THE MOTHERHOOD OF GOD
President, The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa
The worship of God as Mother, which has its roots in the Vedas, is one of the unique features of the Hindu religion. Unlike the Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – where ‘Father’ is the supreme word for God, in Indian culture and religious tradition the worship of the Divine Mother is but natural and deeply rooted in the Indian religious ethos.
Whereas the Semitic religions tried to destroy any evidence of Mother-worship (which is found in the Mediterranean region and all over the globe) from the face of the world, in Hindu religious traditions, we find a very high place of Mother-worship and the Motherhood of God.
There are religions which will never accept Motherhood of God, as if God can appear only as Father and not as Mother! It sounds, however, narrow, dogmatic and illogical to restrict the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Supreme Reality only to the Fatherhood aspect.
But thanks to the Almighty, in India, the original Mother cult gradually developed into a fully-fledged religion, having a wonderful blending of Mother cult and Father cult right from the pre-historic time to the modern time. In Indian religious ethos, this Mother aspect represents the Shakti aspect of Brahman and it has been given a very strong philosophical base by many of our Advaitic sages, philosophers and Avatāras, such as Shakarāchārya, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Our great sages realised the Supreme Truth as the combination of Brahman (Supreme Reality in its inaction) and Shakti (Supreme Reality in action).
Fatherhood and Motherhood of the Supreme Reality is also placed in a neuter form indicating the Supreme Reality as ‘It’, not as ‘He’ or ‘She’. Upon realization of It, the ordinary human transcends the idea of masculinity and femininity, which is related to our physical body and realizes that the Absolute Self is genderless. Thus, being free from all physical bondage, one becomes pure and enjoys the bliss of freedom even while remaining in the physical body, which is called the ‘Jivanmukti’.
In modern times, Sri Ramakrishna, who was the ‘latest and the most perfect of all avatāras’, as proclaimed by Swami Vivekananda, pointed out that worshipping the Supreme Reality as the embodiment of the Divine Mother, or in a Mother Form, is one of the highest forms of worship. He said, “to look upon God as Mother is the highest and purest form of Sādhanā.
In this modern age, when generally the psychosomatic tendencies of the common people are at a physical level, it is comparatively easy to become physiologically and intellectually elevated through the concept of Mother-worship and experience the sublime spiritual goal! Also, it is very natural for a human being to perform and follow this intimate and purest form of relationship with the Ultimate Reality, because, instinctively we inherit a sense of pure love and devotion to our biological mothers.
In ancient India, nearly 5000 years ago, the worship of the Divine Mother was prevalent in Harappa
and Mohenjo-daro cities of the present Punjab and Sind provinces. Mention is made of the allpowerful
Devi (the Divine Mother) in the Devīsuktam and Rātrisuktam of the Rig Veda and Sāma Veda. The Devi proclaims Herself as the Queen of the Universe who controls everything – “whomsoever I wish, I make mighty – a Brahmā, a Seer, a Sage…” (Rig Veda 10:125)
The Devi has been stated by various names in the Hindu scriptures viz. Vishwa Durgā, Sindhu Durgā, Agni Durgā, Umā Haimavati, Bhadra Kāli, Bhavāni Ambikā, Chandi, etc. We find that the Devi is worshipped all over the Indian sub-continent, form Kashmir (Kshirbhavāni) to Kanyākumari (Devī Kumāri) and from Assam (Devī Kāmākyā) to Balochistan (Hinglā Mātā).
Worship of Shakti (the Divine Mother) is found in Buddhism also and according to some scholars, Kāli, Tārā, Shodashi, etc. – all these names of the Divine Mother have been taken from the Buddhist Tantras. In Japan, a Buddhist Goddess is worshipped – her name is Chanasti Devi, which is equivalent to the Sanskrit name ‘Chandi’. Between both sects of the Jains, the worship of Mother Saraswati and other devis are found. In the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata, the worship of the Divine Mother is mentioned. Sri Ramachandra and the Pandavas worshipped the Divine Mother for fulfilment of their goals.
In modern times, we find that Sri Ramakrishna worshipped the Divine Mother and he mentioned the different names of the Divine Mother whose various forms he experienced in his visions. Even though the Divine Mother is omnipresent in the Hindu tradition, Mother’s special presence is more manifested in the female body as described in the eleventh chapter of the Chandi (Devi Māhātmyam). Each and every female, in whatsoever form, is verily the manifestation of the Divine Mother. That is why, just to set an example, Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife Sri Sarada Devi as Shodashi (a form of the Divine Mother), and finally lying prostate, surrendered at the feet of the Goddess the fruits of all his Sadhanā. We know that Swami Vivekananda worshipped the Divine Mother in the form of ‘Kumari’ during his Durga Puja in Belur Math and also in Kashmir he worshipped even the small daughter of his Muslim boatman.
According to Vedanta this universe is seen as the divine play (līla) of the Divine Mother and behind this manifested universe, full of good and evil, violence and non-violence, right and wrong, virtues and vices, there is one ‘mother-heart’ full of love and compassion. Human beings have the power to transcend these limitations and go beyond these dualistic experiences, and have the knowledge of the Supreme Reality by worshipping the various forms of the same Divine Mother as Luxmi, Saraswati, Durga, and Kali and so on.
Sri RamaKrishna Paramhansha
Born on the 18th February 1836
পঞ্চবটীর পাতায় পাতায় নামটি তোমার লেখা/
আবার কবে আসবে ঠাকুর কবে যে হবে দেখা।
দক্ষিণেশ্বর আজো কাঁদে তোমার অদর্শনে/
আজও সে পথ চেয়ে থাকে তোমার আসার পানে।
Your name is written on the page of Panchabati /
When will Thakur come again?
Dakshineswara is still crying in your absence /
Even today he is looking for a way to get you.
মা গঙ্গা চলছে বয়ে প্রকৃতির নিয়মে/
তিনিও ভাবছেন গদাই ডুব দেবে এইখানে।
তোমার জিনিসপত্র আজও ঠিকঠাক সাজানো তোমার ঘরে/
তারাও ভাবছে কখন ঠাকুর বসবে তাদের পরে।
আবার কবে কথামৃতের অমৃতবাণী শোনাবে/
Ma Ganga is flowing according to the laws of nature /
He also thinks the mattress will dive here.
Your belongings are still in order in your room.
They are also wondering when Thakur will sit after them.
When will the nectar of the dead be heard again /
সেই আশাতেই কাটাচ্ছি দিন প্রাণের ঠাকুর ওরে।
গর্ভগৃহের গর্ভে ভবতারিণী অধিষ্ঠিত আজও/
তাকে ফেলে যেতে তোমার হলো না কষ্ট একটু ও।
কত খেলা কত লীলা কত মান অভিমান/
I am spending the day in that hope.
Bhavatarini is still in the womb of the sanctum sanctorum.
You didn't have to bother to leave him.
How many games, how many games, how many values
মায়ের সাথেই হতো তোমার সারাদিন সারারাত।
তোমার জন্যই মা আমার কেঁদে কেঁদে হল সারা/
কেমন পুত্র তুমি ঠাকুর যার মনটা পাষাণে গড়া।।
You would be with your mother all day and all night.
My mother cried for you all /
What kind of son are you, Thakur, whose mind is made of stone.
Creation described in the Tenth Mandala of Rig Veda
Samya Mukherjee, Kalyani, India (firstname.lastname@example.org)
According to the Vishnu-Purana, the original Vedas was revealed by gods to sages. However, in the beginning of Dwapara age, Krishna Dvaipayana (later known as Veda Vyasa i.e. classifier of Vedas) resusicated the Vedic study and divided into: 1) Rig Veda , 2) Sama Veda , 3) Yajur Veda , 4) Atharva Veda
Each Veda is a collection of hymns by a number of priest-families. Rig Veda consists of 1017 hymns and also divided into 10 books called ‘Mandalas’. The 1st and the 10th Mandalas are the longest books. Second to Seventh Mandalas are the oldest parts of Rig-Veda but the shortest books. The 10th Mandala of the Rig Veda contains Purusha sukta which explains that the four varnas - Brahmana, Kshyatriya, Vaishya, Shudra were born respectively from the mouth, the arm, the thigh and the feet of the God. The tenth mandala of Rigveda has 191 hymns. Together with Mandala 1, it forms the latest part of the Rig Veda, containing much mythological material, including the Purusha sukta (10.90) and the dialogue of Sarama with the Panis (10.108) and notably containing several dialogue hymns.
The subjects of the hymns in 10th Mandala of Rig Veda cover a wider spectrum than in other books, dedicated not only to deities or natural phenomena, including deities that are not prominent enough to receive their own hymns in the other books (Nirrti 10.59, Asamati 10.60, Ratri 10.127, Aranyani 10.146, Indrani 10.159) but also to the objects like dice (10.34), herbs (10.97), press-stones (for soma,10.94,175) and abstract concepts like liberality (towards the rishi, 10.117), creation (10.129),the Nasadiya Sukta (130,190), knowledge (10.71), speech, spirit (10.58), faith (10.151), a charm against evil dreams (10.164).
10.15 dedicated to the forefathers, contains a reference to the emerging rite of the cremation in verse 14, where ancestors “both cremated (agnidagdha) and uncremated (anagnidagdha)” are invoked.
10.47 to 50 are to Indra Vaikuntha, “Indra son of Vikuntha was an Asuri whom Indra had allowed to become his second mother. The rishi of 10.47 is called Saptagu, while that of 10.48-50 is likewise called Indra Vaikuntha.
10.85 is a marriage hymn. Evoking the marriage of Surva daughter of Surya (the Sun), another form of Ushas, the prototypical bride
RV 10.121 (the Hiranyagarbha sukta) is another hymn dealing with creation, containing elements of monotheism. It has a recurring pada “what God shall we adore with our oblation?”, in verse 1 named Hiranyagarbha “the golden egg”, later a name of Brahma in verse 10 addressed as Prajapati.
10.129 (the Nasadiya sukta) and 130 are creation-hymns, probably the best known Rig vedic hymns in the west, especially 10.129.7 :
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,/ Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it , or perhaps he knows not. (Griffith)
These hymns exhibit a level of philosophical speculation, a typical part of Rig Veda, which for the most part is occupied with ritualistic invocation.
10.145 is attributed to Indrani. It is a spell for a jealous wife to get rid of more favoured rival. A typical form of the Rig Veda, similar spells are found in the Atharvaveda.
10.154 is a funeral hymn, asking for that the departed may join those who attained heaven through tapas. Padas 1 cd is reminiscient of the Norse concept of Valhalla.
To those for whom the myth flows forth, even to those let him depart. (Griffith)
10.155 is against the “one-eyed limping hag” Arayi.
10.166, attributed to Anila, is a spell for the destruction of rivals, similar to 10.145, but this time to be uttered by men who want to get rid of the male rivals.
10.173 and 174 are benedictions of a newly elected king.
The rishis of the 10th Mandala are divided into Shudrasuktas and Mahasuktas, that is, sages who have composed “small” vs “great” hymns. These hymns have attracted a large body of literature of commentaries both in Indian darsanas (philosophy) and in Western philology. The hymns in 10th Mandala of Rig Veda, in general, is late within the Rig Veda Samhita, and expresses thought more typical of later Vedantic philosophy. Even though untypical of the content of the Vedic hymns, it is one of the most widely received portions of the Rig Veda. An atheist interpretation sees the Creation Hymn as one of the earliest accounts of sceptical inquiry and agnosticism. Astronomer Carl Sagan quoted it in discussing India’s tradition of sceptical questioning and unselfconscious humility before the great cosmic mysteries.
The Nasadiya Sukta (130,190) or “not the non-existent” – also known as the Hymn of Creation, is the 129th hymn of the 10th mandala of the Rig Veda (10:129). It is concerned with cosmology and the origin of the universe. Nasadiya Sukta begins with the statement : “Then, there was neither existence, or non-existence”. It ponders over the when, why and by whom of creation in a very sincere contemplative tone, and provides no definite answers. Rather, it concludes that the gods too may not know, as they came after creation, and that even the supervisor of creation in the highest heaven may or may not know. Nasadiya Sukta consists of seven trishtubhs, although para 7b is defective, being two syllables short : ‘Yadi va dadhe yadi va na’ – “If he has created it: or if not [...]”. Brereton (1999) argues that the defect is a conscious device employed by the rishi to express puzzlement at the possibility that the world may not be created, parallel to the syntactic defect of pada 7d, which ends in a subordinate clause without a governing clause – ‘so anga veda yadi van a veda’ which means “he verily knows: or if he does not know”. Verse 2 described “ten not death existed, nor the immortal”. But already in verse 2 it is mentioned that there was “breathing without breath, of its own nature that one”. Verse 3 mentions being unfolds, “from heat (tapas) was born that one”- ‘Tapasah tat mahina ajayata ekam’. Verse 4 mentions that desire (karma) is the primal seed, and the first poet-seers (kavyas) who “found the bond of being within non-being with their heart’s thought”. Philosopher Karel Werner describes that the author’s source for the material as one not derived from reasoning, but a “visionary, mystical or yogic experience put into the words”. Werner writes that prior to creation, the Creation hymn does not describe a state of “nothingness” but rather “that one (tad ekam)” which is, “Spaceless, timeless, yet in its own way dynamic and the sole Force, this Absolute..” Brereton (1999) argues that the reference to the sages searching for being in their spirit is central, and that the gradual procession of the hymns from non-being to being in fact re-enacts the creation within the listener, equating poetic utterance and creation.
Purusha Sukta is hymn (10.90) of the Rig Veda, dedicated to the Purusha, the “Cosmic Being”. Author Steven Rosen says, “The Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata boldly proclaim Lord Vishnu as the ultimate Purusha described in Purusha Sukta prayer”. According to Indologist W.Norman Brown, “The verses of Purusha Sukta are definitely a reference to Lord Vishnu, who, through His three steps, is all pervading (i.e. He spreads in all directions)”. The first two verses of Purusha Sukta started with Sayana’s commentary. It is also found in Shukla Yajurveda Samhita 30.1-16 and Atharva Veda Samhita 19.6. Slightly different versions appear in different Vedas. One version of the Suktam has 16 verses – 15 in the Anustubh meter and the final one in the Trisubh meter. Another version of the Sukta consists of 24 verses with the first 18 mantras, designated as the Purvanarayan and the later portion termed as the Uttaranarayana, probably in honour of Rishi Narayana. Some scholars state that certain verses of Purusha Sukta are later interpolations to the Rig Veda. One of the reasons given is that it is the only hymn in the Vedas that mentions the four Varnas by name – although the word ‘varna’ itself is not mentioned in the hymn.
Content of Purusha Sukta: The Purusha Sukta gives a description of the spiritual unity of the Universe. It presents the nature of ‘Purusha’, or the cosmic being, as both immanent in the manifested world and yet transcendent to it. From this being, the Sukta holds, the original creative will (identified with Viswakarma, Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati) proceeds which causes the projection of the universe in the space and time. The Purusha Sukta, in the seventh verse, hints at the organic connectedness of the various classes of society. The Purusha is defined in verses 2 to 5 of the Sukta. He is described as a being who pervades everything conscious and unconscious universally. He is poetically depicted as a being with thousand heads, eyes and legs, enveloping not just the earth, but the entire Universe from all sides and transcending it by ten-finger’s length – or transcending in all 10 dimensions. All manifestations, in past, present and future, is held to be the Purusha alone. It is also proclaimed that he transcends his creation. The immanence of the Purusha in manifestation and yet his transcendence of it is similar to the view point, held by panentheists. Finally, his glory is held to be even greater than the portrayal in this Sukta. The verses 5-15 hold the creation of the Rig Veda. Creation is described to have started with the origination of Virat, or the cosmic body from the Purusha. In Virat, omnipresent intelligence manifests itself which causes the appearance of diversity. In the verses following, it is held that Purusha through a sacrifice of himself, brings forth the avian, forest-dwelling and domestic animals, the three Vedas, the metres (of the mantras). Then follows a verse which states that from His mouth, arms, thighs, feet the four varnas (categories) are born - This four varna-related verse is controversial and is believed by many scholars, such as Max-Muller, to be a corruption and a medieval or modern era insertion into the text. After the verse, the Sukta states that the moon takes birth from the Purusha’s mind and the Sun from His eyes. Indra and Agni descend from His mouth and from His vital breath, air is born. The firmament comes from His navel, the heavens from His head, the earth from His feet and the quarters of space from His ears. Through the creation, underlying the unity of human, cosmic and divine realities is espoused, for all are seen arising out of the same original reality, the Purusha. The Purusha Sukta holds that the world is created by and out of a ‘Yajna’ or exchange of the Purusha. All forms of existence are held to be grounded in this primordial yajna. In the 17th verse, the concept of yajna itself is held to have arisen out of this original sacrifice. In the final verses, yajna is extolled as the primordial energy ground, for all existence.
The Purusha Sukta gives an expression to immanence of radical unity in diversity and is therefore, thought, Bhedabheda school of philosophy and Bhagavata theology. The concept of the Purusha is from the Samkhya Philosophy which is traced to the Indus Valley period. It seems to be an interpolation into the Rig Veda, since it is out of character with the other hymns, dedicated to nature gods. The Purusha Sukta is repeated with some variations in the Atharva Veda (19.6). Sections of it also occur in the Panchavimsha Brahmana, Vajasaneyi Samhita and the Taittiriya Aranyaka. Among Puranic texts, the Suktas has been elaborated in the Bhagavata Purana (2.5.35 to 2.6.1-29) and in the Mahabharata (Mokshadharma Parva 351 and 352). The Purusha Sukta is mirrored directly in the ancient Zoroastrian texts, found in the Avesta Yasna and the Pahlavi Denkard. There, it is said that the body of man is in the likeness of the four estates, with priesthood at the head, warriorship in the hands, husbandry in the belly and artisanship at the foot. Nevertheless, it remains to be established that the Indian and Pahlavi texts reflect inherited common beliefs, rather than independent developments, hence making a later insertion unlikely.
Many 19th and early 20th century scholars questioned as to when parts or all of Purusha Sukta were composed, and whether some of these verses were present in the ancient version of Rigveda. They suggest that it was interpolated in the post-Vedic era and is a relatively modern origin of Purusha Sukta. Henry Thomas said – “That remarkable hymn (the Purusha Sukta) is in language, metre and style; very different from the rest of the prayers with which it is associated. It has a decidedly more modern tone, and must have been composed after the Sanskrit language had been refined.”
Informations about the Suktas
Sukta 10.13 –
Deity : Havirdhanas
Incipit : yuje vam brahma purviyam namobhir
Sukta 10.75 (Nadistuti Sukta) –
Deity : Rivers
Incipit : pra su va apo mahimanam uttamam
Sukta 10.81 (Viswakarma Sukta) –
Deity : Vishvakarman
Rishi : Adi Rishi Vishwakarma
Incipit : ya ima visva bhuvanani juhvad
Sukta 10.83 (Manyu Sukta) –
Deity : Manyu
Incipit : yas te manyo avidhad vajra sayaka
Sukta 10.90 (Purusha Sukta) –
Deity : Purusha
Incipit : sahasrasirsa purusah
Sukta 10.95 –
Deity : Urvasi and Puruavas
Incipit : haye jaye manasa tistha ghore
Sukta 10.107 –
Deity : Dakshina
Incipit : avir abhun mahi maghonam esam
Sukta 10.108 –
Deity : Sarama and Panis
Incipit : kim ichanti sarama predam anad
Sukta 10.121 (Hiranyagarbha sukta) –
Deity : Hiranyagarbha / Prajapati
Incipit : hiranyagarbhah sam avartatagre
Sukta 10.123 –
Deity : Vena
Incipit : ayam venas codayat prsnigarbha
Sukta 10.129 (Nasadiya Sukta) –
Deity : Creation
Incipit : nasad asin no sad asit tadanim
Sukta 10.136 -
Deity : Kesin
Incipit : kesi agnim kesi visam
Sukta 10.145 –
Deity : Sapatnibadhnam
Rishi : Indrani
Incipit : Imam khanami osadhim
Sukta 10.178 –
Deity : Tarkshya
Incipit : tiyam u suvajinam devajutam
Sukta 10.183 –
Deity : the sacrificer and his wife
Rishi : Prajavan
Incipit : apasyam tva manasa cekitanam