Mahishasuramardini. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • She animates all material world, and all the representations of it in rituals, while at the same time transcending them.

You can read the previous parts of the series through this link.

Shruti-seemantha-sindoori-krutha-padapja-dhoolika — the one whose feet's dust particles form the vermilion mark at the parting of the hair on the head of the veda (here considered a woman Veda Mata).

Inside a forest in south India, almost 2,000 years ago if not more, a Shamanic woman stood before a community of forest dwellers. As the musical instruments played, accompanied by chants, she went into a trance an altered state of consciousness.

Then she started blessing the people and telling them ways to mend their lives. The tribal community assembled there starts singing the praise of the goddess.

Tradition says that Illango Adigal was a prince who renounced his crown to avoid unnecessary competition. Silapathikaram, the first epic of Tamil language, records the event. The epic was composed 1,800 years ago.

The goddess that the tribal community adores is the goddess who killed the wild buffalo demon. Now, she stands on his head, a wild buffalo head. She had skinned an elephant and uses its hide to shroud herself. She had skinned a tiger and was wearing its skin around her waist.

The tribal chant continued.

She is the one whom the celestials worship. She is the all-permeating flame of wisdom that towers over the scriptures.

Covering the body with the elephant hide
Tiger skin adorning your hips
On the wild buffalo head dark, You stand
You whom the celestials worship
You stand on the Scripture as the Scripture of Scriptures
The all permeating flame of wisdom

That is a pervasive, profound image the goddess, the divine feminine the one who becomes the consciousness that is in each and every being, she stands on the scriptures. Just like the yogi sitting cross-legged is a profound image India created long ago, verily so India also created this image of divine feminine standing on the scriptures.

In his Saundaryalahari (Waves of Beauty) Adi Shankara speaks of the dust on the feet of the goddess and also the feet of the goddess on top of the exalted vedic scriptures.

In Sri Lalita Sahasranama, the 289th name is "Shruti seemantha sindoori krutha padapja toolika" the one whose feet’s dust particles form the vermilion mark at the parting of the hair on the head of the veda (here considered a woman – veda mata).

The tradition of applying vermilion at the parting of the hair has been handed down to us from the ancient past.

Excavating at Nausharo, a Harappan site in Balochistan, archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer discovered female terracotta figurines dated 2800-2600 BCE "with the traces of red pigment at the parting of the hair, exactly as Indian married women today apply sindoor".

So this traditional imagery of a woman is applied to the vedas. The goddess — the experience of consciousness in its entirety as divine feminine, has her feet on the vedas, and this shows that the scriptures cannot contain her. They may show the way but no scripture is the only way.

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For she is unimaginably beyond the scriptures.

The image is so deep rooted in Hindu civilisational genius.

The eighteenth century Shaktic Tamil poet-seer Abirami Bhattar in his celebrated Abirami Anthaathi praises her feet with the same imagery.

She stands on the four vedas which sing the praise of her feet constantly (verse 60). Her lotus feet have even turned a darker shade of red because they dance on the vedic scriptures (verse 71).

While the common religious tendency is to contain the divine within the scripture of one’s own religion, India alone subordinated the scriptures to the experience of the divine. Vedas are then perhaps the only books that lead the seeker to the point where the vedas themselves become irrelevant at the attainment of the experience of "Tat Tvam Asi”.

It is in this sense and in this sense alone that Indian culture is essentially vedic. It is not in the theological sense of monopolistic faiths.

So, when one says vedas are the foundation of Indian culture, she means not in the way a Christian Bible or an Islamic Quran is the basis of a theocratic state.

The use of the term ‘dust’ is significant here too.

In Saundaryalahari, Bhagavatpada states that Brahma gathers the tiniest speck of dust on her lotus-like feet to create the universe while Vishnu carries them with much effort in his thousand heads while Hara destroying the worlds again gets the dust of her feet with which he covers his body (verse 2).

Again Adi Shankara states that "the foremost parts of the Vedas wear as a crest-bud", her feet (verse 84).

T Subrahmanya Sastri and T R Srinivasa Ayyangar in their commentary (1937) relate this to the cosmologies of two important darshanas of Hindu dharma.

According to Kannada of the Vaiseshika Darshana and Akshapada of the Nyaya Darshana, the world is made up of the primary atoms. They say:

Such a conception of the order of creation should not be considered as a mere surmise of the poet, as it is the fact that the Paramanu (of the Devi’s feet) is the prime- cause of the creation of the world that forms the basis of their theory. The worlds — both animate and inanimate.

This association is interesting because while ancient Greeks also had the concept of atoms, the distinction between them perhaps comes from this understanding of the primal particles being a very very small manifestation of a deeper reality.

What late physicist Dr George Sudarshan said about these 'atoms' actually makes the picture even more profound.

When one wants to explain "the laws of chemistry and certain of the laws of spectroscopy" with atoms, the modern field theory sees objects as "complexions of an underlying entity which itself is never directly perceived".

Dr Sudarshan points out that "as in the Vaisesika system, tradition has it that they have to be given potentials and potentialities". So he concludes that "the atoms that the Vaisesika theorists expounded are more akin to chemical atoms than the sterile Greek atoms”.

It is in the context of this conception of the particles with respect to cosmology that now we can look at this name again.

Vedic ritual itself is the re-enactment of this cosmic process and reinforcement as well as reassertion of Rta through the ritual. Saroja Bhate et al in their study of Srushti-Stiti-Samhara in the darshanas and their manifestation in rituals and art, point out:

Srushti, Sthiti and Samhara constitute a triad which alludes to a ceaseless process of creation, maintenance and dissolution and the cycle begins anew. ... Many rituals are re-enactment of this process of creation, maintenance and dissolution. The Vedic ritual of the yajna where the sala and the altars are made and razed after performance, correspond to the Durga Puja in Eastern India and Mudiyettu in Kerala where images are made, worshipped and immersed signify the process of Srushti, Sthiti and Samhara.

So the vedic ritual components in a way represent the dynamics of sacred materialism related to the physical universe.

Vedic ritual not only bestows sacredness to the material universe at one level, at another level people perform the rituals seeking material benefits. And rituals essential as they are in one form or the other to human species, also have the inherent tendency to create power structures and positions of authority.

These can well become an impediment to realise her who stands above the scriptural conceptions and ritual authority.

What then the name implies is that she transcends this ritual representation of sacred materialism of the physical universe while still all these dynamics are well animated by her — in fact, a fraction of her incomprehensible infinite effulgence.

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