Goddess Durga: The Power and the Glory

 

BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS

Goddess Durga: The Power and the Glory
Edited by Pratapaditya Pal
Author: Pratapaditya Pal (Editor)
Format: Hardcover 305 x 241 mm
204 pages 168 illustrations

Publish Date: April 2010
ISBN-10: 8185026939, ISBN-13: 9788185026930
List Price: $68.00
Book Review by Rakesh K Kaul:
How does one even attempt to take on the challenge of writing a book on Durga? Can one map the infinite onto the finite? Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, the doyen of Indian curators, author or co-author of over 80 books, undertakes his mission with all humility and in conformance with the iconic tradition. There are ten essays, consistent with the ten arms of the Bengali Durga. The nine authors (in keeping with Navratri) are drawn from East and West as also representing the major Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths and are the Who’s who of the Indic traditions.

One begins one’s parikrama with the cover photograph of the Kashmir Durga. One ends the journey in Baluchistan with the image of the Goddess in the Hinglaj pitha in Baluchistan. Along the way one traverses through the entire subcontinent, through time and space, as the Indic people pay homage to the Goddess through textual, visual, artistic, experiential and spiritual means. If the cover photo is that of the Goddess in a militant posture, drawn in a chariot by four lions, fully armed by the various Gods, vanquishing the Mahishasura, then the concluding photo is that of love and surrender as Muslims and Hindus jointly venerate her at Hinglaj.

Despite their original scholarship, Pratap and his co-pilots wisely do not play the role of the teacher or Shastri which would abstract and reduce the Goddess. Instead they are tour guides who transport us to the sights, sounds and fervor of the Goddess. They let her transmit herself through the manifold manifestations of which her devotees have become agents. Many of the contributing writers have adopted the first person narrative in their essay which makes the book not only personal but highly relevant to our times. Pratap shines here because not only is he the editor but he is also Bengali and his chapter on Bengal is where the fecundity of Durga is in full display. There are many moments of pure joy in the book and I can predict that it will be impossible for the reader to go through the book without experiencing their own personal Durga moment.

For me the moment occurred while reading the chapter on Durga in Kashmir. The superb 8th century murti from the temple of Dengapura is now lost, its present location unknown. For 1200 years it was venerated by the Kashmiri Pandits until they had to flee Kashmir because of militancy and intolerance. Its loss reopened cultural wounds of the famous Kali temple in Kashmir that had been built around 100 CE and was usurped around the 14th century and to which Kashmiri Pandits still offered obeisance from outside. But Durga itself tells us the story of Raktabeeja, the demon whose every drop of blood that falls on the ground clones his evil persona. Eventually Durga wins by spreading her giant tongue and lapping every drop before it falls on the earth. The creative, evolutionary, generative energy triumphs over the controlling, regressive, destructive force. It did that before and will do so again!

Kashmir Dengapura temple Durga
No book can hope to cover it all especially as at the beginning I stated that it was a challenging task. None the less one wishes that the Past and the Present had been complemented by the Future where Durga plays herself out to the maximum. Stalwart male warriors comport themselves totally comfortable with the first name Durga, while feminists equally claim Durga as the archetype inspiration for their movement. Whether it is a figment of somebody’s imagination or whether it is on a drawing board or a hush hush advanced laser project, Durga is the acronym for Directionally Unrestricted Ray Gun Array and Kali the even more advanced Kinetic Attack Loitering Interceptor.

Durga has landed emphatically on North American shores as witnessed by the numerous temples that have come up. I was a witness to the invocation ceremony for one such temple and the sight of 151 Hindu priests in battle formation, arrayed over the entire temple structure and channeling the energy of the divinity into the idol, with a helicopter showering flowers, was a sight to behold. Clearly Durga will go wherever humanity and its imagination will travel and in providing the lay reader a travel guide Pratap and his team deserve our heartfelt thanks.

Summary: Not just a coffee table book but one that will super caffeinate you.
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