Excerpt from Bhakti Yoga, Life and Works of Swami Shivananda, Vol. 5, Divine Life Society, Shivanandanagar, 1986 (pp. 282-287).
The Divine Mother, Devi, Mahesvari or Para-Shakti is the supreme shakti or power of the Supreme Being. Shakti is the energy aspect of the Lord. It is inherent in God. Just as you cannot separate heat form fire, so also you cannot separate shakti form God, the Shakta, or the possessor of shakti. Shakti and Shakta are one. They are inseparable.
Devi, Kurga, Kali, Bhagavati, Bhavani, Ambal, Ambika, Jagadambe, Kamesvari, Ganga, Uma, Chandi, Chamundi, Lalita, Gauri, Kundalini, Tara, Rajesvari, Tripurasundari, etc., are all forms of Shakti. Radha, Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Savitri are also five names of the same Shakti. She is worshiped during the nine days of Navaratri as Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati.
Manifestations of Shakti
Shakti is symbolically female; but It is, in reality, neither male or female. It is only a Force which manifests Itself in various forms.
Electricity, magnetism, heat, light, the five elements and their combination, are all external manifestation of Shakti. Intelligence, discrimination, psychic power and will are all Her internal manifestation. She keeps up the lila (play) of the Lord through the gunas-sattva, rajas and tamas. She lies dormant in the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine, in the form of serpent power or coiled-up energy known as the kundalini shakti, She is at the center of the life of the universe, She is the primal force of life that underlies all existence. She vitalizes the body through the sushumna nadi and nerves and nourishes the body with bile and blood. She is the energy in the sun, the fragrance in the flowers, the beauty in the landscape, the Gayatri or the blessed Mother in the Vedas, color in the rainbow, intelligence in the mind, potency in homeopathic pills, power in sages, devotion in bhaktas, samyama and samadhi in yogis.
Knowledge, peace, lust, anger, greed, egoism and pride are all Her forms. Her manifestations are countless. Devi or Shakti is nature Itself. The whole world is Her body, mountains are Her bones, rivers are Her veins, ocean is Her bladder, sun and moon are Her eyes, wind is Her breath and fire is Her mouth.
The Divine Mother
Devi is the Mother if all. The pious and the wicked, the rich and the poor, the saint and the sinner are all Her children. In this world, all the wants of the child are provided by the mother. The child’s growth, development and sustenance are looked after by the mother. Even so, all the necessities of life and its activities in this world, and the energy needed for it, depend upon Shakti or the Universal Mother. The human mother is the manifestation of the Universal Mother. All women are forms of the Divine Mother.
You are more free with your mother than with anybody else. You open your heart more freely to your mother than to your father. There is no God greater than the mother. It is the mother who protects you, nourishes you, consoles you, cheers you and nurses you. She sacrifices her all for the sake of her children. She is your first guru. The first syllables which almost every quadruped or human being utters is the beloved name of the mother: “Ma”. A child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, because the former is very kind, loving, tender and affectionate, and looks after the wants of the child. Whenever the child wants anything it runs with outstretched hands to the mother rather than the father. If she hears the cry of the child she leaves her domestic work and runs immediately to attend to the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant or the devotee (the spiritual child) has a more intimate relationship with Mother Durga than with the father, Shiva.
It behooves, therefore, that the aspirant should approach the Mother first, so that She may introduce Her spiritual child to the Father for its illumination or Self-realization. That is the reason why the devotees have placed Radha, Sita, Gauri etc., first in the jugal (combined) names, such as Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Gauri-Shankar, Uma-Shankar, Bhavani-Shankar, Lakshmi-Narayana.
Mother’s grace is boundless, Her mercy is illimitable, Her knowledge is infinite, Her power is immeasurable, Her glory is ineffable, Her splendor is indescribable. Approach Her with an open heart. Lay bare your heart before Her with frankness and humility. Be as simple as a child. Kill ruthlessly egoism, cunningness, selfishness and crookedness. Make a total, unreserved, ungrudging surrender to Her. Sing Her praises, repeat Her name and worship Her with faith and unflinching devotion.
Worship of the Divine Mother
Worship of Devi or the Universal Mother gives not only prosperity, but liberation from all bondage. It leads to the attainment of knowledge of the Self. The story of the Kena Upanishad, known as the Yaksha-Prasna, supports this view.
Shakti is all. She can do anything. She can make or mar, She can mend or end. For the sake of the continuance of Her divine play here, She Herself, as the veil of ignorance, has veiled the truth from you and bound you to this samsara (worldly existence). When She is propitiate through the practice of sincere devotion and unconditional self-surrender, She, as knowledge, removes the veil and enables one to perceive the Truth.
No one can free himself from the thralldom of mind and matter without Mother’s grace. The fetters of maya are too hard to break. If the aspirant worships Her as the great Mother, he can very easily go beyond the phenomenal world though Her benign grace and blessings. She will remove all obstacle in the path, lead him safely into the illimitable domain of eternal bliss and make him absolutely free.
The aspirant thinks that the world is identical with the Divine Mother. He moves about thinking his own form to be the form of the Divine Mother, and thus beholds oneness everywhere. He also feels that the Divine Mother is identical with Brahman.
Worship of the Divine Mother, intense faith, perfect devotion and self-surrender will help one to attain Her grace. Through Her grace alone can knowledge of the Imperishable be attained.
Durga: Lakshmi: Sarasvati
Divine Mother is everywhere triple. She is endowed with the three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas; She manifest as will (ichcha shakti), action (kriya shakti) and knowledge (jnana shakti); She is Brahma-shakti (Sarasvati) in conjunction with Brahma, Vishnu-shakti (Lakshmi) in conjunction with Lord Vishnu and Shiva-sakti (Maha-Kali or Durga) in conjunction with Lord Shiva.
Sarasvati is cosmic intelligence, cosmic consciousness, cosmic knowledge. Lakshmi does not merely mean material wealth like gold, cattle, etc., but all kinds of prosperity, glory, magnificence, joy, exaltation or greatness come under Lakshmi. Durga (Devi) is the transformative power of Divinity, the power that dissolves multiplicity in unity.
Devi (Durga) assumes many aspects according the tasks to be performed by Her-sometimes sweet and tender, and at other times terrible and devouring. She is always kind and gracious to Her devotees. Arjuna, the Pandava hero, worshipped Her before starting the fight against the evil-minded Kauravas. Sri Rama worshipped Her at the time of the fight with Ravana, to invoke Her aid in the war. He fought and won through Her grace. When Vishnu and Mahadeva destroyed various demons, the power of Devi was behind them. Devi took Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra and gave them the necessary shakti to proceed with the work of creation, preservation and destruction.
Navaratri and its Significance
During Navaratri the whole of India adores the Mother and worships Her with great devotion. (Dussara, Durga Puja and Navaratri are one and the same.) On the first three nights, Durga or the destructive aspect of the Mother is worshipped. On the succeeding three nights it is the creative aspect, or Lakshmi, that is adored. On the last three nights the knowledge aspect, or Sarasvati, is invoked. The tenth day is “Vijaya-dasami day” or the “day of Victory”.
There is a special significance in this arrangement. When the Devi is worshipped by a devotee in this order, as Durga She first destroys the evil propensities that lurk in his mind. Then, as Lakshmi, She implants therein the divine qualities conductive to spiritual unfoldment. Then, as Sarasvati, She bestows true knowledge on him.
The tenth day commemorates the victory of knowledge over nescience, goodness over evil. It is the day on which boys start their schooling. Aspirants are initiated on this day. On this memorable day the carpenter, the tailor, the mason, the artist, the songster, the typist and all technical workers do puja to their instruments and implements. They behold and recognize the shakti or power behind these instruments, and worship the Devi for their success, prosperity and peace.
Shiva and Shakti
The Supreme Lord is represented as Shiva, and His power is represented as His wife-Shakti, Durga or Kali. There is no difference between God and His Shakti, just
as there is no difference between fire and its burning power. Shakti is inherent in God. Just as you cannot separate heat form fire, so also you cannot separate Shakti from God, the possessor of Shakti. Shakti is Brahman Itself. Shiva and Shakti are one. Shiva is always with Shakti. They are inseparable. Worship of Durga, Devi, Parvati, Shakti or Kali is worship of Lord Shiva.
Mother Durga is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Shiva has no expression; and without Shiva, Durga has not existence. Shiva is the soul of Durga. Durga is identical with Shiva. Lord Shiva is only the silent Witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. Durga does everything. Lord Shiva is quite indifferent to the external world. He has handed over the power of attorney to His consort, Durga. It is Mother Durga only who looks after the affairs of the world. Shiva is absorbed in contemplation of the Self. He remains in a state of nirvikalpa samadhi.
Shiva is omnipotent, impersonal, inactive. He is pure consciousness. Shakti is dynamic. The power active aspect of the immanent God is Shakti. Shakti is the embodiment of power. Lord Shiva gazes at Durga, His Shakti; She engages Herself in creation, preservation and destruction.
Shiva and Shakti are related as effulgence and the power that is latent in pure consciousness, which gives rise to the world of distinctions. In other words, Shakti is the very possibility of the Absolute appearing as many, of God causing the universe. God creates this world through the power creation, preserves through the power of preservation, and destroys through the power of dissolution.
Shiva is an embodiment of bliss and knowledge. Shiva Himself appears in the form of man with a life of pleasure and pain. If you remember this point always, dualism and all hatred, jealousy and pride will vanish. You must consider every human function as worship or a religious act. Answering calls of nature, micturition, talking, eating, walking, seeing and hearing all become worship of the Lord if you develop the right attitude. It is Shiva who works in and through man. Where then is egoism and individuality? All human actions are divine actions. One universal life throbs in the heart of all, sees in the eyes of all, works in the hands of all and hears in the ears of all. What a magnanimous experience it is, if one can feel this by crushing this little “I”. Unfortunately the old tendencies, the old desires and the old habits or thinking stand in the way of your realizing this experience.