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Devi Ambā: The Goddess with the Lion

How we are free in a world of natural laws and order is one of the deepest mysteries of our lives. The Vedas provide a subtle resolution which is hinted in terms of riddles and paradoxes, which for some means nothing but other learn to understand by reasoning and spiritual practice.

One of these riddles is Goddess Durgā who rides a lion. If you look at the image you will call it idol worship but it encapsulates the answer to our mystery.

The image of the goddess with the lion represents both the free-wheeling Nature, which evolves by natural law (ṛta), as well as the control of it by higher agency. In the domain of human life, Nature is the complex of the instincts that is epitomized by the freedom of the mount. Yet, the Goddess by virtue of the power of the spirit, quite like the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi of Vedanta (consciousness controlling the physical world, which has the analog of observation guiding physical process in quantum theory) is able to command the beast and make it do what she wants. The symbolism is thus informed by deep Vedic insights.

In the Devī Sūkta, Ṛgveda 10.125, the Goddess proclaims: “I am the sovereign queen of all existence …I bend the bow for Rudra; I pervade the heaven and earth.” Goddess Durgā is also called Ambikā, or in short just Ambā (Mother), or Devi Ambā.

The Śrī Sūkta gives several other names of the Goddess including Ārdrā (“of the waters” in ŚS 13), and she is compared to the moon illumined by the sun. Indeed, it is the light (the illuminating self behind the observation) that makes her auspicious (ŚS 8). The Ārdrā reference is to creation emerging out of the womb of the primal waters.

In a previous essay I spoke of the Sogdians of Central Asia, who for centuries controlled the trade on the Silk Road. With their center in Samarkand and Bukhara, until 1000 CE, this helped them spread their religion and art from the eastern corner of Asia to the edge of Danube in Europe. Their language, which became correspondingly influential, has much affinity with Sanskrit, as was the case also with the languages of Khotan to the east.

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