Mother Shakti, The Eternal Holy Spirit
The presence of immense love enclosing me in the cave of the womb…
I’m surrounded by the waters of grace
and the sound of a warm heart beating...
I know this is a manifestation of the Divine Mother -
all embracing, all loving, all gracious…
I see her smiling with love and acceptance,
gently drawing me into her benevolent bosom…
I’m swooning into a deep secure sleep as the Mother of the Universe
holds me in her arms of love…
Then suddenly! I hear the crash of thunder and the horrific cry of death!
I look again – all is dark and terrible!
The Mother of Grace is dancing exultantly on a battlefield,
hands dripping with the blood of countless victims,
hair dishevelled, neck bedecked with skulls,
and her eyes fiercely looking on in wild abandonment…
I shout: “Mother it is me, your child!
Slay me, give birth to me, liberate me! May I be yours and yours alone!
FORMS OF THE GREAT MOTHER-GODDESS
Ancient cultures often conceptualised the Divine as a mother-figure who nurtures and sustains us — such as Isis of the Egyptians, Pachamama of the Incas, Asherah of the Canaanites, Gaia of the Greeks, Diana of the Romans…
And here, in the holy town of Tiruvannamalai, as you walk around the sacred hill Arunachala, you will see many shrines built to honour different aspects of the Supreme Goddess Sakti: Rajarajeshwari the supreme queen, KaliAmman the fierce mother who destroys evil, PachiaAmman the green goddess symbolic of mother-nature, MariAmman the Mother of Rain and Healing.
In Ramana Ashram, she is enshrined as Yogambika – the mother of yoga (that which leads to spiritual union), while in the Arunachaleshwara temple she is known as Unnamulai – she who has not suckled at the breast — which may mean that although she nourishes the whole of creation, she remains complete within herself, and unattached to the creation she manifests. It may also mean that she who nurtures creation and is all-sufficient does not need to be nourished by others.
SIVA AND SAKTI
A cherished tradition of Thiruvannamalai is that this is the place where Siva and Sakti revealed their form as Ardhanaiswara — the God who is both male and female.
Unto that Form whose left half is the Mother of all manifestation
and whose right half is the Father of the same…
and whose three eyes - Fire, Sun and Moon - are the illuminants of the universe,
to that Form be our devout salutations. (Ribhu Gita 1:3)
And God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (The Bible: Genesis 1:27).
Sakti is inseparable from Siva. On a mythological and devotional level, the two function as father-mother, the masculine-feminine aspects of the Divine. On a philosophical level, the feminine aspect (Sakti) is seen as the conscious manifestation of the unmanifested Reality (Siva).
Sakti is the power of Siva through which the entire universe is created, evolved and dissolved. So Siva is the transcendent absolute reality and Sakti is the manifestation of that Reality through which the relative universe comes into existence. Ultimately, God is beyond any “human” quality we may impose on the Divine Absolute — yes, God is our mother, father, friend, lover… but always beyond!
JESUS, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND SHAKTI
The personhood of Jesus also displays this mother-father aspect of God.
He claims to be the very reflection of God our Father.
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (The Bible: John 14:7-9).
And he reveals the motherly heart of God.
“How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” (The Bible: Luke 13:34).
The concept of Sakti also has its parallels with the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit who is the power of God which gives birth to creation and causes the new birth of spiritual awakening in the human soul.
The Apocryphal Book of Wisdom in the Bible describes this feminine aspect of God thus,
“For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing enter her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she makes all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she makes them friends of God, and prophets. For God loves none but they that dwell with wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.” (Wisdom 7:25-29).
In her more gentle forms, the Goddess Sakti manifests as Laxmi the goddess of providence, and as Saraswati the goddess of wisdom. But she has yet another aspect when she appears as Durga on the battlefield, slaying the demons of pride, arrogance and ignorance. And then she takes on the form of Kali, the fierce goddess that brings death and destruction.
Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;
his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
his breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction. (The Bible: Isaiah 30:27-28).
While the image of Kali may appear to be wild and terrible, it actually reveals an important aspect of the Mother of Love. Love is not love that does not challenge and destroy our illusions, drawing us back to the naked truth. As Kali, she wears a garland of skulls reminding us that many of our lofty ideas must die hundreds of deaths before true wisdom is born within us, and the severed hands tied around her waist remind us that human strength cannot save us. The intellectual and physical must be sublimated and absorbed by the spiritual on the path to God-realisation. In many images of Kali, we find Siva lying beneath her foot, sacrificing himself to his own untamed power, thus signifying that even the movement of destruction and death is grounded in the unconditional love of God which seeks to lead us back to bliss.
Dazzling Sun that swallows up the universe in your rays,
open the lotus of my heart, I pray, O Arunachala!
Let me, your prey, surrender to you and be consumed, and so have peace… (Sri Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai).
A couple of months ago while walking on the Girivalam (the 14-kilometer path around Arunachala) I felt drawn into the DurgaAmman Temple. Tradition says that after Durga killed Mahisasura (the buffalo-demon) she came here and struck her sword into the ground, whereupon a stream began to flow. A narrow stream is still present at this temple! As I stood before the life-size stone image of the powerful goddess Durga in her pose as MahishAsuraMardini (the slayer of the demon Mahish) I was overwhelmed by the tangible sense of power emanating from the Divine Mother that I literally had to step backwards. My heart cried out: “O Mother! How powerful you are indeed! Come, slay the arrogant MahishAsura in me, so that the consciousness of Christ may awaken, and I may experience the absolute bliss of Siva…”
As I observe Navarathri (nine sacred nights in honour of Sakti) here in my motherland, I wish all my family and friends who are observing the festival a Blessed Navarathri.
To this Divine Mother, the all-pervading Holy Spirit, the very power of Siva permeating everything, I surrender all.
Yenrum Anbudam – with all my love,