Random Meditations Through Her 1,000 Names - III 

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jul 20, 2018 03:22 PM +05:30 IST
Random Meditations Through Her 1,000 Names - III Durga slaying Mahishasura, Mahabalipuram (Amritamitraghosh/Wikimedia Commons) 
Snapshot
  • The first two names portray her as the creator and the preserver, and the third represents the apparent pain that accompanies the dissolution of the universe.

Read part one and part two here.

She is the queen seated on the auspicious lion-throne - Srimat Simhasaneswari.

Seated on the lion, she slayed Mahisha. The lion is both her mount and her throne. For the grammarian, the root of the word simha is himsa or pain. It is a reverse anagram of himsa. So here, she is the apparent pain that accompanies the dissolution of the universe at the end of the cosmic cycle.

Taken together, the first three names form a whole. The element of creation is brought out in the first name, Srimata. She is the creatrix. The second name, Sri Maharajni, brings forth the benevolent sustainer. She sustains life and protects all existence. The third name, Srimat Simhasaneswari, highlights her fierce form. She dissolves all creation. Thus it is she, the basic functional Triune goddess, who conducts the archetypal processes on which the universe runs.

Goddess seated on the lionpthrone and, right, goddess with lion as her throne.
Goddess seated on the lionpthrone and, right, goddess with lion as her throne.

The oldest image of the goddess seated on lion or feline guarded throne comes from Anatolia. It was a neolithic settlement slowly transforming into what can be considered as 'proto-city'. According to archaeologists, this lasted between the mid seventh to mid sixth millennium BCE - almost a 1,000 years. We do not know its original name. Today, it is called Catal Huyuk. It is here that we get the oldest image of the goddess sitting on a throne flanked by lions or feline animals.

On a sculpted terracotta figurine of just around 12 cm, there are some amazing details, as are shown in the image below. She has prominent pendulous breasts - breasts of the mother given out for suckling. At the same time, she is shown in the process of giving birth. It is remarkable that a terracotta figurine found in distant Anatolia that shows the goddess as lion-seated, should combine in its imagery all the three aspects, which the first three names of the goddess depict in Sri Lalitha Sahasranama.

Goddess of Catal Huyuk in lion throne: 8000 BCE. Also note the bull horns are associated with temple. Both form a part of the iconography of Hindu goddess <i>Mahishasuramardini</i>.
Goddess of Catal Huyuk in lion throne: 8000 BCE. Also note the bull horns are associated with temple. Both form a part of the iconography of Hindu goddess Mahishasuramardini.

It will be tempting here to say that the Catal Huyuk image should have come from India. It is historically almost impossible. But the truth may be even more fascinating. The independent emergence of the goddess’ imagery as the Great Mother sitting on the (lion) throne in distant Anatolia in 8,000 BCE, shows how fundamental the goddess is to the human psyche in its understanding of the universe.

She was, however, lost to the Western world subsequently. Today, she exists in all her glory only in India - preserved, nurtured and diversified into thousand and one more names and forms. So irrespective of where she originated - and for her devotee, any place she emerges from is home- she is celebrated in India. Another reason why preserving the Hindu culture and spirituality is actually preserving the culture and spirituality of lost traditions of all humanity.

In the Tamil epic Silappatikaram (probably third-fourth century CE) the heroine Kannagi comes to the Pandya king’s court seeking justice. The king had done grave injustice to her by killing her husband without proper investigation. When the poet described the scene, he speaks of the king ascending his lion-adorned throne with the goddess of auspiciousness with him. In fact, the poet uses an ambiguous term that suggests that the goddess was with him while also meaning that the goddess was leaving him. As the king realises that he had done injustice, he laments, collapses from the throne and dies.

The Hindu tradition is replete with stories of the goddess residing with royal insignia, including the crown, umbrella or the throne and with stories that she leaves once injustice is committed by the king. In the popular legend of Vikramaditya, the throne itself was worshipped before the king ascended it.

The belief that the throne is a symbol of the goddess of prosperity who nourishes the king is an imagery that is also found in ancient Egypt. In Egypt 'the image of a high-backed throne was both the hieroglyph of the name Isis and rested upon the head of the goddess'. King Seti I (1323-1279 BCE) is shown sitting upon ‘the lap of the goddess Isis, whose body and the throne of Egypt are one and the same.’ There is a 2000-year continuity here as Anne Baring and Jules Cashford imply in their 1991 work, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.

King Seth-I on the throne as the lap of the goddess: note the horned solar disc. In popular Indic tradition the throne of King Vikramaditya had in it celestial maidens who would not allow anyone not as dharmic as Vikramaditya to sit on the throne.
King Seth-I on the throne as the lap of the goddess: note the horned solar disc. In popular Indic tradition the throne of King Vikramaditya had in it celestial maidens who would not allow anyone not as dharmic as Vikramaditya to sit on the throne.

What is interesting is that the goddess who is the throne is also the divine cow. She wears a headdress of cow horns enclosing a sun disk. Such a goddess on a throne with a humped bovine has been found in a Harappan artifact as well. Informally called the ‘cow boat’, this artifact in the collection of a private collector shows a goddess figurine seated on throne with two humped bovines on both sides. In one paper on the artifact, she is simply called as the 'lady of the spiked throne'. In the central part of the artifact, there are four couples sitting alternately. The total number of male and female attendants of the goddess arranged in couples and as singles, and their placement, suggest that the artifact depicts 'the goddess and her entourage'.

However, it needs a deeper study from a Hindu point of view, which may solve many mysteries surrounding it. For example, in the centre of the artifact of the enthroned goddess are four rows of male and female figurines. Bhaskararaya, in his commentary on the Sri Lalitha Sahasranama (translated into English by R Anathakrishna Sastry) points out with regards to the third name that there are eight mantras called Simhasana from Caitanyabhairavi to Sampatpradabhairavi. Are we seeing a Harappan continuity here? We do not know.

The bull throne goddess in the Harappan artifact (second millennium BCE) and bull riding goddess Maha Gauri - present day Hinduism. The solar symbolism of both bull and lion connect them.
The bull throne goddess in the Harappan artifact (second millennium BCE) and bull riding goddess Maha Gauri - present day Hinduism. The solar symbolism of both bull and lion connect them.

Did the solar cow of the throne of the goddess of Egypt fuse with the goddess as imagined here in India. In her study on Durga, Indologist Dr Chitralekha Singh says, “the golden skinned hairy lion” is indeed “an archetypal symbol for the golden rayed sun" and the bull with its horns being like the crescent moon connect the imagery to the night. This again connects to the 8,000 years old site of Catal Huyuk, where the goddess in the lion seat and the buffalo horns formed a close association.

She, as Srimat Simhasaneswari, is then:

  • the goddess who dissolves the Universe at the end of each cosmic cycle;
  • the goddess who is enthroned in the lion-throne.
  • the goddess of all thrones - steering them in the path of dharma and punishing those who deviate.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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