Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Festival of Durga

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

It is currently the festival of Durga Puja, the celebration of the worship of the goddess Durga, also known by her many other names Bhavani, Kanaka Durgammathalli, and even as Adi-Parashakti the Great Mother Goddess.

The festival of Durga Puja (also known by its other names Durgotsava, Sharadotsav, Akalbodhan, Navaratri Puja, and many more) also specifically celebrates the goddess's triumph over the buffalo asura or demon Mahishasura. In fact, in the depiction of the goddess shown above, the bloodied head of the buffalo can be seen at her feet, directly underneath the lower end of her long scepter (this long scepter-shaped weapon strongly resembles the Vajra).

There are many aspects of the symbology of Durga which indicate that she is a celestial deity, and in fact that she is associated with the constellation Virgo, one of the most important of zodiac signs and one who takes on the form of many, many goddesses and other important female figures in the sacred scriptures and mythologies of the world. This blog has previously discussed the almost certain correspondence of the goddess Durga with the sign and stars of Virgo in posts such as this one and this one.

The clear symbolic indications that Durga corresponds to Virgo discussed in those posts include:

  • the fact that she is often depicted as riding on a lion (Virgo follows Leo across the sky, and hence the Goddess in widely dispersed mythologies is very often associated with a lion or with lions, sometimes riding a lion, or riding in a chariot drawn by a lion or by lions, or seated on a throne flanked by one or more lions), 
  • the fact that she is often depicted with an outstretched arm which is one of the most characteristic features of the constellation Virgo (see illustration below, as well as the video here entitled "Star Myths and the Shamanic Worldview, part 2," in which this outstretched arm of Virgo is associated with the plucking of the fruit by Eve in the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent), and 
  • the distinctive bend in the hip depicted in some statues and reliefs featuring Durga, which corresponds to the outline of the constellation Virgo, and which can be seen in other artwork featuring Virgo-goddesses from ancient Greece and Rome as well.

Below is an image of Durga from a bas-relief in which her outstretched arm appears to be holding a bow. In other depictions, she may be holding a sword or other weapon in this outstretched arm. Female figures corresponding to Virgo often have bows, sometimes bows with miraculous powers -- see for example the story of "The old man and his daughter" from the Native American people of North America (in this case, from the northwest coastal island region near the modern-day state of Washington in the US and British Columbia in Canada). 

Note also in the bas-relief below that Durga is shown in the act of defeating the buffalo-bull-headed Mahishasura.

We can see more indications that Durga is associated with Virgo in the image at the top of this post. There, a lion is again prominently featured, and if we wanted to take the time to do so we could draw direct correspondences between the posture of that particular lion and the outline of the constellation Leo in the sky, who is so close to Virgo that he can be seen in the star-chart above, although his outline has not been drawn in (his stars are seen directly to the right of the word "Vindemiatrix" in that star chart).

Another clue that Durga is an aspect of Virgo can be seen in the fact that in the modern Durga Festival depiction of Durga at the top of this post, she is holding a serpent in the lowest of her hands on the right side of the image as we look at it (it is actually a cobra). This hand holding the cobra is on the opposite side of Durga's body from the hand that is holding the long Vajra-shaped scepter-weapon (the one that ends on top of the bloody buffalo-head).

Once again, this depiction is astronomically correct for the constellation Virgo. In the star chart above which shows the outline of the constellation, we can see that Virgo's outstretched arm (represented in the top image by the Vajra-scepter) is on the opposite side of her body from the long constellation of the serpent Hydra (whose starry outline does in fact resemble a cobra, if the circle of stars at the far right of his body as we look at it corresponds to the cobra's hood).

But perhaps the most important clues that we are correct in connecting Durga and Virgo are seen in the timing of her festival, and the fact that the festival celebrates her triumph over the buffalo-bull demon. The festival's timing is tied to the complex lunar-sidereal Hindu calendar, but it basically falls near the fall equinox and the part of the year which has anciently been associated with the sign of Virgo (particularly in the Age of Aries).

The reason Virgo is associated with this part of the year is that, during the Age of Aries, she was the constellation and zodiac sign seen above the eastern horizon just prior to the rising sun. Even today, although the background of stars has been delayed due to the ages-long motion of precession, the sun's rising at this time of year is in the sign of Virgo, a fact you can readily see for yourself by going to the excellent online, browser-based, free planetarium app at

There, if you simply leave the "location" at its default point, and dial up the app for today (October 2), you can swing the sky around to the east and then "dial back the hours" using the "upper arrow" on the date-time window (be sure to dial back the hours, not the days) until you see the sun rising on the eastern horizon. You will quite clearly see that the sun is in the midst of the constellation Virgo as it rises.

Now, if you "freeze" at the point where the sun is just below the horizon (and Virgo is already charging up over the eastern horizon), swing the view back along the horizon from the east (where the sun is rising) to the west (where the stars are setting). If you then shift your view upwards a bit, you can find the distinctive outline of Taurus, the Bull, who contains the V-shaped Hyades and is just "above" (actually "to the right of") the constellation Orion. Taurus is getting ready to set in the west as Virgo (Durga) rises in the east. Dial the hours forward and Taurus will be banished below the western horizon, as Virgo rises more and more fully into the sky in the east.

This is the meaning of Durga's slaying of the buffalo-bull demon Mahishasura.

At least, it is according to my interpretation of the celestial clues. And the number of clues in this case is pretty overwhelming. Thus, the Festival of Durga is another example of the fact that nearly all the ancient sacred myths and scriptures and traditions are built upon a common system of celestial metaphor.

The implications of this commonality are profound and far-reaching, but one of them is that humanity is actually united and not divided by these scriptures and traditions -- and thus we can all in some measure celebrate the Durga Puja, if we choose to do so!