The Devi Gita: Introduction
THE DEVI GITA
Song of the Goddess
The Devi Gita (Song of the Goddess) is an important fifteenth century text from the goddess tradition (Shakta) of India. The scripture has ten chapters that form a section of a much larger work, Devi-Bhagavata Purana. The Purana itself may have been composed as early as the twelfth century to which the Devi Gita was inserted at a later date. It depicts the Goddess as the benevolent World-Mother. In the Purana she is less of a warrior goddess, as she is in some previous textual examples, and more a nurturer and comforter of her devotees and a teacher of wisdom. This development in her character culminates in the Devi Gita.
The author of the Devi Gita is indebted to the Bhagavad Gita for many of its themes and motifs. It is a philosophical and devotional poem in the form of a dialogue between the Goddess and her ardent devotee, the Mountain King Himalaya. In her highest iconic form as Bhuvaneshvari, the supreme World-Mother, the Goddess teaches compassion and gives insight.
The ten chapters of the Devi Gita sing the superiority of the Goddess, and glorify and elaborate on her nature. She is described as both horrific and benign, an enabling energy in all beings, and as the ultimate creative, organizing and destructive power in the universe.
The Devi is an abstract power as well as one with an iconographic form. She wholly transcends the universe and yet is embodied within all beings. As an abstraction she is Brahman and as a personal deity she is a vehicle for spiritual transformation.
As far as I know the Devi Gita, (not including its scriptural forerunners such as the Devi-Bhagavata Purana and the Devi Mahatmya) is the only text in the world in which the Supreme Being is envisioned as female. The text presents a vision of the universe created, maintained and protected by all knowing and wholly compassionate World-Mother. She is not subordinate to any God and is beyond being born, marriage or giving birth.
In the Devi Gita, the human body is considered sacred and a powerful tool. Female body is not only to birth and nourish life but is also an instrument of personal and spiritual growth. Here the Devi is worshipped as the giver of both enjoyment and liberation. Materiality is not regarded as illusory but as a powerful expression of nonmaterial energies. As the universal cosmic energy the Devi is the psychophysical guiding force that resides within each individual.
When not having a dialogue with her devotees, the Devi resides in her celestial paradise, Manidvipa, the Jeweled Island situated at the peak of the universe. From this abode, fully awake, she observes the troubles of the world and intervenes if her devotees are in difficulty or danger.
She rests on a sacred throne that symbolically reveals her supreme power. It has four legs made up of the four gods: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Agni. They represent the Devi’s latent cosmic energies. She sits on the stretched-out corpse of the Sadasiva-he is inert under her until aroused by her.
Most of the world religions use masculine gender for the Supreme Reality. This is the reason that I decided to include a comparatively minor scripture in which the Supreme Reality is feminine. The Tao te-Ching regards femininity with utmost regard, the Dhammapada is neutral towards genders, but the Bhagavad Gita tips the balance towards masculinity. I do realize that Supreme Reality transcends gender. Yet, so many scriptures have made men feel good about themselves as they understand the God as He. Wouldn’t it be equally good for women to read a scripture in which the Supreme Reality is the Goddess? The Devi Gita is not a well-known scripture but I find it as exhilarating and enlightening as any other scripture because here “God” is She. The body and the power of the Goddess belong to all. To know the goddess is to empower the Self.
The Devi enriches all. I say all, because men too have their feminine side. The noted psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote that in men’s unconscious is a female personification, Anima, and in women’s unconscious a male personification called Animus. While the Anima guides men to profound inner depths and conveys vital messages of the Self, the Animus can turn into an invaluable inner companion for women. Through its creative activities it can build a bridge to the Self. Thus women relate with the Devi as women and men with the help of their inner female companion, the Anima.
A hero or heroine’s task on their life’s journey is to shatter the established order and create the new family and community. For me exploring the inner terrain of my own femininity and masculinity has become the most important work of my life. I hope I continue to uphold the heroine’s task-the task to slay the monsters of the status quo, to create, to feel and to heal, and usher in personal and social changes for spiritual growth.
The life’s spiritual quest is not about domination, power or conquest but the quest to bring balance, tranquility and joy into life through celebrating feminine as well as masculine aspects of our nature. There is wisdom in the balance of genders, interconnectedness between nature and humans, and exploring inner sacred spaces. Together, let’s reclaim that integrity.