The Second Night of #NavRatri is dedicated to Ma as Brahmacharini – the Seeker of the Absolute. This is a rather direct rendering of Her theonym, as can be seen from the constituent parts: Brahman, and Charya (Charini is the feminine form of this noun).
But what is actually meant by these terms, and what do they signify within the overall context of the NavaDurg Cycle? Well, on one level it is similar to the path of any novitiate in Hindu religious tradition – that of ‘engagement’, ‘learning’, and ‘seeking out’ (whilst also ‘going within’) the Divine, the Absolute, Darshan, “enlightenment”.
Yet look a little closer, and you will see twofold resonances with the overarching mythic cycle we are presently tracing the path of. You see, for the Shaivite Devotee, it is often the case that Shiva is regarded as the Absolute. Engagement with Brahman, then, for these Devotees, the Seekers of Shiva, means encountering Mahadev.
And that is *exactly* what Ma Brahmacharini was hoping to do. For after She had cast herself upon the Pyre at the Sacrifice of Daksha in response to Her father’s folly; She did not simply die – but also came back, as Shailaputri, born to the King of Himalaya. And did so with an intent of reunification with Her Husband, Mahadev (as detailed in last night’s piece). And truly, there is something innately beautiful about such a depth and power of love that it indeed transcends the severing shackles of mortality to be reasserted across lifetimes.
Yet it is ever the case, even and especially in the great sagas of the Gods, that few things worth having are to be gleaned without strenuous effort and tribulation. Thus, despite Uma having successfully managed to reincarnate even into the kingdom whose demesne was the DevaBhumi, immediately proximate to the preferred environs of UmaPataye, there remained significant obstacles before the Divine Couple could be reunited.
For one thing, following the Death of Lady Sati, the grief of Lord Shiva was inconsolable. Such was its magnitude that when KamaDeva had attempted to strike Him with an arrow to re-engender love (in a manner akin to how the Western concept of Cupid and associated arrows works), Shiva had burned Kama to ashes. His Mighty Heart, in other words, was verily, a cremation ground (although the funny thing about that metaphor – as the preferred environs of several Aspects of MataDI, even though all might *seem* death and ashes, in amidst the wrack and ruin … She is yet there. And Vibhuti, ashes, in any case, also means Power – Shakti).
This therefore meant that when Parvati initially happened upon the mighty AdiYogi up in the Mountains, He was nigh totally unmoved by Her. How could He be? He had lost His (rather mythologically speaking, literal) “other half” [Ardhanarishvara], and spurned the hope of loving again with such force that its incarnate bearer was now smoke particles upon the Wind (although again, funny thing – this *too* links back to Devi in its symbology. More on that some other time).
The young Maid of the Mountains might indeed be beautiful, might even remind Him, in some ways, of Her. But how could She replace Her who had been lost? How could anyone hope to ‘match’ Him?
Shiva therefore does not positively respond to Her advances. Indeed, He finds the interruptions to His austerities, through which He is endeavouring to assuage His almighty grief at the loss of Sati, to be unsettling; and thus, relocates higher up in the inhospitable mountains, in pursuit of ‘peace’ to sit and smoke and think without intrusion. (This is in a manner similar to how, when we are on a quest to understand and engage with something – we start out seeing it loom large and glorious, and think that only a short (metaphorical) walk will be required to get there … only to find, once we put some effort into ‘meeting’ it, that the thing, whatever it is, has receded from view somewhat into the distance like a mirage. Does not mean that it doesn’t exist – only that further effort , and meeting the element on *its* terms rather than simply our own, shall be required!)
Parvati is dismayed, but not discouraged, and resolves to find a way to pierce the veil of His indifference, and prove Herself the ideal partner for Him once more.
To this end, She begins to undertake many of the same practices – of austerities, of yogic conduct, perhaps even of cannabis smoking consumption, and the enduring of the harsh elements out there in the snow (for such “Himalaya” refers to – Hima, snow and ice, in abundance) particularly for extended periods without shelter or heavy clothing – as Mahadev is habitually engaged in. Endeavouring to demonstrate to Him their fundamental compatibility via imitation; and show that She is a ‘match’ for Him via being able to emulate even the considerably harsh practices He is undertaking. (Needless to say, Parvati’s parents are often – although not always – regarded as having been distinctly unimpressed at the way in which Their Daughter appears to be putting all this effort into hanging around a ‘rough around the edges’ male and doing all these dangerous and uncourtly things in order to be noticed by Him)
Just as the path of one’s journey of spiritual ascent, by its very definition, entails getting higher and higher – and just as, intrinsic also to this, as with the climb of a mountain, the going gets tougher and tougher in the rougher terrain and the thinned (metaphorical .. mostly) oxygen – so Parvati follows Shiva ever further into the clouds shrouding and wreathing the higher mountain peaks. Whatever He does, in this context of austerities, She strives to equal. At last, successfully attracting His interest and attention.
Wondering Who this most curious girl can be, as well as how and why She is engaging in such superhuman feats of endurance and stamina, austerity and aptitude … Mahadev deigns to make some rather more direct enquiries. He therefore, as is His occasional habit (a subtle pun there, both senses are meant), appears to Her in disguise, and proceeds to ask Her what She has been doing, and to what purpose and end.
She answers simply and sincerely; and in some tellings, They have quite the metaphysical and theological debate. Impressed now, not only by Her fortitude (in being able to carry out the austerities and survive where He has taken up station amidst the crags and the summits), as well as Her willpower (for insisting upon continuing with Her self-appointed task even despite the immense physical discomfort, the uncertain and seemingly receding reward, as well as the abject peril that would have broken the resolve and shattered the determination of many lesser beings) – He is also now quite intrigued by Her Mind, Her Thought, Her Spirit (for such is surely expressed whenever the adroit meet to talk upon Theology) and Her Essence.
Nevertheless, ever the gentleman, He attempts to dissuade Her from continuance upon this path – and from even desiring (Marital) Union with Shiva as Her objective. He does this by relating to Her what is frequently said about Him, the perceived ‘negatives’ of His rough and simple lifestyle, His unseemly (or, if you prefer, ‘unseelie’) coteries of associates, His alleged shortcomings of personality and psychology, and no doubt also His fondness for a particular drug, His proclivity for violent action (where necessary), and quite likely, in a (deliberate) ‘faux-pas’ that has the power to induce a wince even here in the 21st century … the fact He is still very much not over His previous partner; among other things, we can presume.
Some interpret this as yet another layer of ‘test’ – seeing if Parvati’s Heart is, indeed, ‘fixed’ and constant in its seeking of him … or whether She may be dissuaded even after all of this, by somebody who is seemingly in a position to know, attempting to puncture Her positive perception of Him; or by pointing out that to marry a Vratya such as He may very well entail having to share in a harsh and ‘outlaw’ life characterized more by perceived-poverty than opportunistic opulence … the latter of which being something She could easily aspire to as the Princess of a powerful and prominent realm, not least through marriage to some [in reality, very much lesser] prince or other.
Yet I suspect differently. As, while I do not at all discount the above interpretation, and very much believe it to be a *part* of what has been going on, I *also* suggest that Lord Shiva’s motivation here is much more altruistic than the above perhaps implies. Through Her actions, She has shown Herself to be quite the eminent Devotee of Mahadev – indeed, She is regarded as not simply having undertaken a quasi-competitive series of challenges over the course of Her Tapas, Her Ordeal , but rather as having been meditating *upon* Shiva, chanting His Name(s), and both generally and specifically carrying out the acts of Devotion unto Him. Shiva wishes His Devotees to be Happy,  – and is therefore making these deliberate efforts to dissuade Her and piercing enquiries of Her , in order to ensure that a life [so to speak] with Him with all that that entails, is actually what She wants. Further, given the fiery fate met by His previous Wife, Sati, due in largest measure to the continual disapproval of Their marriage which His father-in-law, Daksha, escalatingly portrayed … He is guarded. He has no desire to go through *that* again – love somebody, and then lose Her due to parental and other disapproval and its creating a strain more than She can hope to bear. The dissuasion as well as the interrogatives, then, (as well as the metaphysical & theological debate – what better way to assess an element of essence-tial compatibility than … ‘existentially’), is His effort to seek to Protect Her. Even, indeed especially, at the cost of His own (potential) happiness. (After all, He can bear it – He is in that situation now already).
Eventually, however, He relents. He sees in Her Heart, the Sincerity and the Purity of Purpose that have lead Her there, to this point. And perhaps, He begins to Hope.
The narrative thread of this story will be picked up again with tomorrow night’s post on Ma Chandraghanta; however even leaving things ‘hanging’ there as I have, it should be plainly apparent the resonance which the tale of Ma Brahmacharini has for any student, any seeker of the Divine. That maxim of Rumi – “that which you seek is *also* seeking you”, rings in my head as I write this; although it is more apt to say that it is more akin, in these instances, to that which you see, making an assessment of the seeker, the would-be attainer – seeing whether he or she is ready, worthy, and of good motivation and heart in what they have set out to accomplish, before eventually allowing themselves to be made available *to* their follower/pursuer. With this in mind, the arduousness of the task, the fleeting sight of the goal, the steady removal of support (of fellows even of ‘oxygen’) (or even outright disapproval!), the escalating height along with obstacles, and the various attempts at dissuasion along the way … they are both acts of devotion and propiation to the Master, to the Knowledge, to the essence, to the element, to the energy, to the empowerment being sought .. as well as a ‘winnowing’ to make sure that it is only encountered still much less attained by those of ‘the rite stuff’.
As we shall see with various other myths of the Durgan corpus – if only Brahma was as discerning in who he grants power to in response to tapas!
In any case, both through the nature of Her Journey, and Her Herself, Ma Brahmacharini is shown to be truly worthy of the archetype and the theonym which goes with.
Although if you cast your mind back toward the start of this piece, you will recall that I mentioned not one, but *two* senses in which She embodied this mission, within the overall context of the NavaDurga Cycle.
One, we have explored in reasonable detail – the seeking out of Lord Shiva, regarded by many Shaivites as the Absolute, and Her longing for re-Unification with Him.
Yet there is another …. for as you will recall, Shakti, *also* [and not necessarily contradictively to the aforementioned] is regarded as the Absolute; and in particular in the NavaDurg context, SiddhiDhatri, the 9th and last NavaDurga, Whose Night the final Ratri is of the yearly cycle, as the ‘perfected’ emblematic of Ma Shakti, is therefore as well an Absolute Whom Parvati is arcing towards through the course of the Nine Nights and the accompanying narrative.
Brahmacharini therefore represents a fitting ‘uncoiling’ and ‘expansion’ upward from the Shailaputri incarnation with which the NavRatri Cycle was begun in the night previous. An advancement and invigorating extension onwards and upwards from a solid foundation of ‘stone’; and a worthy example to emulate .. even if you are not, for some reason, in love with a Divinity.
Iconographically, Brahmacharini is depicted as a young ascetic or student of the Divine. She is barefoot, garbed in white (a colour which, despite the ‘bridal’ connotations we might have in a Western context for the colour, rather signifies knowledge – and also may be a colour warn by a widow); carries Rudraksha Mala [prayer beads – used in the recitations of mantras … but with “Rudraksha” also being translated as “Tears of Rudra”, there is therefore a most poignant additional significance to them in Her hands here, espcially in this phase of the NavaDurga myth], and a Kamandalu [a water-vessel often carried by ascetics to house their drinking water, or to cart water for ritual purposes, or even to bear the sacred Amrit and in association with the particular waters of holy rivers]. Occasionally, She will also be pictured in a pose of one who is carrying out austerities, or in the manner of a Priest.
ॐ देवी ब्रह्मचारिण्यै नमः॥