The dual principles of Siva-Sakti, which are the product of the polarity manifested in parasaktimaya, pervade the whole universe, and are present in man in the svayambhulinga of the muladhara and the Devi Kundalini, who in serpent form encircles it. The Sabda-Brahman assumes the form of the Devi Kundalini, and as such is in the form of all breathing creatures (prani), and in the form of letters appears in prose and verse. She is the luminous vital energy (jivasakti), which manifests as prana. Through the various prakrta and vaikrta creations, issued the devas, men, animals, and the whole universe, which is the work and manifested form of the Devi, For, as Kubjika Tantra says: "Not Brahma, Visnu, and Rudra create, maintain, and destroy, but Brahmi, Vaisnavi, Rudrani, Their husbands are but as dead bodies.
The Goddess (Devi) is the great sakti. She is maya, for of Her the maya, which produces the samsara is. As the Lord of maya, She is Mahamaya. Devi is avidya (nescience), because She binds; and vidya (knowledge), because She liberates and destroys the sarhsara. She is Prakrti, and, as existing before creation, She is the adya (primordial) sakti. She is the vacaka-sakti, the manifestation of cit in Prakrti; and the vacya-sakti or cit itself. The atma should be contemplated as Devi.
Sakti or Devi is thus the Brahman revealed in its Mother aspect (Srimata) as creatrix and nourisher of the worlds. Kali says of herself in Yogini Tantra: saccidanandarupaham brahmaivaham sphuratprabham. So the Devi is described with attributes both of the qualified" Brahman, and (since that Brahman is but the manifestation of the Absolute), She is also addressed with epithets which denote the unconditioned Brahman." She is the great Mother sprung from the sacrificial hearth of the fire of the Grand Consciousness (cir) decked with the sun and moon; Lalita - "She who plays" - whose play is world-play; whose eyes, playing like fish in the beauteous waters of Her Divine face, open and shut with the appearance and disappearance of countless worlds, now illuminated by Her light, now wrapped in her terrible darkness. For Devi, who issues from the great Abyss, is terrible also in Her Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, and other forms. Saktas hold that a sweet and complete resignation of the self to such forms of the Divine Power denotes a higher stage of spiritual development. Such dualistic worship also speedily bears the fruit of knowledge of the universal unity, the realization of which dispels all fear. For the Mother is only terrible to those who, living in the illusion of separateness (which is the cause of all fear), have not yet realized their unity with Her, and known that all Her forms are those of beauty.
Brahma Sutras (77)
Yoga Vasistha (81)
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