A symbol is something which is used to suggest or represent something. For example, a dove is a symbol of peace. All our contact with the world outside is based on symbols. Our art, our poetry, in fact every aspect of life is based on symbols. In Hinduism there are two types of symbols: the sound symbols found in the mantras and the form symbols of different types of deities. Form symbols are no other than various “symbols” of God’s power and glory. Through such real and definite symbols a Hindu tries to establish contact with the indefinable God because the highest reality cannot be approached through senses. Just as a photograph of a persons friend is not his real friend but only reminds him of his friend, so also an image or protima, symbolises some powers or glories of God is never thought by a Hindu to be God himself. It only helps him to remember God. That is why Hindus often put away the images after worship and immerse them in either lakes or rivers.
The Durga Puja is done in the image during the Navaratri. The image of Durga is not alone. There are a number of images of deities worshipped along with the mother. Lakshmi and Saraswati are presented as standing and Kartika and Ganesh as sitting on their mounts on her two sides. The Mother is represented as fighting with the demon Mahishasura mentioned in the Chandi. She stands on a lion and fights with her ten hands adorned with different weapons.
Durga, the highest Reality, is realised with great difficulty. Being the personification of the collective powers of the Gods, she is naturally difficult to approach or to know. The symbolic meaning here is that without the helpful effort of many nothing constructive is achieved in this world. But, being the mother of the universe, she is the personification of tender love when we ask her for something humbly and earnestly. She fights Mahishasura, the demon, who represents the law of the jungle that might is right. He is the ruthless brute force that does not brook any opposition where selfish ends are concerned. And he succeeded even against the Gods, but only when they were divided. But he fell before their combined powers and the will to fight. Mahishsura stands for ignorance and stubborn egoism. Its subjugation and conquest are possible only when the worshipper pools all his energies together and fights it with a will which holds on firmly and persistently.
Swami Swahananda, Minister-in-charge, Vedanta Society of Southern California (Ramkrishna order) elaborates clearly :
“Durga’s ten hands covers all directions and covers all aspect of life. The Bodhana worship or the awakening of the Goddess is nothing but the awakening of the “sleeping” Divinity within the worshipper. The vilva tree where she is prayed to dwell, is nothing but the symbol of the Sushumna canal, the path of Kundalini. Navapatraika made of various plants, represents durga’s presence in everything. In her worship, water from various rivers of India, signifying the unity of the land, is used. Various articles are used, showing her every sightedness, for all things and creatures issue from Her”.
“The diety Ganesh stands for success. Kartika for strength, Lakshmi for wealth and grace and Saraswati for knowledge. Their mounts are also meaningful. The Lion is the vehicle of the great power. The Jiva becomes powerful through complete dedication. The rat is the vehicle of Ganesh ; success comes through snapping the bonds with sharp intelligence. The peacock is the vehicle of Kartika, the commander-in-chief of the Devas ; the national bird marked with different colours and patches stands for various efforts for the full manifestation of strength. The day-blind owl of Lakshmi stands for a worshipper, blind to the worldly affairs. Saraswati’s vehicle is a swan which has the capacity of separating milk from water, substance from non-substance. Generally Lakshmi and Saraswati stand on Lotuses symbolising self surrender.The wheel represents the wheel of the world. The burning lamp represents the light of the soul. The fire articles with which the Arati before the deity is done, represents the five basic elements of the universe. Light stands for fire, water in conch shell for water, cloth for ether, flower for earth chamar or fan for air. In this way the different images and articles in the Durga- Puja are given a symbolic interpretation.”
If the worshipper has worshipped in the right way, this symbolic worship sounds true, and as a result he finds all these displays and expositions have been accepted by Mother Goddess and taken into Her. This is the true ceremonial worship.
So, with all these symbolic representations, Hinduism tries to bring the divine Mother within the grasp of devotee. The vision of the deity changes with the inner growth of the devotee. And that is the ultimate goal to which all spiritual disciplines can lead an aspirant.
- Written by : Shri Pradip Chaudhuri