This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students in her Introduction to Religions of Asia course at Whittier College!
My topic is on the Hindu goddess Durga. She is one of the most popular female goddesses in this religion and many people worship her. From my research, many people now see Durga as one branch of an ultimate being. The various goddesses are all different aspects of this one being (Thursby and Mittal ). There are even celebrations dedicated to worshipping Durga such as Durga Puja. Various articles told different stories about why Durga Puja is such a massive celebration.
The research I did led to different stories about Durga’s greatness. The most common story is the story of her creation in which Durga was created by Vishnu and Shiva. She is the embodiment of Shakti and her creation occurred to defeat the demon, Mahisasura. It was prophesied that no man nor god could defeat him. The horrendous things he did led to the gods combining power to make Durga. She went to battle for 10 days before cutting off his head and becoming victorious. This seems the most common story linked to the celebration of Durga Puja. Another interesting story I found was that of Rama going to retrieve his wife, Sita, from another demon named Ravana. In this version of the story, Rama intends to pray to Durga before he begins his journey. To gain her blessing, he went to get 108 blue lotuses. He only finds 107 so he takes out one of his eyes, since it looks like a blue lotus. Pleased with his dedication, Durga blesses his journey to be successful so that he may defeat Ravana. Durga also restores his eye.
Durga is worshipped for overcoming obstacles. She is a warrior that was created for the purpose of eradicating evil so many people pray to her for help against obstacles or to ward off evil. She has various weapons that represent different things. Different iconography depicts her varying amounts of arms, but I found that most depict her with eight or ten. Each weapon was given to her by a different god to help her fight Mahisasura. The lion represents courage, while the sword represents strength and wisdom. The bow and arrow represent energy, the chakra-life and death and the trident represents activity, non-activity, and inactivity. The axe destroys ignorance and evil and the lotus- success and spiritual evolution (Thursby and Mittal )Although she can be an aggressive, warrior-like being, she can also be loving and kind. The goddess is multifaceted and can represent whatever is needed whether it is strength and aggression or kindness and compassion.
I picked this topic because I once read a series of fictional novels inspired by Hindu traditions. Durga was a prevalent goddess in the novels and I was interested in her story and the way the author implemented Hindu traditions with the novels. The novels incorporated Durga in enough to give a brief interest and understanding, but not too much to overwhelm or confuse me. As a result of these novels, I had a brief look into the background of this goddess so I felt comfortable presenting on it. I know enough to be comfortable speaking on it, but not enough that I wouldn’t benefit from further research.
I enjoyed the research I did because many of the books or articles I went through, talk about Durga in a mythological way like Greek myths. There were various stories about Durga and her successes. The stories are entertaining although it’s extremely difficult to pronounce certain words and names. Researching this topic got overwhelming sometimes because there are so many different stories to sift through. I often got confused with what was factual because there were many different beliefs. Hinduism itself encompasses so many beliefs and it’s so broad that I felt like I would never get the right information or even close to half the amount that I would need.
I myself am Christian. In my religious practice, we have set beliefs that essentially make a Christian, a Christian. We have one main religious text and it is ideal that one follows the guidelines given within. There is a small amount of required rituals. Hinduism seems to have many rituals, each with its own purpose and dedicated to its own God. Not only do we only have one God, but we don’t really have various rituals in the way Hinduism does. We partake in the Eucharist and get baptized whenever we choose to show our faith, but the rituals we do are minimal and don’t seem to be as complex. Hinduism has a concept of dharma which means that people have a duty, whether it is as a parent, a spouse, or a job to fulfill. In Christianity, the Bible is our guide for how we should behave and the things that are right in the eyes of God. These are similar because both religions have something that guides us on proper behavior.
I major in psychology and am a sophomore at Whittier College. I aspire to be a marriage and family therapist. I am a cheerleader here at school and I love to read and write.