Goddess Alive!

Goddess Celebration and Research

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On Tour with the Goddess


A feature in which pilgrims who have been on Goddess tours and retreats write about their experiences. This contribution is by Batya Weinbaum about visits to discover Goddess in India.

Here I am in Khahajaro, India, where many temples were built in the period of 950-1050 CE. Most were destroyed by Muslim invaders, so only 22 of the original temples remain of the original 85. India, a land where the female divine is both acknowledged and honored, offers museums and shrines, ancient and contemporary. Religious followers pay homage to the Goddess in many manifestations. Varanasi, a sacred city on the banks of the Ganges, holds temples of nine devis (goddesses) which Hindu pilgrims seeking the darkshan (divine vision) of the Goddess visit regularly.

Goddess Durga at Shastri Nagar puja pandal in VaranasiI started making my treks to India in 2005. I started to plan a worldschooling trip with my daughter. We were going to visit the Daram Sala, and also to meet with suppliers to start a wearable arts import business. We arrived in Delhi, and decided to go to Bihar where the Buddhist community was celebrating the day that the Buddha reached enlightenment. On the way back, we stopped in Varanasi, where I had planned to study palmistry. After several days of visiting Goddess temples (there are many) I had a revelation on the roof top for a new career. I would lead Goddess study tours to India, and help other women get in touch with the Goddess, as my contact had been so beneficial to me.

The temple I had visited which gave me such an inspiration that day was the Golden temple of Annapurna. It was difficult to get to her temple in the first place, requiring much perseverance. We had to follow a labyrinth of little streets with vendors hawking little statues of Durga, the first Goddess in the Hindu pantheon, and Annapurna, to whom one prays for food.

Once there, having arrived at the interior, we stood in awe of the ceremony knowing that everyone who came would be fed. I realized, feeding one’s offspring should be natural, as natural as Annapurna filling her honey pot by a river in front of a tree. The images and the ritual spoke to me, restoring my self-confidence. Yes I would be able to go forward feeding myself and my child, even though the patriarchy had thrown me out, depicting me in numerous attack documents as simply too powerful. I would succeed.

Durga Temple in VaranasiFrom there the trips to the Durga temple were next, where I was equally inspired by the image of a fighting woman on a large feline moving forward, armed, never looking back.

We also wandered down alleys and found the little Kali shrine, on the first visit. There I could see that women could be strong and ferocious and fight, and that keeping demons whether it was considered ladylike or not, was often right. Kali wears a string of heads of demons she has decapitated, as her duty having been created out of the third eye of Durga to help with the process of clearing negativity from the world, is to protect the gods in the Land of Bliss.

Madhubani Goddesses - Durga on left, Kali on right

In spring of 2008, I succeeded in leading my first pilot trip, starting in Delhi with shopping in the bazaar. Here you can find Durga and Kali hangings, and Lakshmi bags. These are commercially produced, but other stalls sell art of goddesses from ancient periods.

I decided I wanted to return and visit the women of Madhubani who painted these Goddesses. In Varanasi on that second trip I had begun to collect paintings of Kali and Durga at the Benares Cultural Arts Center. I was increasingly interested in uncovering the powers of these Goddesses, since I sold out that first stock I had imported entirely in one women’s studies conference. I wanted to research if there was any congruence between what the women painting those images experienced when they made the goddesses, and what the women buying the images were experiencing as they consumed them, as well as what I experienced when I painted the images myself.

Traditional Hindu image of LakshmiBack in India by February of 2012, after announcing the second tour, first I went south from Delhi to the Ellora Caves. First I photographed them, and then I began to draw in their presence. One of the images I painted was of Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of wealth. If you knew how dry and hot it was there, you would understand why a goddess whose upper hands are being watered by the elephants would produce wealth or gold coming out of her second layer of hands.

I was so fascinated with the serene power and strength of these Goddesses who had lasted so many years that I drew them, and then painted them, in small watercolors. Then I took the paintings into wooden toy manufacturers whose Goddess icons I have been importing and selling for wear as necklaces and earrings. I gave them my art and they designed pendants and earrings for me for my River Goddess Series that I will begin to sell when the shipment gets to me. I have been selling and exhibiting art I made in the temples, called the Temple Goddess Series, and have been selling the imported Goddess images at festivals to be worn as earrings or pendants.

River Goddess guarding caves at ElloraOnce in Varanasi, I was overjoyed to walk along the Ganges and very much inspired again by all the popular goddess art. I started my first walk at Assi Ghat where many backpacking foreigners stay. Among the Goddess images that I found along the way were ones of Ganga, Goddess of the River, and of Ma Parvati. Then there were several images of what must be a new, local Goddess, but no one I asked could tell me her name.

I successfully booked a car and a driver and embarked upon a three day trip in search of Goddess sites and artists. I was introduced to a series of women artists who make their own paints from locally grown flowers. Amongst the images they painted were of Durga, and of Kali (whom Durga produced out of her third eye to help her in her battle to preserve the gods in the Land of Bliss). I also met and photographed some of the women with their art, including Ashadevi, who is a well known artist in India. I also found some feminist art, such as one where women painted in the black and white tradition of the village of Roti. The painting depicted women marching together holding signs about wanting their rights and an end to the dowry. After interviewing the women artists about their craft, traditions and experience, the guide and the driver took us to two Kali temples, one in Madhubani and the other in Darabunga.

Kali temple in Madhubani

Kali temple at DarabungaThe Goddess tours of India that I set up and facilitated in 2008 and 2012 were centered in Varanasi on the rooftop of the Temple Hotel, overlooking the Ganges river. Here we tapped into the sacred Hindu female pantheon that still remains, and studied the deities through chant, drumming, painting and poetry. We visited Mother India and Durga temples, and took a boat trip up the Ganges to the Golden Temple of Annapurna. We also visited the Goddess of Smallpox, where people come from all over for healing. We discussed questions such as – who was the original Mother Goddess of India? At what point did she break down into various discrete manifestations? Was this good or bad for women? And who are we, in search of this female divine?

I continue to work and visit in India. I have been invited to have a show of my artwork in a gallery there, as well as in the Benares Hindu University. I also have an invitation to study the Madhubani style of painting from the Head of the Institute that teaches the craft to women. If any of this interests you, please contact me at batyawein@aol.com or Batya.Weinbaum@esc.edu.

Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. She is the consort of the god Vishnu. Also called Mahalakshmi, she is said to bring good luck and is believed to protect her devotees from all kinds of misery and money-related sorrows. Lakshmi is called Shri or Thirumagal because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or Gunas. The festivals of Diwali and Kojagiri Purnima are celebrated in her honour.

Durga meaning "the inaccessible" or "the invincible"; is a popular fierce form of the Hindu Goddess or Devi. She is depicted with multiple (variously, up to ten) arms, carrying various weapons and riding a ferocious lion or tiger. She is often pictured as battling or slaying demons, particularly Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. Her victory is celebrated annually in the festivals of Navaratri and Durga Puja. She is sometimes equated with Mahadevi, the Supreme Goddess.

Kali is the Hindu Goddess associated with empowerment, shakti. The name Kali comes from kala, which means ‘black, time, death’. Hence, Kali is the goddess of Time and Change. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation is as a figure of annihilator of evil forces. She is also revered as Bhavatarini = redeemer of the universe.

Annapurna is a Sanskrit name which literally means "full of food" (feminine form), but is normally translated as Goddess of the Harvests. In Hinduism, Annapurna is the universal and timeless kitchen-goddess, the mother who feeds. Without her there is starvation, a universal fear.This makes Annapurna a universal Goddess. Her most popular shrine is located in Kashi, on the banks of the river Ganges (who is Herself seen as a Goddess, Ganga). Annapurna’s association with the giving of food (wealth) led her in time to be transformed into Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

Ganga is the deitised form of the River Ganges, personified as a Goddess, Ganga is worshipped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates liberation from the cycle of life and death. Pilgrims travel long distances toimmerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the Ganges, bringing their spirits closer to nirvana.

Ma Parvati also known as Gauri, is an important Hindu goddess. Parvati is Shakti, the wife of Shiva and the gentle aspect of Mahadevi, the Great Goddess. Parvati is considered to be complete incarnation of Adi Parashakti, with all other goddesses being her incarnations or manifestations. Being the physical manifestation of Adi parashakti, Parvati is the goddess of power. She is nominally the second consort of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rejuvenation. Parvata is one of the Sanskrit words for ‘mountain’ and translates as "She of the mountains”. She is the one who gives life energy (or 'Shakti') to all beings and without her, all beings are inert. When depicted alongside Shiva, she generally appears with two arms, but when alone, she is depicted having four or eight arms, and astride a tiger or lion.