Madhu Khanna (Ph.D., Oxford University) is Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. The author of two popular books, her seminal work Sricakra of the Cult of Goddess Tripurasundari is forthcoming. She was awarded the Homi Bhabha Fellowship (1991-1993) for her project on goddess ecology in India. She is the founding member of the Tantra Foundation, New Delhi.
Abstract of paper given at Hinduism and Ecology
This paper explores the cological dimension of the nine day autumnal
festival of the goddess Durga, popularly known as Durga-Puja, or Nava-ratra.
Modern studies on the goddess Durga concentrate mainly on the Devimahatmya,
the first comprehensive text about the function and significance of the
goddess whose primary mythological aim is to maintain the balance of
cosmic order by vanquishing the demons. The authority of the text of the Devimahatmya
is so widespread that it seems that the Durga-Puja ceremonies are an
invention of the Shastric tradition. A closer look at the rituals
performed during the Durga-Puja reveal that the roots of this worship lie
in the nature-oriented, village-based, agricultural communities of India,
whose lives were intimately bound to the seasonal rhythms and crop cycle.
For millions in India, the goddess Durga lives in freshly sprung paddy
saplings, or in tender shoots of barley; in golden spikelets of harvest
grains; in deep forest groves, hidden among clusters of green shrubs,
trees and creepers; in spices and roots used in daily diet; in Bilva or
the Rose Apple tree and its fortune bestowing fruit, Shriphala and
in the rich produce of the harvest season. These nature personifications
of the goddess represent the fecund power of the earth with which the
goddess Durga is identified. The goddess Durga, as portrayed in several
versions of her myth and countless variations in iconography, veils these
early characterizations of the goddess.