Anyway, in order to take my mind off well, stress; I buried myself in the material required for one of my classes. We have an ongoing project in this class which constitutes 50% of our final grade and it includes the all important final presentation along with papers submitted at regular intervals on our respective topics (we had to choose from five singular topics) and one of the topics was to understand and fabricate the identity of the Hindu great Goddess (sic) and to piece Her together through pietistic experience.
After poring over several publications and dissertations and articles ranging from being quite appealing to utterly ludicrous to plain bizarre; I have to admit that I’m hooked. Our history (well, religious or otherwise) is absolutely wondrous, to put it mildly.
To methodize the murky reserves of information crammed into my mind, I decided to distinguish the early history of the Goddesses in my study and I also put them in different groups. I will not elaborate on all the groups but I will however expand on one category which I was completely enamored by; the history and the evolution of the warrior Goddess.
I was quite familiar with the myths and the traditions and the various stories dealing with the origin and the evolution of the pan-Indian martial goddess but I always found them largely inconclusive. For one, I never really understood how an often fierce, autarchic and irrepressible Goddess figure can somehow become a docile and an obedient consort of Shiva, representing the values connected to a ‘typical’ Hindu wife. With more obsessive reading however, I could finally dispel the cobwebs in my mind and begin to comprehend the proto-legends with respect to the warrior Goddess and Her counterparts.
When I think warrior Goddess, Goddesses like Durga, Chamundi and Chandika immediately take precedence in my mind. But I discovered that the ideology behind any Warrior Goddess* we worship today was mainly derived from Her ancient predecessor Vindhyavaasini (literally meaning She who resides in the Vindhyas). It could also be surmised that Vindhyavaasini was a classificatory sobriquet rather than an individual name of the Goddess.
The earliest attestation of the mythology of Vindhyavaasini was in the Harivamsa (1st and 2nd centuries C.E) where she was integrated into the life story of Krishna and she was also coupled with two other goddesses Ekanamsa (a sister of Krishna) and Nidra (the goddess of sleep). In Shaivaite history, she was first mentioned in the Skandapurana as being born out of Parvati’s sloughed off dark skin and she was referred to as Kaushiki.
Vindhyavaasini however existed independently of both the Bhagavata and the Shaiva legends. She was originally said to be a local deity in the Vindhyas and she was aggressive, ferocious, turbulent and generous and She was considered a favorite of the people on the fringes of society i.e. robbers, dacoits, hunters and criminals. Her abode was the jungles of the Vindhya Mountains and her attendants were demons (of both genders), ghosts and terrifying spirits. She could only be appeased by meat offerings (hunters usually offered their best catch to Her) and strong liquor. She had very dark skin and was said to have four hands; each holding a trident, a drinking cup (said to be filled with wine), a sword and a lotus. Her upper cloth was yellow in color and the cloth covering the lower half of Her body was black. She was not associated with any God through matrimony or otherwise and She was said to exist and function as a unique entity. In all Her resplendence, She consumes liquor and She dances with her ghastly ganas, laughing uproariously (Harivamsa 48.32: saavaini´si tamograste babhau bhuutaganakule nrtyatiı hasatiı caiva vipariıtena bhaasvatiık) and it is said that Her laughter would fill Her enemies with fear and dread.
However when the need was felt to integrate the local divinities into the tenets of Shaivism, Vindhyavaasini was incorporated or Sanskritized into an aspect of Parvati, which firmly placed Parvati (a spousal deity) at the very top of the Goddess hierarchy clearly decreasing the importance of Vindhyavaasini with respect to Parvati.
Now Korravai (or Kotai or Kotravai) was an ancient Tamil war goddess and She could be very well be an aspect of Vindhyavaasini for all we know^. She was also said to be bellicose, dark skinned and terrifying. She was first mentioned during the Sangam period as a fierce war Goddess in Korravai nilai from the Tolkkapiyam. She supposedly enjoyed animal sacrifices and buffaloes were usually sacrificed in Her name. Alcohol was used to appease Her as well. Just like Vindhyavaasini in the North She was not associated with any God or any male entity through matrimony or otherwise. And it was also said that She resided in the forest with her battalions of ghouls, demons, spirits and other ghastly entities. What really took me by surprise however was Her strange and terrifying role in the history of Tamil militarism as the Goddess who demanded the lives of Her warriors when their commander was successful at war. Warriors would pledge their lives to Korravai willingly and slit their throats when their leader was victorious in battle and this practice (martial suicide in other words) was called Navakandam. An example of this practice is illustrated in the Kalingathu Parani (a work dedicated to the Chola king Kulotunga) as seen in this excerpt,
The temple of Korravai is decorated with lotus flowers which bloomed when the warriors sliced their own necks.
I absolutely adore the idea that we did in fact have Goddesses who existed autonomously without any connection to a male Deity. Call me biased but I find the idea of a goddess who was dark, single, chaotic, uncontrollable and munificent at the same time, exceptionally glorious. And to top it all off She consumed alcohol! Strong liquor was one of Vindhyavaasini’s and Korravai’s staple offerings and to me that just hits the stratosphere of coolness, for want of a better word.
As I wade through the mire of information required for this project, I am beginning to comprehend the notion that the identity of the Goddess in Indian mythology is both tenebrous and infallible.
And I wouldn't want it any other way.
* Warrior goddesses should not be confused with dreadful goddesses i.e. goddesses like Kali, Kalashankarshini, Mrityu etc.
^ Pure speculation on my part.