The Goddess And The Moon: Meditations On Kartika Poornima

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Nov 9, 2022 06:50 PM +05:30 IST
The Goddess And The Moon: Meditations On Kartika PoornimaThe association of the Goddess with moon—the crescent moon, full moon and the new moon—existed in all cultures and civilisations but found its full expression in India.
  • A discussion on the names of the Goddess in 'Sri Lalita Sahasranama' which use the lunar imagery to describe Her grace and compassion.

The Sun is almost exactly as much times wider than the moon as much as the latter is away from the sun. This results in a happy, aesthetic coincidence for us humans, one of the many species on Earth whose natural satellite moon is.

One should remember that we are not only just one of the many countless species that appear and disappear on this planet but we are also relatively new comers.

The human species is also a species of Religion.

We as a species seek noumenal experiences and have them. To a very large extent they shape and have shaped for millennia our histories and civilisations.

Whatever the civilisation, the greatest civilisational achievements have been mostly of religious nature.

The wonderful experience of the Sun and moon for our species resonated with its own brain structure of two hemispheres.

Many religious concepts, rituals and astro-theological Puranas and mythologies evolved around the celestial motion of these apparent pairs – Sun and the moon.

Prof. Subhash Kak explains this phenomenon beautifully:

Distance between Earth and Sun is 108 times Sun-diameter. Distance between Earth and Moon is 108 times Moon-diameter, and, most remarkably diameter of the Sun is 108 times the Earth diameter. The knowledge of the first two by the Indians shouldn’t surprise, because these can be calculated by anyone without the need for any instruments. ... I don’t believe the Indians knew the third fact, that is the Sun is 108 times as large as the Earth, because there is no evidence of it in the old astronomy texts. Since Indian thought takes the outer cosmology to be mirrored in the inner cosmology of the human, the number 108 is also taken to represent the distance from the man’s body to the consciousness within.

Of these two prominent celestial objects, the moon is also enigmatic through its cycles.

From the very early days the humans noticed the cycle of the moon being intimately connected with ecological cycles, tidal movements, physiological and psychological cycles.  

Anne Baring and ‎Jules Cashford, historians searching for the Goddess religion within Western traditions, who approach the subject from a Joseph Campbell point of view, provide an interesting perspective of the emergence of Goddess association with the cycles of the moon.

This is worth quoting in detail:

In the rhythmical phases of light and darkness the Palaeolithic tribes must have seen a pattern of growing and decaying endlessly renewed, and this would have given them trust in life. In the waxing of the moon they would have felt life growing and felt the growth of their own lives. In the full moon they may have marvelled at the increase of life that overflowed into new life.
In the waning moon they would have mourned the withdrawal of life, the departure of the goddess; and in the darkness of the lost moon they would have longed for her and her light to return.
With the passage of time, they must have come to trust in the reappearance of the crescent moon, and so to recognize darkness as the time of waiting before the resurgence of new life. … Everything that existed, including themselves, was an expression of the Goddess. Everything, therefore, was an image that confirmed their relationship to her. Out of this ability to experience life imaginally arose the inexhaustible creativity of humanity.

The association of the Goddess with moon—the crescent moon, full moon and the new moon—existed in all cultures and civilisations. A primordial Darshana with which the planet’s celestial situation blessed our relatively young species.

But it was destined that the blessing would find its full expression, and all its variety, only in India.

In most cultures Her temples were destroyed. Her devotees were killed. She Herself was appropriated and changed into an intermediary between the believers and a 'male jealous god'. In India, the Goddess association with the moon continues to be celebrated in all its splendour and diversity.

Sri Lalita Sahasranama brings out this association beautifully.

The Goddess arises from the fire pit. The fire is no ordinary fire. It is Chit-Agni. That is what the very fourth name says.

And as we proceed, each of Her feature as it emerges out of the fire, gets described for our meditation.

She is bright as a thousand Suns. The description goes on. Her weapons with which She fights our inner battle for liberation; Her radiance engulfs all existence; Her hair and the flowers in it; Her crown resplendent with wonderful gems and then comes Her forehead.

One should remember that even before Her forehead the names have spoken about all Her engulfing radiance and the dazzling light of thousand Suns. If so, then how can anyone even see Her face? It should be dazzling like millions if not zillions of suns! But what a wonderful contrast!

Ashtameechandra Vibhrajadalikasthala Shobhita

Her forehead is so cool and soothing. It is the comforting maternal light of the eighth day of the lunar cycle as the moon grows towards the full moon. It is an auspicious crescent moon and it is the moon that comforts rather than dazzles.

This name shows Her compassion. She is beyond all understanding and in Her full glory She is the mystery of unmeasurable light that human tools of cognition can never comprehend. But She allows Herself to be comprehended with the soothing light of the eighth-day waxing moon.

The sixteenth verse of Abhirami Anthathi by Abhirami Pattar (born Subramaniya Iyer, 18th century) brings out this aspect of the Goddess – comprehensibility.

You are the flame of consciousness as well as the lamp where it shines, says the poet, and You are the primordial emptiness from where expanded the physical universe and it is a wonder as well as a mystery that You have allowed yourself to become measurable for our tools of cognition.

The dazzling of the thousand Suns surrounding Her becomes in Her forehead the cool soothing light of the eighth day crescent moon. The universe becomes comprehensible to our equations.

The tradition associated with the Pattar itself is connected to moon. When the king asked about the day of the lunar calendar, Pattar immersed in the bliss of the light of the face of Goddess said that it was full moon day whereas it was actually new moon day.

Realising what he had done, the Pattar burst into the hymn that is Abhirami Anthathi.

The Goddess threw Her own ear-ring and made the king and the court see the full moon on a new moon day. The tradition symbolises perhaps through the grace of the Goddess, the acceptance of the spiritual experience as encompassing the physical existence.

The crescent moon is also Indu. It is exactly with this association of Indu – giving soothing light to all humanity, all nations and all ethnicities – that this nation was called 'Indu', wrote Buddhist monk and Chinese pilgrim to Bharat Hieun Tsang.

That the same imagery with the same resonance is given in Sri Lalita Sahasranama shows that it is She who also manifests as this land – Bharat Mata!  

The moon comparison continues into the next Name. The musk dot on Her face is the dark spot on the moon- Mukhachandra-kalangkabha-mruganabhiviseshaka.

Then as if related to the latter-day tradition of Her ear-ring becoming the moon, another Name says that the sun and the moon are Her ear-rings- Tatankayugalibhuta tapanodupamandala.

From the cycle of the moon we situate Her now in the annual cycle. 

The 129th name worships Her as having the face of the full moon of the Sarat – autumnal season- Saratchandra-nibhanana. The vision of Her full moon-face gives happiness and peace.

Then in name 239 She is called Chandravidya. Chandra is one of the twelve primordial practitioners of Sri Vidya

Then the 240th name calls Her Chandra-mandala-madhyaga.

Here the Chandramandala is the internalised astro-symbolism in full bloom. 

In Yogic imagery, the thousand petalled flower is the peak to which Kundalini, the coiled serpent power arises. She is the power and She is also there in every crucial node of the power-path.

Kundalini is the bliss that is the inherent right of all. All pleasure-seeking at physical levels is the faint shadow of the real quest for Kundalini realisation.

Self-actualisation itself is a glimpse of that seeking. What Carl Jung calls individuation comes nearer to the Kundalini-realisation.

The realisation of Kundalini is an inherent gift in all. She does not discriminate.

As Veer Savarkar explained, the bliss that comes from Sahasradhara belongs to all, all religions, all races, all gender and atheists too. The discovery of Kundalini – the bliss and transcendence of Sahasradhara and all creative movements whether art, science or religion, as the manifestation of this quest is the greatest gift of India to the world.

She is in the middle of that Sahasradhara which is Chandramandala. It is also the Sri Chakra.

She is in the full moon as much as She is in the crescent moon. The next Names sing that. She is Charuroopa (241), Charuhasa (242) and Charuchandra-kaladhara (243).

She has the beautiful form of Charu – without waxing and waning. She has the smile of Charu and She wears this permanent crescent moon.

The crescent moon is today associated with Islam and Islamism. Incidentally that crescent moon imagery was directly taken from the pagan Goddess tradition.

Author Edgar Williams in his book Moon: Nature and Culture writes:

The adoption of the crescent Moon is believed to have begun when the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. Before the city fell the crescent Moon was displayed ubiquitously, representing the moon goddess Diana, the city’s patron. The crescent Moon was adapted to symbolize this great Ottoman victory. Eventually, however, it became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire and Islam.

Thus, the Goddess with Her moon symbolism appears even in places where human arrogance and ignorance deny Her.

Then again in the 314th Name, Her face is described as the Full Moon -  Rakendu-vadana.

Why should She be like the Moon – why not be just radiant and all light with no soothe? Well. We are already getting burnt through three fires of pain.

Adhyatmikam - disturbances and pain that arises from our sense organs, our wandering mind, our anger and our pride and our lust.

The association with the lesser selves always bring suffering and pain. They burn us.

Then ours is a physical body. The laws of the physical universe apply to us. That naturally means physical pain and diseases for the body. This is Adhi-boutikam.

While Adhyatmikam is something where we may have near-complete control, in Adhi-bhoutikam we may have significant quasi-control.

From changing life-style to conscious breathing, eating and sleeping, we can avoid not entirely but quite largely the pain and suffering.

Then there are natural disasters and accidents. We cannot avoid them. That is Adhi-Daivikam. Almost all human beings have suffering from these three sufferings. They cause pain and the fires of pain from these three categories are already burning us.

So, a human needs soothing nurturing light – not a light that also burns. She provides that light and that is why Her light is compared to the moon.

Light symbolizes knowledge. That light also can be soothing or burning. All knowledge is Her light.

Now consider the knowledge of near-earth objects that may at any point of time crash into earth and can create species destruction. This is the fire of Adhi-Daivikam.

So, one day or other we may meet the fate of dinosaurs. This knowledge should make us as a species despair and discourage us in any creative pursuit. But the knowledge gives us hope and comfort in the form of DART technology also. That knowledge is a comforting light.

That comes from Her – as the consciousness which provides impetus to all creative pursuits in science, technology and art.

Pandemic is Adhi-Daivikam. But Her face is the knowledge of vaccines. Craving for unhealthy food leads to Adhi-bhoutikam suffering. Restraint and setting in proper lifestyle is the light of Her knowledge.

Control of senses and intellect and removal of lust, hatred and anger is Her grace and Her light.

Racism, xenophobia and casteism which create hatred and suffering are all Adhyatimkam. Here the Adhyatimka is Krodha or hate-filled anger and with Akara or knowledge this hatred could be vanquished.

This was demonstrated in our own times when Richard Lewontin revealed racial differences as more falsehood than truth.

Thus, in all the three pains She as the soothing moon light of knowledge and psychological-spiritual comfort provides us relief and solace. That exactly is the 357th Name of the Goddess Taptatrayagni samptapta samahladana chandrika.

Then there is yet another moon connection that the Sahasranama brings.

The 403rd Name is ‘Mahakameswaranayana kumudhahladakaumudi’.

Siva is the great Yogi eternally immersed in deep meditation. Kama is the god who stirs in all life forms the movements of libido and then accelerates these movements into avalanches of passion.

When he shot his arrows at Siva, the great Lord of Yogis – Yogeeswara Siva burnt Kama with His third eye. But Siva later became Kameswara. From the form of the mendicant Yogi of hard austerities He took the form that would elicit in all desire.

This is the desire that arises after the stirring of worldly desires was burnt to ashes. This is the desire for liberation. This is the spiritual seeking – the desire to experience truth.

To evoke in all life forms this desire for truth and liberation, Siva assumes the form of Kameswara. Still you need Kama to stir in the life forms the love for Siva. But Kama has been burnt.

Hence, the Goddess becomes the medicinal power that brings back to life Kama who has been burnt by the eyes of Siva - Hara nethragni sandhagdha  kama sanjeevanoushadhi (Name 84).

Now that the physical desires have been burnt, the same Kama becomes instrument for stirring the spiritual quest. This is a profound psychological truth.

The grace of the Divine Feminine resurrects the Kama burnt by Yoga and transforms now into Bhakti towards Siva. And who makes the hardened, tough Yogeeswara flower into adorable handsome Kameswara? The eyes of the Goddess do that. They act as the full moon of the Kartik month and gladdens the water lilies that are the eyes of Siva.  

The Names 403 and 84 resonate with each other. Siva opens His eyes and the fire burns Kama. Sri Lalita becomes the medicine for resurrecting Kama – with Kama of worldly desires burnt by Maha Tapasvi Siva, the Kama that Maha Devi resurrects is the Kama for spiritual enlightenment.

This superficially-opposing but complementary aspect of Siva and Sakti is told by none other than Siva Himself in Siva Purana when He declares thus to Parvati that while He resides in the middle of the Fire, Devi resides in the middle of the lunar disc.

Such are the Names of the Goddess in Sri Lalita Sahasranama which use the lunar imagery and symbolism with spiritual aesthetics to make us feel Her compassion and Her readiness to liberate us.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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