God is the same as his power, i.e., Durga
Hindus worship the power of God (Shakti) as Durga. It is an accepted doctrine that there is no difference between an object and its power. Fire is the same as the power of burning. In the same way, there is no difference between God and his power. God is the same as his power, i.e., Durga. Hence the worship of Durga is nothing but worship of the Supreme God. The nature of God is transcendental. What he is can not be expressed by words, cannot even be thought by the mind. Although we can not realize the nature of God, we always see the manifestation of his power. Whatever happens in the world happens by the power of God. The sun gives light, the cloud pours rain, the wind blows, all by the power of God. We are thus more familiar with God’s power than with God himself. Hindus have conceived God as Shiva and Durga as his wife. Shiva is the father of the world; Durga is the mother. The father and the mother jointly look after the affairs of the household. In the same way the affairs of the world are looked after jointly by God and his power – Shiva and Durga. God never exists without his power; so Shiva never exists without Durga. Shiva forms one half of the body and Durga, the other half.
Who is Kali?
The child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, so we are more familiar with God’s power than with God. There are more devotees of Durga or Kali than of Shiva. The child makes more affectionate claims on the mother than on the father. Durga and Kali are the two more familiar forms of Shakti or power of God. Durga herself assumed the form of Kali on a particular occasion. Kali is the consort of Mahakala. The particular aspect of God which he assumed for the destruction of the world, is known as Kala or Mahakala. All objects of the world are destroyed by the influence of time or Kala. In the BhagavadgGita Shri Krishna showed Arjuna his terrible all-destroying form and said, I am Time (Kala), the destroyer of everything. Kali is that power of God by means of which he destroys all objects of the universe. For this reason the appearance of Kali is terrible. She lives on the cremation-ground, a string of human heads forms her necklace. She has an axe in one hand and a human head in another. But Hindu devotees have witnessed the beneficent aspect of God even in this terrible form. For this reason the other two hands of Kali have got the pose of distributing boons and rescue from fear. The cremation ground is lighted up by the smile of the Divine Mother, as if She says smiling, “Foolish child, why fear death? Death can destroy the body, not the soul. When one body is destroyed, the soul gets another body.”
Story of Durga
Durga was born twice, once as Sati, the daughter of Dakha, and again as Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya. The word ‘Dakha’ means skill in action. The power which is born of skill in action acquires fulfilment if it is united with good or the Shiva. The western world has now-a-days acquired skill in action: but their skill has not been employed for Shiva or God-realization. It has been employed for the enjoyment of the senses. For this reason the skill acquired by the western world has not created good in the world but evil. Sati, the daughter of Dakha, acquired her fulfilment by union with Shiva. Dakha wanted that Shiva should bow down to him – man of action wants the good of the world to be subservient to him. But this attempt of Daksha was unsuccessful. This made him angry. He insulted Shiva and was himself destroyed. At last, on the supplication of the wife of Daksha, Shiva revived Daksha; but the head of a goat was fixed to his body, which indicates that action without Shiva is an index of the beastly nature. Sati gave up the body which She had acquired from Daksha (the anti-Shiva) and was born again as the daughter of Himalaya, the king of the places where the gods sojourn. Parvati was unsuccessful in getting Shiva by the beauty of her body. In order to attain beauty of mind she engaged herself in austerities and ultimately got Shiva as her husband.
The image of Durga which is worshipped by the Bengalis has got ten hands. There are ten different weapons in those ten hands. With these weapons Durga undertakes the work of killing the demons. Durga takes her seat on a lion, which indicates brute force and which is directed against the forces of the demons. The fight between the gods and the demons has been going on in the world from time eternal. The power of the gods represents our inclination for doing Dharmika action as laid down in the Sastras; the power of the demons indicates the desire for anti-Dharmika enjoyment. The desire for enjoyment is natural and powerful in man. The desire for performing the Sastric actions is comparatively feeble. For this reason, whenever there is fight between the gods and demons, the demons are usually victorious. The Supreme God helps the minor gods and kills the demons. It is thus that the gods are successful.
As in the case of other religious ceremonies of the Hindus, the seed of the worship of Durga is to be found in the Vedas. There is a Sukta in Devi-Sukta, Rigveda. The sage to whom the hymns of the Sukta were revealed was a lady by name Vak, who had attained divine knowledge (Brahmajnana) and was the daughter of Ambhri. The purport of the Mantras in the Sukta is as follows: “I myself assume the forms of Indra, Agni, Varuƒa and the other gods. I give wealth to those who perform sacrifices. I am the Supreme Lord of the universe. Whatever a man does, he does with my power. The gods and men worship me, etc.” This lady, blessed with the divine vision, saw the power of God permeating the universe and realized her oneness with this divine power. As we have said before, the Hindus worship this divine power as Durga.
After the Rigveda-Samhita, we find reference to Durga in the Kena Upanishad. The gods once defeated the demons, but they forgot that it was only through the power of the Supreme God that they were able to defeat them. The Supreme God appeared before the gods in the form of a Yaksha. Agni went to Him. He asked Agni, “Who are you? What is your power?” Agni replied, “I am the god of fire, I can burn the whole universe.” Brahma asked him to burn a straw. Agni tried with all his might, but was unsuccessful. In the same way Vayu was unsuccessful to blow away the straw. Then Indra himself went to Brahma, who disappeared and in his place Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, appeared in an exceedingly beautiful form. Uma told Indra, “This Yaksha is Brahma himself. Through his power you have won the fight.” Of course, Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, is Durga or the power of God. For this reason she was aware of the nature of Brahma. Indra, Vayu, Varuna and others had not this knowledge.
The story of the worship of Durga is given in the Candi, which forms a part of the Markandeya Purana. The story is divided into three parts. The second part mentions how Durga appeared. When the gods were defeated by the demons, they went to Shiva and Vishnu. Haloes of light came out of the bodies of Brahma, Vishnu, shiva and all the other gods. These haloes of light were united and took the form of a woman. This was the figure of Durga. The gods gave their own weapons to Durga. Durga killed the demons and then began to fight with their leader Mahisasura. Durga put her foot on the back of the demon and struck him in his throat with a lance. This caused the demon to come out of the body of the buffalo. As soon as half of the figure of the demon came out, Durga cut off his head with her sword. The demon cried in grief. The gods were pleased and began to extol Durga.
The allegorical interpretation of the story of the Candi is beautiful. Desire, anger, covetousness – these are the demons who live in our body. Our inclination to follow the Sastras represents the gods. Desire, anger, etc., are strong impediments in the way of our God-realization. If we worship God, desire, anger, etc., are destroyed by his power. Then we can attain success. Though the form of Durga as worshipped by the Bengalis is taken from the Candi, the Bengalis have made additions to the form. On the right side of Durga are Lakshmi and Ganesha, on the left are Saraswati and Kartikeya. They represent wealth, knowledge, fine arts and prowess respectively. When the devotee attains God, he attains all these things also. Many ancient poets of Bengal have composed beautiful songs on the occasion of the Durga-Pooja. These songs describe the yearning of the mother of Durga for her married daughter, who comes to her only for three days in the year.
In this way the literary activities of the Bengalis have acquired fulfilment by being devoted to the service of God.