Hymns to the Goddess, by John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), , at sacred-texts.com
THE Goddess or Devī (as the Hindus call Her) is God (as the Western worshippers address Him) in Its Mother aspect. The latter not uncommonly deem such attribution of feminine quality to be "heathenish"; but this condemnation (for the criticism has, of course, this intendment) is itself singularly foolish in that it is thereby implied that of two sets of terms (neither of which is in its strict sense applicable to the Deity as the Author of forms), one is, in fact, a more correct description than the other. In the Navaratneśvara it is said: "That Devī, who is existence, consciousness, and bliss, should be thought of as a female or as a male, or as pure Brahman. In reality, however, She is neither male nor neuter (that is to say, that She is not bound to any particular form)." No one contends that the Brahmatattva in the supreme abode beyond appearances is masculine as opposed to feminine, or the latter as contrasted with the former. Like all else in this matter, words are but the babbling endeavour of our plane to express that which is above it. It is not easy, then, to explain the condemnation except upon the assumption that those who pronounce it think their mother's sex to be inferior to their own, and that thus Deity is unworthily described by any other terms than those of masculine excellence. But Hindus, who ever place the name of mother before that of father, and to whom garbha dhāraṇapoṣābhyām pitur mātā gariyasi, have no
partiality for such mistaken notions. On the other hand, it is possible that they might not understand the Christian expression "Mother of God," nor approve it even after they had learnt the limited and special sense which theology gives to this epithet. The Tāntrika would least of all admit the insufficiency of the conception of God as Mother. For the Devī manifests in his own mother, in his prakṛti (as he calls his wife), and in all women. As the Kubjikā Tantra says: "Whosoever has seen the feet of woman let him worship them as those of his guru" (Strinām pādatalam driṣtvāguruvadbhāvayet sadā). Whilst male and female are both Her aspects, yet Śakti is, in a sense, said to be more revealed in the female than in the male form. And so the Muṇḍamāla Tantra says: "Wherever there is a śaktī (female), there I am." On account of this greater manifestation, women are called Śakti. From this, however, it must not be supposed that Śakti is less present in such forms as Śiva and Kṛṣṇa and others. If, as the author of the Tantra Tattva says, a sādhaka who is a worshipper of the Kṛṣṇamūrti desires to see Him as Kālī, Bhagavān, who fulfils the desires of devotees, will assume that form. All forms come into existence upon the manifestation of consciousness in the play of Her whose substance is consciousness.
Though the Sāktānandataranginī says: Devī is worshipped on account of Her soft heart (komalāntahkaraṇam), yet the use of the term "Mother" has other grounds than those which are founded upon an appeal to the natural feelings which the sweetness of the word "Mother" evokes. The meaning of the term "Devī" is prakāsātmikā, or that which is by its nature Light and Manifestation. And the word is used in the feminine gender because the One, as Śakti and Prakṛti, bears and
nourishes all things as their Mother. The Devī is therefore the Brahman revealed in Its Mother aspect (Śrimātā) as Creatrix and Nourisher of the worlds.
Worshippers of Devī or Śakti are called Śāktas. But those who have a true knowledge of Śakti-tattva without which, according to Śāstra, Nirvānamokṣa is unattainable, will in thought surpass the sectarianism which the terms "Śākta", "Vaiṣṇava" and "Śaiva" ordinarily connote. Whatever forms the Devī assumes in Her aspect with attributes are but Her forms. As the author last cited says, the sādhaka will know Her, whether the appearance be that of Kṛṣṇa, Durgā, or Mahādeva. The Vaiṣṇava may consider Her as Viṣṇu in the form of Śakti, or the Śākta may look upon Her as Śakti in the form of Viṣṇu. To those who, immersed in the ocean of Her substance, which is cits'akti, are forgetful of all differences which appertain to the world of form, Kṛṣṇaśakti, Śivaśakti, or Kāliśakti, and all other manifestations of śakti, are one and the same. And so Rāmaprasāda, the Bengali poet and Tāntrik, sang: "Thou assumeth five principal forms according to the differences of worship. But, O Mother! how can you escape the hands of him who has dissolved the five and made them into one?"
The hymns to the Devī in this volume (introduced by a stotra to Her Spouse the Kālabhairava) are taken from the Tantra, Purāṇa, Mahābhārata, and Śankarācārya, who was "the incarnation of devotion" (bhaktāvatāra) as well as a great philosopher; a fact which is sometimes ignored by those who do not wish to be reminded that he, whose speculative genius they extol, was also the protagonist of the so-called "idolatrous Hinduism." As his great example amongst many
others of differing race and creed tell us, it is not, from the view of religion, the mark of discernment (even though it be the mode) to neglect or disparage the ritual practice which all orthodoxies have prescribed for their adherents. Stava and pujā are doubtless the sādhana appropriate to the first of the several stages of an ascent which gradually leads away from them; but they are in general as necessary as the higher ones, which more immediately precede the attainment of brahmabhāva and siddhi.
Apart, however, from this aspect of the matter, and to look at it from the point of view of that modern product, the mere "student of religions," who is not infrequently a believer in none, a knowledge of ritual (to use that term in its widest sense) will help to a greater and more real understanding of the mahāvākya of the Āryas than can be gained from those merely theoretical expositions of them which are now more popular. Those, again, whose interests are in what Verlaine called "mere literature" will at least appreciate the mingled tenderness and splendour of these Hymns, even in a translation which cannot reproduce the majesty of the sanskrit ślokas of the Tantra and Purāṇa, or the rhyme and sweet lilting rhythms of Śankara.
Of the Hymns now published, those from the Mahābhārata and Candī have already been translated; the first, in the English edition of the Mahābhārata, by Protap Chandra Roy and by Professor Muir in his "Original Sanskrit Texts," and the second by Mr. Pargiter, whose rendering of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (of which it is the most celebrated portion) has been printed by the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
[paragraph continues] Ādyākālisvarūpastotra has also been previously published as part of a rendering by myself of the Mahānirvāṇa Tantra. The first two sets of Hymns have been translated afresh. In the translation of such works a Sanskrit dictionary (however excellent) is not either a sufficient or reliable guide. It is necessary to study the Hindu commentators and to seek the oral aid of those who possess the traditional interpretation of the Śāstra. Without this and an understanding of what Hindu worship is and means, absurd mistakes are likely to be made. I have thus, in addition to such oral aid, availed myself of the Commentaries of Nīlakanṭha on the Mahābhārata, of Gopāla Chakravarti and Nāgogī Bhatta on Candī, and of Nīlakantha on the Devībhāgavata. As regards the Tantra, the great Sādhana Śāstrā, nothing which is of both an understanding and accurate character can be achieved without a study of the original texts undertaken with the assistance of the Tāntrik gurus and pandits, who are the authorized custodians of its traditions.
The other stotras are now rendered in English for the first time; at least, I have come across no translation of them.
The text of the Tantrasāra which has been used is that edited by Shrījut Rasik Mohun Chatterjee. It is not free from faults, which have necessitated reference to other Manuscripts. A more correct text of the Tārāshtakam, from the Nīla Tantra, is given in the Brihatstotraratnākara, to which reference has also been made for the hymns of Vālmīki and Indra.
Both Ellen Woodroffe and myself have collaborated in the translation of the hymns by Śankara. For the
rest, as also for the Introduction and Commentary, I am alone responsible. Some of the notes deal with matter familiar enough to the Hindu reader but have been inserted for the use of his English friends. Other portions of the commentary will, I believe, be found to be of use to both.
March 1, 1913