The Third Night of #NavRatri is dedicated to Ma as ChandraGhanta – She Who Is Crowned With The Half-Moon In The Shape Of A Bell, to render it somewhat figuratively.
Now, before going further (and for that matter, picking up the narrative thread where we left off with last night’s Brahmacharini post), it is necessary to briefly attempt to explain some of the symbolism inherent in the theonym of this NavaDurga Aspect of MataJI.
As you may remember, Shailaputri is crowned with the Crescent Moon. By this stage of the NavRatri Cycle, this has waxed to a more full ‘Half-Moon’, as She has grown in strength and power – quite directly, also, in “enlightenment” (for such the Moon is at night – a source of light for us down here on Earth, and brighter in the Heavens in direct proportion to the luminosity it exudes).
And in both cases, these ‘Moon-Crowns’ recall the Theonym of Mahadev – Chandrasekhara , He Whose Brow Is Adorned With The Moon. Or, phrased another way, they help to connote, via the sharing of this iconographic element between both Mahadeva and His MahaRani, that She is His Queen, over the Cosmos Entire. As we shall see, it is entirely uncoincidental that the Moon in question reaches this much more radiant and ‘enfilled’ state at this particular phase of the NavaDurga Cycle. But more on that in a moment.
However, one of the most important elements of Ma Chandraghanta’s theonymic symbolism is to be found when putting the two words which comprise Her name together: Chandra-Ghanta. Literally, ‘Moon-Bell’. My mind, for some reason, enjoins me to suppose that this would be a rather ideal name for a Cat, and this is not at all mentioned in a context of disrespect – but I digress. On the ‘obvious’ level, this name is supposed to connote the shape of the half- or gibbous Moon – kinda like a bell, composed of the light parts of the Moon, and with the in/less-visible portion representing the aperature at its base. But that is not all it is!
For a ‘Ghanta’ is not just any bell. Rather, it is a Temple Bell! One which is rung especially in the context of ritual worship, and to let the Gods know that we are there at Their abode! The Ringing of such an instrument, therefore, does not simply produce an eminently sonorous tone – and truly, from my long hours by now at Mandir, I know of few other more beautiful sounds than that – but is quite literally the ‘sound of piety’. When one hears it, the very heart of the Devotee also resonates with it – becomes ‘one’ with the Sound, and is gladdened and raised in spirit and in bravery and in moral fortitude.
As we shall *also* see, this becomes most especially relevant – and resonant – at this particular point in the NavaDurga Mythic Cycle. And, as a brief footnote before we once more launch into that, joins an array of other Moon-based (semi-visual) puns that I have quite some enthusiasm for, in the Shaivite-Durgan corpus – the best-known example of which, perhaps, is the mythical sword CHANDRAHAS – the ‘Laughter [‘Glinting Smile’] of the Moon’ due to both its shape and its pre-Ravana owner/wielder.
When last we left our Divine Pairing, Ma as Brahmacharini had successfully made it to the seeming pinnacle of Her journey’s quest: finally managing to gain the attention of Lord Shiva via long periods of tapas and other ascetic pursuits in emulation of Him amidst the inhospitable crags of the Himalayas, and through a personal evaluation carried out by Him in concealed form in order to adduce what lay in Her Heart and whether She was a ‘true’ match.
The next part of the story comprises Their journey ‘back down the Mountain’, metaphorically speaking. And despite my much-favoured maxim about how it may take a thousand steps to ascend a mountain, but only one to come down … as we shall see, the errant simplicity implied here (hence why I have used it to counsel addicts), does not strictly apply in the case of Mahadev and Parvati’s next stage of Their journey Together.
For it is not simply enough that They now have Each Others’ Hearts. In order for things to *truly* be made right, They must be properly married. And despite Mahadev’s occasional cheerful disregard for the ordinary bounds of propriety (not least because, well, even leaving aside His status as the Adi Vratya … He , as the Absolute, *is* the Propriety Himself – and therefore is not to be weighed down by the petty concerns of lesser figures still much less the spiteful tongues of Pharisically inclined ‘least men’ amongst them in ‘polite society’), perhaps motivated out of a desire to avoid a most emphatically regrettable repeat of what had happened with His previous father-in-law (wherein the father-in-law in question’s fractious regard for Him had rather directly lead to the Death of Sati) , He undertakes to do things ‘properly’ – and get the approval of Her Father, King Himavat for their blessed marital union.
Now, this is where the ‘complications’ begin to ensue. For you see, for whatever reason, King Himavat – perhaps overburdened with pride, perhaps simply motivated by the protective nature of a father for His cherished daughter – … does not see the Great God when he looks upon this errant suitor for Lady Parvati. Rather, he sees a vagrant, a ruffian, a drug-addict, an outlaw (an interesting rendering for “Vratya”, indeed!), a figure with the look of a criminal who is keeping the most unsalubrious company of wild-men ascetics, ghosts, even demons! All things considered, an ‘unruly’ chap indeed – and at stark and direct contrast to the role of a King to Rule, and *well* below both the station of a Princess, and also the King’s expectations of a figure capable of providing for his daughter in the manner to which She deserves.
This, needless to say, creates a bit of a problem. Particularly when the Baraat – the traditional (armed) procession which accompanies the Dulha [‘Groom’] to the house of the prospective Dulhan [‘Bride’] in order for the marriage to take place – arrives at the gates of the Palace of King Himavat. For there, Queen Menavati, the mother of Parvati this time around and wife of Himavat, beholds this ‘unvarnished’ image of Shiva surrounded by His retinue … and faints in terror at the sight. Now, while I’m sure many of us have been in relationships wherein our partner’s mother has perhaps not taken the greatest shine to us, this might seem like a bit of an over-reaction. But consider that in a manner rather similar to many of the Fierce Aspects of MataDI (Such as Mata KALI), to the uninitiated or the impious or indeed the unfamiliar … Lord Shiva can appear most terrifying indeed. After all, it is right there in the theonym of Bhairava, and is one interpretation/translation of the Name of Rudra. And this is before we factor in how frightening it must be to behold the Bhole Ki Baraat – the Fiends, Ghosts, Wildmen, Vratya, Pishachas, Rakshasas, Aghoris, Sadhus, and so forth … wreathed in clouds of cannabis smoke, bearing fearsome weapons and bedecked with bones and cremation-ground ash.
Upon seeing this, Parvati takes action. Assuming the Moon-lit mantle of the Chandraghanta Aspect, She intervenes, enjoining Lord Shiva to take on a less frightening visage (I am sure many girlfriends have had er … not entirely dissimilar conversations with their men, ordering them to ‘scrub up’ in order to make a better impression upon their parents when meeting them properly for the first time) – while Her radiance illuminating the scene for what it truly is, and dispels the fear from the hearts of Her birth-family and their courtiers, in just the same manner that the clarion ringing of a Temple Bell and a hand in Abhaya Mudra does for the Devotee.
Although it is a potentially interesting point to note – that the ‘ringing’ of the ChandraGhanta does not, per se, ‘dispel’ or ‘banish’ the Revenant-Retinue of Mahadev, in a manner that one might potentially expect given ChandraGhanta’s broader mythological role and portfolio beyond the NavaRatri Cycle. But rather, simply enables them to be regarded as what they are. Not mere fiends or marauding apparitions and outlaws – but instead, the trusted retainers of Rudra, here as a traditional and expected customary part of the Marriage Ritual.
Light, in other words, can be a weapon – especially against the ‘darkness’ [‘A-Sura’]. But it can also illuminate to show what is *actually* there, and change the way we see things to make the seemingly dangerous or hostile into something proper or non-threatening – friendly, even! (potentially making staunch allies out of what appeared to be enemies, when the truth of matters is illuminated – as happened here with the revelation that what might have been a besieging army of ghosts and fiends and outlaws .. was in fact the mighty sena of one about to become family) In any case, it is most apt that it is *Moon-Light* we are speaking of here – for it is the light that shines the brightest – and most beautiful! – amidst the darkness of the night sky. A veritable beacon that can guide us, helps us to ‘keep time’ [and there is a deeper Sanskrit meaning here, for those of you who can see it – perhaps consider it ‘Moon-Runes’ 😛 ] as it is the principle by which we organize our religious calendar , and perhaps most important – because it, too, moves in ‘cycles’ … it goes away, but then after a period of pitch-black utter-dark, it comes back. Just as Lady Parvati did for Mahadev, even from the Death which had engulfed Lady Sati. Most elegant, and eloquent, indeed, in the multilayered symbolism which can be bound up in such an evocative visual metaphor.
Anyway, once the frightful disruption brought on by the arrival of the Baraat, and the fearsome visage of Lord Shiva, has been overcome thanks to the timely intervention of Parvati, the blessed Marriage can finally take place. A glorious re-unification. Customarily regarded as having occurred upon what we now observe as MahaShivRatri (not coincidentally talked about as “the darkest night of the year”, and when the Moon is otherwise all but spent immediately prior to entering its Amavasya (‘no Moon’) phase – thus rendering it additionally fitting for the sudden and perhaps unexpected bright radiance of the ‘ascending Moon’ to reappear in their and our midst! Along with Shiva, Who is symbolized with the sliver of silver and also the darkened Moon that remains, inter alia – therefore when put together with His Wife making one ‘whole’ (or almost thereabout) and transcending the bounds of time with the bonds of love through the appearance of this (~nearly) Full Moon at the opposite point in the lunar cycle to where it otherwise would be beheld). And also, as I mentioned towards the outset, a further reason for the ‘ChandraGhanta’ theonym – as now both Husband and Wife, ईशानादस्य भुवनस्य , जगताम् पतये , रुद्र; & श्री महाराज्ञी , श्रीमत् सिंहासनेश्वरी , भुवनेश्वरी, देवी दुर्गा , King & Queen of the Cosmos, and crowned/adorned (and, for that matter *adored* !!!) appropriately.
The Ananda Couple then proceed to the next phase of Their Narrative Together.
Now, to turn to the broader salience of Ma Chandraghanta both within but more especially beyond Her Role in the NavaDurga Cycle … it is not coincidental that this is also the first Warrior Form ‘proper’ to be found amidst the NavaDurgas. For She has quite the patron role – of demon-slayers and soldiers against the anarya & a’rta forces against which we inevitably must occasionally *all* (usually in aggregate) contend. Just as the Sacred Light and radiating peals of Her ‘Moon-Bell’ help to drive away darkness and stir the hearts of Devotees, so too does Her mere presence inspire abject terror and dissolution in the demon – even as it exhorts greater (astra)warrior’s ardour and imparts bravery amidst those fighting on the Side of the Righteous.
As ever, and there is even RigVedic attestation for this (in particular, the Hymnal I have in mind is the Twenty Fourth of Mandala Two, dedicated to Brhaspati, in which Vala, the brother of Vritra, is slain through the weapon of ‘Prayer’ – which also ‘dispelled the darkness and displayed the light of Heaven’ [- 2.24.3, Griffith Translation]; as a point of interest, in other hymnals, the weapon used is referred to as ‘Thunder’, which would therefore key it also to the Vajra – and, rather more Shaivitely, the Trishula), the weapon of Piety is the greatest bane for the opposers of Dharma – the surest [Sura-est?] strike against the adversaries of the Gods. (This is further borne out by the course of events via which the otherwise invincible demon Durgamasur is finally brought low and defeated as related in the Devi Bhagavatam – indeed, so formidable a force is this that it is precisely the knowledge (and therefore the power (through performance)) of the Rituals of the Vedas, that Durgamasur strikes at in order to attempt to assure his invulnerability. The plan doesn’t ultimately work, however, as despite the lack of Veda-provisioned empowerment for the Gods at large, the combined effects of prayer to Adi Shakti bring about Her Manifestation (within the universe, so to speak) first as Ma Shakambari , and then as Durga, to set the universe back into balance through the judicious application of most eminently necessary holy carnage).
Of course, in addition to the twin virtues of Piety and Perspicacity – as well as the Courage (which She amply demonstrates, inter alia, in ‘being right when others are wrong’, communicating honestly to Her parents, and being able to look past the terrifying to see what is truly there) and Compassion which complement these most excellently – She is also very well armed; being conventionally depicted equipped with the Trishula (the three-spear usually of Mahadev, which also signifies power throughout the Three Worlds and is therefore something of a ‘dynastic symbol’ for the Divine Family, as well as being a super-weapon and visually recalling both the Mountains and the Storm as well as the forces of the universe entire – including the power to *destroy* the universe entire), the bow and arrow (this also connotes Shiva; and with that carried by Durga, is identified further with Vayu in particular – Who is also Shiva; and in addition to being a most potent weapon, represents the ability to fly straight along one’s (spiritual) path with speed and accuracy), the Sword (This is Devi’s Own, and prominently figures in relation to, for instance, the famous Bhavani Tulwar and other, related blades; although in some tellings, the Sword wielded by Durga may perhaps be regarded as being from Lord Yama – Death Himself [well, *one* of the Deaths … ]; which also represents in addition to its supreme death-dealing and -mastery powers, the illuminating powers of intellect and knowledge – the infinitely keen edge being correlated with a ‘keen mind’, a ‘sharp mind’, and thus entailing also a ‘power of discernment’ most approppriate for ChandraGhanta, as well as the ability to ‘sever the ties of Karma’ which can weigh down a soul; it may also be correlate with the general carrying of cutting and hacking instruments by several Aspects of Durga which are utilized to decapitate – to sever the encumbrance of overweening pride arrogance, and ego in much the same manner as Her Husband’s judicious use of the axe against certain figures such as Sati’s father or even Brahma and Prajapati), the Gada (a club or mace, a significant symbol also of rulership and the Dumezilian 2nd Function (consider the golden mace that is the ensign of the power of the Speaker of Parliament in many Westminster democracies) which is also identified with the Vajra carried by both Lord Indra and in somewhat less direct form, Lord Hanuman [‘Bajrang Bali’ – Who, while definitely carrying a Gada and strongly identified with such, is not as frequently depicted with a Vajra despite it literally being there in His name]; and represents the potent overwhelming force to smash and to subjugate the obstacles within one’s path as well as the respect and majesty of one’s people – and, as noted above, via Brhaspati in particular, may further be correlate with Prayer and Piety Itself; Lord Vishnu is also frequently identified with the Gada).
In addition to these more overt armaments, She also carries a Ghanta – a ritual bell (this symbolizes, as noted above, piety, connection to ritual and prayer, the presence of the Divine, and the dispelling of illusion and fear through its peals); Kamandalu (as will be recalled from yesterday’s post for Ma a Brahmacharini – this water-vessel is used by both ascetics and those conducting rituals, as well as potentially containing the Amrita, or special sacred waters of particular Holy Rivers); Rudrakshamala (also known as ‘Japa-mala’)( translatable as ‘Tears of Rudra’ or ‘Eye of Rudra’ after the name of the seeds which form its beads – of especial additional significance considering Her Husband; and utilized in the chanting of Mantras and the carrying out of prayer – and, come to think of it, with another meaning of “Aksha” in mind, that of the Axis, the notion of the Rudra-Axis (that is to say, Rudra *as* the Aksis – about which All pivots, the Chakravartin); and/or the Aksis *of* Rudra – about which Rudra embraces and cherishes) would comport well with both Shaivite and Shakti cosmological interpretations dependent upon direction and inflection – indeed both at once!); the Kamala (the lotus-flower – connoting beauty, the manifestation of life even in barren places (due to how it grows), the Divine, recurrent life (in the sense of both immortality and coming back from death – the importance of which ought be plainly obvious here, in the NavaDurga Cycle), through its association with enligthenment and transcendence, this too is regarded as a weapon upon occasion, and is a continuance from Shailaputri’s carrying of same); the Abhaya Mudra hand-posture (which conveys the removal of fear, as well as the dispelling of evil – and is frequently seen upon Murtis, as well as being performed by a number of the NavaDurga specifically); and, dependent upon local tradition and construction/rendering, may also bears the Conch-shell (a war-trumpet, of clear relevancy to Her portfolio and characteristics/functions especially pertaining to the battlefield and rallying men’s spirits and drawing force to one – also utilized in ritual and prayer; as well as having a potential symbolic connection with Lord Varuna; it resonates with the sound of AUM, which recalls not only Durga’s mastery over the very forces of Creation, but also the instance wherein “with a mere Humkara”, She reduced a particular formidable demon to ashes), as well as a hand in Gyan-Mudra (a posture/gesture which is associated with improving the powers of the mind – of recognition, recollection, clarity of thinking, concentration, and calmness, as well as mental well-being – a whetstone, verily, for the twin Blades of Brain and Bhava- Spirit!).
And, of course, She is adorned with the fabled Moon-Crown which provides Her Namesake, and is often depicting radiating a ‘halo’ of soft light – much like the Moon does in the night sky. And is accompanied by Her Vahana (‘mount’ or ‘vehicle’) – Dawon (the fearsome lion and/or tiger, Whose very name means Bravery – and Whose Roar both heartens those who fight alongside Them, Her Devotees … while unutterably terrifying those who dare stand against Her. Rather like the Roar of Rudra in some regards, come to think of it, the peal of thunder and the howl of the Storm Wind) .
With all of this in mind, then, it should therefore come as no surprise to find that we regard Chandraghanta as embodying the twin virtues of Bravery and Grace – which, of course go together to produce martial prowess; as well as having deep and complex wells of meaning to them even in themselves (such as the intrinsic correlate of Bravery with Righteousness in and of Spirit – the courage to speak up and to do what is right; and Grace with deftness, dexterity, and of course, Beauty – including the supreme beauty of piety, as well as the more (perhaps “plainly”) visually apparent sense which She is possessed of in most perfect abundance); as well as Charisma, the power to draw and rally others to one – which is vitally necessary for any general and any community (, and, as it happens, for any Queen in the true sense of the word – rather than a mere title holder contingent entirely upon the powers of others) ; and, most vitally/intrinsically, Her undeniable Perspicacity and the plenipotentiary Powers and Faculties of Mind.
We pray to Ma as Chandraghanta to inspire these qualities also in us; to augment our abilities and steel our hearts … *especially* in dark places or when beset by foes; to enable us to support those who need it (just as Ma did with Her Own Parents (itself the supreme act of piety, per Ganesha & Skanda’s parable of the race around the world), and does as with us); and to illuminate the truth, sharpen our minds to properly discern it, and appropriately arm us to cut through with our wits both illusions and adversaries; to slay both the literal and metaphorical demons which beset us, therefore removing obstacles in our way or showing us the proper pathway through, over, or around them – or, for that matter, how they are not so much obstacles at all but rather building blocks and stepping stones to greater ascent in our journeys; to empower us with piety in our hearts and in our actions; to enhance our ‘earthly senses’ (of sight and smell and touch and taste and hearing etc.) as well as our ‘inner senses’ (including those of Righteousness, foresight, and the perception beyond the ‘material’, and of ‘that which is hidden’ from us) and those of mind; and to lift the ‘tide in the affairs of men’ (to quote me some Shakespeare – the play Julius Caesar in fact) just as the Moon’s gravitational attraction raises the waters in the oceans and therefore our boats upon them.
We also honour Ma as Chandraghanta this night for other reasons – not least of which is, surely, the fact that it is as This Aspect that Parvati successfully attains Her hugely significant goal of Reunification with Mahadev! An act of incredible importance both for its ‘setting the universe back into balance’ (I also note that Mahadeva re-creates KamaDeva with a glance, in some tellings, following this happy occasion) – as well as the enthusiastic and empathic (in some measure, as we are capable) joy which we must surely feel for both Lord Shiva and Lady Parvati in Their Happiness at having once again found Each Other even despite the greatest of possible barriers to be found this side of the End of the Universe (which They shall Also overcome!).
And, of course, for Her Emblematic Ability as the Vanquisher of Demons.
Piety, Prowess, and Perspicacity.
ॐ देवी चन्द्रघण्टायै नमः॥
जय माता दी