The Eight Night of #NavRatri is dedicated to Ma as MahaGauri – The Great White One.
Now, as readers of yesterday’s piece – on KaalRatri – will be patently aware, this stands in seemingly stark contrast to the previous Night’s Aspect of MataJI, Who is the great(est) Black one. And yet, as it happens, a ‘deeper’ perspective sees Them entirely differently. That is to say, that Ma as MahaGauri is in fact a *continuation*, a *furtherance* of Ma as KalaRatri. And, indeed, the ongoing trajectory of the NavaDurga Mythic Cycle that runs right through from Ma as Shailaputri to Ma as SiddhiDatri , and beyond.
So who is this Goddess, and what explains Her Name?
MahaGauri is a beneficent and beautiful form of Parvati (indeed, while I have translated “Gauri” rather directly as “White” (compare the closely related modern Hindi term “Gora” – ‘white person’), its rendering is perhaps more aptly “Fair” (and therefore, “Beauty”) – for even more so than today, in ancient times, “Fairness” of complexion and “Beauty” were often (although, as we have seen from last night’s post on Kali, not always) correlated); and is situated within the Mythic Cycle of NavRatri, perhaps rather curiously, at two points simultaneously. I shall expand upon why I think this might be so, later in this piece.
As applies Her occurrence immediately following KaalRatri, this is because Ma as Kali, once the demonic threat was defeated and She was no longer required to assume the Aspect of the (Dark) Annihilator, She undertook to transform ‘back’ to a more gentle and perhaps beauteous form. This is, in some tellings, the result of a joke made by MahaDev toward Ma while She is still Kali – in which He comments upon Her Black Complexion, and remarks that She is “Kaal” … which due to the inherent double-meaning of the term, also connotes that She is Death to Him. This is of course, truthful within the context of much of the mythology – but I can understand why She may have been a bit upset by such a remark, and therefore undertaken to become the opposite in at least partial direct response.
She therefore sloughs off Her Dark Skin, to reveal the glistening White Form which lies inside; and is recognized as MataDI in a less … potentially-omnicidal guise, as a result.
This therefore shows the MahaGauri Aspect as the ‘transcending’ of an array of the elements bound up with and intrinsic to Ma as Kali (as well as, for that matter, an array of Durga’s other Forms – such as the Katyayani Aspect which also precedes KaalRatri) – the supreme anger, the death-dealing aspect, the war and violence, the terrifying experience, the all-consuming nature of Time …
… and rather moves back toward the ‘other pole’ (or, more properly speaking, the ‘other approach to the *same* pole’) of Parvati as the Absolute, represented simultaneously by Ma as Kushmanda and Ma as SiddhiDhatri. The much more ‘calm’ and ‘purified’ (for such, white can also be a colour of – c.f the Brahmacharini Aspect we met upon the Second Night of NavaRatri, in particular) visage of Uma as MahaGauri is therefore the logical ‘progression’ between Ma as KaalRatri and Ma as SiddhiDhatri (although, as we noted yesterday, Ma as Maha Kali is *also* this ‘pole’ of Shakti in a Supreme Form and Immanentization here into our Universe).
The ‘second’ occurrence of MahaGauri within the NavRatri mythic cycle, is ‘actually’ chronologically earlier, if not as commonly thought of in this context. It relates to the period immediately after Ma as Brahmacharini had been pursuing Lord Shiva through the living of the life of an ascetic, a ‘wild man’ up in His preferred Mountainous environment. This had, perhaps predictably, lead to Ma winding up quite ‘dirty’ – as She had been living well beyond the ‘creature comforts’ of Her Father’s Palace, in the wilderness. Once She had successfully won His Mighty Heart, She therefore undertook to bathe in one of our sacred rivers, partially as ‘purification’, so that She might once again appear radiant for Her Marriage ceremony. Having washed off the patina of dirt and dust and (cannabis?) smoke which had accumulated upon Her Divine Form, She therefore was now resplendent as MahaGauri (Who then implicitly goes on to once more (at least partially) Ascend toward Brahman further as Ma ChandraGhanta – channelling the Illumination of the Above through Her Moon Crown, and thence becoming, once married Ma as Kushmanda – HiranyaGarbha Incarnate and thus Brahman). Now, especially given the previously advanced logic that Mahadev is *also* Brahman – and therefore that Ma Marrying Him *again* represents Her (re-)Unification not only with Her Beloved Husband, but also with The Absolute … this, too, shows the importance of the MahaGauri form as the ‘Purified’ stage immediately pre-ceding the (re-)Union with the Absolute (whether Kushmanda or SiddhiDhatri, in this instance of the NavaDurga Processional).
Yet there are two very important elements yet to be discussed that go ‘deeper’ than this more ‘surface-level’ (perhaps ironical phrasing there) ‘narrative’ situation.
The first is the nature of the ‘impurities’ that are cleansed in order to attain the MahaGauri state. These are, in very real senses, ‘Attachments’, as well as the physical side of things. And one can quite feasibly reason that the ritual purifications inherent in the *actions* of bathing in the Sacred River, scrubbing one’s skin, removing dirt or .. er .. removing one’s own skin (with its blood-spatter considering the Aspect in Question Whose Skin It Was And Is – and consequentially, the setting aside of Weapons) etc. – these are ‘performative’ ‘echoes’, of the ‘spiritual purification’ going on within. Indeed, due to the occasionally indirect manner by which we must approach Sanskara matters, especially as mortals used to operating largely in the material plane … it can definitely be argued that the metaphysical resonance of these ‘performative actions’ is not merely symbolic – but rather, through the acts required to establish ritual purity in and with our bodies, not least due to the purposes to which we are applying these actions (i.e. respect and endeavouring to allow us to be closer to the Divine, righteousness, right-conduct in general) … they *also* reshape our minds, our metaphysical presence, our spirits, our soul.
Hence, the Example of MahaGauri is one to be followed in both senses: that of one’s exterior form bathing in the sacred river, so to speak (and maintaining cleanliness where possible and necessary, as appropriate), and that of attempting to maintain a ‘purified’ spirit (as necessary, possible, and appropriate – as the KaalRatri Aspect and other, associated tales shows (such as the legend of KaalBhairavJi’s necessary decapitation of Brahma), this is not always the right course of action and precedence *all the time*) *within* said form … ‘metaphorically’ Sacred River Bathing, so to speak? … they are *both* part and parcel of proper conduct.
Although, as we can see with the movement from KaalRatri to MahaGauri, as compared to the movement from ‘wilderness-flecked’ Brahmacharini to MahaGauri .. with greater attainment of spiritual understanding, potency, ‘enlightenment’ following the ongoing cultivation of the soul and one’s essence … the ‘direct’/’literal’ approach of the *exterior* (performative) actions aforementioned becomes less and less required in order to carry out the *inner* (transformative) actions required. After all, to accomplish the transition to ‘Gauri’ status, Brahmacharini must bathe in the Sacred River. Whereas KaalRatri (and, I suppose, MahaGauri Herself, given the form ‘hiding’ (‘veiled’) under the Kali Destroyer Aspect) is simply able to ‘will it’, so to speak – and Her Dark Skin sloughs off to reveal the Truth Inside. (This, not at all coincidentally, is a figurative rendering of ‘MahaGauri’ – for what can be more beautiful than the Truth).
But what are these ‘attachments’ aforementioned? Well, on one level, it is the necessary involvement (I repeat – *necessary*) and entanglement here in this mortal-material Universe of ours. Whether as Brahmacharini engaged in the practices of figures such as mortal ascetics (but also the AdiYogi, of course) up in the Himalayan Mountains (practices which do not affect Eternal Goddesses in the same way that they do mortal ascetics, especially once They (She) have ‘remembered’ Their (Her) True Nature 😛 ); or as KaalRatri engaged in the bloody business of demon-slaying, and battling here on the extant planes (inside-universe).
And on another level, it is the emotional ties – which, again, are vitally necessary, especially in the context of the NavaDurga Cycle. After all, to reference Terry Pratchett – “What would humans be without love?” “RARE”. So, too, with these ‘attachments’ of emotions on the part of the Goddess. The Love of Ma Parvati for MahaDev represents the impulse via which She returns to Him and sets the Universe back into Balance after it had been torn asunder via the Death of Sati and the subsequent effects upon Mahadev and the surrounding Cosmos. Without Love, in other words, She and He may not have reunified, especially as and when They did. Although ‘at the same time’ (in fact, earlier, as well as ‘omniwhen’), the passionate, questing, errant, *seeking* Love displayed by Parvati for Mahadev, that too gets Sublimated into something ‘higher’ through the course of the Brahmacharini-through-to-(MahaGauri)-Chandraghanta evolutionary progression. Had it remained as the hopeful ‘seeking’ ‘attachment’ (as in, both the ‘seeking’ of re-attachment to Mahadev, as well as the sense of this as an emotional attachment), it would have continued to bind Her in embroilment … whereas the unification with and realization of the Absolute, means that part is no longer necessary – the Eternal is what remains.
The other emotional tie in question is that emblematic and intrinsic to Ma as Kali – the great vengeance, the furious anger. This, without a ‘target’ to be affixed to and meted out upon, can only turn within … to self-destruction. Nietzsche – “in times of peace, the warlike man fights himself”. And this, too, is what we see (sadly) played out when Mother Kali in frenzy inadvertently attacks Lord Shiva – for just as They are two parts of the same Whole, (Ardhanarishvara), so too does that represent an implicit ‘self-destructive’ / ‘self-harming’ act.
The Worlds-Burning Anger of Kali, therefore, had *also* to be sublimated. For while it was necessary as the protective element, and will be necessary still further as the World-Cleanser at the End of Time .. it is a manifestation, a projection of the Absolute here into our universe. As a vital form of ‘self-protection’ against the threat to Dharma, to Rta, to the fabric of the Cosmos itself.
The Projection, however, is not the Absolute in its entirety. And ’embodying’ the Anger (for such Kali Is, amongst many, many other elements and truth(s)), especially if it is ‘all-consuming’, is an interference for many in *being* the Absolute (insofar as Brahman and ‘being’ even belong in the same sentence, particularly extra-universally speaking), not least because it is focus (and therefore, in a certain sense, ‘essence’) which keeps getting pulled back to concerns *inside* the Universe (i.e. righteous combat against various demons) rather than its implicit transcension .
[Although I do maintain that the converse is also true – that the transition between Katyayani and KaalRatri represents, further, Anger in its escalation, as a pathway *to* the Absolute, for Kali is also regarded as the Absolute, as Shakti; however, I shall refrain from elaborating upon this point in order to perhaps expand upon it at some future time … 😀 ]
The much more ‘calm’ and ‘beatific’ (in both, possibly three senses of the term) demeanour and visage of MahaGauri, then, represents the overcoming of these emotional ‘attachments’, en route to SiddhiDhatri, and/or to Unification with Mahadev (in the context of their Marriage and what it symbolizes; not least for and to Them).
However, there is yet a further sense by which MahaGauri is symbolic of the movement toward and the ‘purification’ necessary on the way to The Absolute.
I mentioned toward the start of this piece, the fact that MahaGauri appears, so to speak, ‘twice’ within the NavaRatri Mythic Cycle – with one of these being, arguably, somewhat ‘out of Chronological order’, and the other being immediately following KaalRatri. These are no coincidences.
For think about what “Kali” represents, what ‘Kaal’ means (well, *one* particular element in both, I mean). “Time”.
That is to say, the realization of the Absolute (indeed, the process of ‘realization’ inherent in moving from illusion to truth, from darkness to light – to reference a certain Upanishad … which also entails moving from death [also Kaal] to immortality – the Eternal) implicitly requires the transcension of Time. Time also stands, here, for, so to speak “space-time” – that is to say, existence within the universe with both its time-stream as well as the fact that, to quote Fight Club, on a long enough time-line everybody’s survival rate drops to zero. (Some might read the subtext there, in this Hindu context, as a hopeful note 😛 )
Thus we should find it of no suprise for the MahaGauri Aspect of Mata JI to ‘turn up’, as and when required, ‘out of Time’ in terms of its natural and ordinary flow, as well as immediately following the transcension through KaalRatri.
Because she is, in a very real sense, to reference a certain controversial thinker’s typology – a (Wo)Man Above Time. (It is an open exercise in speculation, I suppose, as to whether Ma as KaalRatri would therefore represent a (Wo)Man *Against* Time, as well … due to standing against the rising, onrushing tide of demonic filth and representing the armed arm of the prior virtuous age *as well as* the Eternal (the ‘All-Time’), and the Outside Time, Who Shall End It)
So with all of that in mind … it should come as no especial surprise that we invoke the example of Ma as MahaGauri, for Her beatitude and grace, Her facility with the purification of the soul and the body and the essence and the spirit, Her Charity and Love for Her Children – for this, too, is from the Eternal; and represents a warm response to the tribulations of life which we may get ourselves bound up and entangled within, and which thus require Sublimation within this glorious White Light lest they unconceivably (to us, anyway – trapped in the middles thereof) hinder us upon our ongoing journeys of cultivation, development and enlightenment.
Iconographically, Ma as MahaGauri both recalls a number of previous Aspects of the NavaDurgas – in particular Ma as Shailaputri (Whom She is occasionally regarded as a perhaps younger iteration of), as well as Ma as Brahmacharini – as well as subtly hinting at being a ‘furtherance’ from either.
She is depicted with Hands in both Abhaya and Varada Mudra, as well as bearing the Trishula and a Damaru in Her other Hands. Now, this is especially interesting – for almost always the Trishula and Damaru are to be depicted Together! And, as noted in last night’s KaalRatri posting, where They are to be separated, this is something very profound – namely, with the Trishula standing for the Eternal, the Empowerment, the Divine, Regal, (Adi) Shakti .. and the Damaru as the Universe – with its Time, regulated by the flow of beats from same … this is therefore a ‘decoupling’ of the Two. A subtle yet important reminder that ultimately, the Eternal is indeed ‘beyond’ Universe. And that the ‘regulation’ of the Universe is not (although it *is* affixed to .. when the Universe is ‘in bloom’ – which MahaGauri may be represented as *beyond*, in terms of ‘time’) the Eternal Rule – directly speaking, anyway. Although the regulation of our universe, the enforcement of its maintenance, may very well be carried out with this most fearsome Weapon representing the grand, supra-divine, Rta Rule. The Trishula’s ensign significance as the emblem of Mahadev and of Rulership throughout the Three Worlds and mastery of the forces of Creation (the three qualities, inter alia) as well as Destruction, is also pertinent here – not least because of the implicit symbology of all of these as ‘the same’ , especially as it happens within the Hands of the ETERNAL MA.
(And, in any case, the Trishula – with Its fearsome and formidable powers of potentially universal annihilation – this, too, represents Purification. For after all, the erasure of all that is ‘delusion’ or ‘illusion’ in the sense of having contingent existence or no real existence at all … will leave only the Eternal. The destruction, the unmaking, the MahaPralaya of the Universe, then, is the ultimate act of Purification – as obliquely noted in the commentary upon Ma Kali as presented last night. Although it is also worth noting that in Her Hands here, this is held in abeyance (bilingual pun there) by Ma MahaGauri. (Even despite the separation of Damaru and Trishula, which might perhaps cause one a momentary panic of thinking the End of the World had been and gone, leaving us trapped here after the Twilight of the Gods in some sort of utterly interminable ‘hangover-morning’ .. metaphysically speaking..).).
The Damaru may also, via its own internal paradox, speak to the nature of MahaGauri and indeed Shakti – as the Damaru, via its dhagad-dhagad-dhagad beat, symbolizes the flow and regularity of time *within* the Universe, directing even Gods as the beat informs a Dancer (well, two of Them, at least 😛 ) – but is also, simultaneously, a *ritual implement*. That is to say, an important part of the processes by which we may ‘encounter’ the Divine, the Eternal – and therefore ‘step outside’ (or the Eternal may ‘step in’ within that Sacred Space thus created by the drum-skin and the drum-beat’s bounds and resonance, especially with in our minds conditioned and re-calibrated by same) the temporal. Just as MahaGauri Is. “To be *in* the World, yet not *of* the World”, indeed.
She is also very much depicted in association with the colour White – which in addition to the emblematic value of ‘purity’ and ‘purification’ from dirt or ‘darkness’ or attachment (hence partially why (mortal) Widows may also tend toward wearing White – for their ‘attachment’ to their husbands is now a thing of the past, sundered via the almost indisputable and occasionally seemingly incessant Blade of Mortality; and not always easily stayed even via the best wishes of and supplication to Its Holy Wielder(s)) on these values’ own terms (insofar as ‘purification’ as a process can be understood sans both That Which Is To Be Purified and That Which Must Be Burned/Washed/Scrubbed/Sloughed/Sundered Away), also represents the contrast with Ma as Kali that signifies the (not so much ‘ongoing’ as that implies ‘within the timestream’ , as ‘Eternal’) transcension of Time. Time, after all, is “the Fire in which we burn”. And therefore – in a manner similar to how the Fire, when it has subsided, leaves potent white ash (‘Vibhuti’ – which also means ‘power’ … which we see in Sanskrit as … 😀 ) from the burning away of something’s perceived ‘impurities’, so too may MahaGauri be thought of.
The White Bull, as well, recalls Shiva and Nandi (i.e. the Unity, the Absolute), and in addition to representing the conveyance of one blessed and on the ascension (as we saw with Shailaputri’s path into the (higher) Mountains in pursuit of MahaDeva), also recalls Ma as Shailaputri for the purpose of showing the ‘circular’ shape of the NavaDurga Mythic Cycle. Which, although it is not a ‘closed loop’, is perhaps better ‘visualized’ (other than with these lovely depictions of Each NavaDurga I’v been posting, of course!) as something of a ‘helicase’, a ‘spiral’ – that is ‘circular’ in two-dimensions, yet when considered in three, winds ‘around’ but also in so doing so, progresses on an inexorable pathway ‘upward’.
Although, of course, if one were to view it *four-dimensionally* or more (that is to say, not just in the sense of viewing it unfolding ‘in time’ in front of one .. somehow – as it is an achingly slow process, some might argue, dependent upon one’s perspective and ‘attachment-immersion’ within Time; but also with the ‘pathway’ of Time mapped as well, and therefore re-intersecting out of ‘three-dimensional’ order, so to speak, functioning according to its own ‘deeper’ logic and (no doubt,) spiraliform existence ..); then further patterns emerge. Especially when, as is somewhat pictographically represented with yesterday’s exquisitely beautiful murti Ma Kali as this *also* intersects with The Infinite, the Eternal, Shakti ‘unbound’, ‘unfettered’, ‘unmanifested’ as the Lingodbhava running through the Cosmos an the Dimensions, so to speak.
In any case, She is Most Beautiful (MahaGauri); and Bounteous in Her Charity, via the expressed desire for relief from these shackles upon us, which She can grant, upon the road upwards, ever upwards, via Shuddh. For just as Mata KALI is the Supreme Liberator … so, too, is MahaGauri. And arguably in a more ‘easy’ and ‘equitable’ pathway for those not necessarily capable or willing to manifest the Omnicidal Rage as a tool to transcend the Universe (in either sense – that of transcension in the sense of ‘escape’ or ‘endurance’ … or of destruction until nothing remains *except* the Eternal – That Which *IS*) . .
Onwards, Upwards, as the rising smoke from the ‘purification’ pyre, and as the rising heat energy from the sacrificial Havan is a conduit to DevaLoka …
… to SiddhiDhatri. Perfection. Shakti (Incarnate).
ॐ देवी महागौर्यै नम