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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 conference:
The Ritual Capsule of Durga-Puja: An Ecological Perspective

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.
Two traditions interweave to complete the cycle of festival ceremonies: the scriptural mainstream as expounded in the text of the Devimahatmya, and the agro-based oral tradition. This paper attempts to trace the knowledge-system of primal ecology, as expounded in the Naba-Patrika-Puja, which takes place during the festival. The unity of agricultural productivity and festive activity is integral to all traditional societies. The nine-day festival of Durga-Puja presents but one ecocosmic model of such a worship.

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Hinduism and Ecology conference participants