sharp the horizon
my invincible courage
cuts the deepest noise
Durga’s depiction in one of the battle scenes brings to mind the work of artist Frida Kahlo, who is a great example of a woman who used her own creative process to heal. Her paintings express the challenges she faced with her body as well as her psyche. That invincible courage is seen in the painting “Henry Ford Hospital” which illustrates one of her many miscarriages. In this painting, there are archetypal images of: the female lower anatomy, a baby boy, a snail, an orchid, a machine, and her own fractured pelvis––which prevents her from having children. The point of view is from above, with the central image being a naked, bleeding Frida lying on a hospital bed. She is loosely holding the ends of umbilical cords attached to the archetypal images, like floating balloons. Even with her stoic face, she cries and chooses not to identify with these objects, keeping them at distance, as if in witness to her pain.
In the Devi Mahatmya Durga, like Kahlo, manifests fierce entities that appear from her third eye to fight the demonic asuras or demons. In this story she is summoned by the gods to fight demon brothers that have been tormenting the world. The brothers were given the boon that no man or god could kill them, in exchange for the great devotion and offerings they made to Brahma. After many lifetimes, a sage reminds the gods that a goddess could vanquish the brothers. The warrior goddess goes to them, only revealing her femininity and beauty.
They have never seen such womanly grace, and invite her to be the queen of their harem. She deceivingly says that she will, if they fight her. The brothers laugh at her, stunned at the request. She agrees that it is silly, but that it was a promise she made to herself as a girl. They send the captain of their armies to “drag her in here by the hair”¹ but she defeats him along with all the armies the brothers continue to send. As the troops become increasingly difficult to fight, from Durga’s body emerge the goddesses Indrani, Saraswati, Vaishnavi, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi, Kali and their deadly powers to assist her. When Durga has defeated everyone, the brothers are left alone in battle. They complain, stating that she had allies assisting her. She corrects them by saying that the other goddesses are her own shaktis, powers that she holds as part of herself. In that moment they disappear into her, and she single-handedly kills the brothers, restoring harmony to the world.
The parallel stories of Durga’s victory and Kahlo’s depiction of her miscarriage are models of what make a woman invincible and fierce. It is through a women’s yantra (body) and vulnerability that true courage manifests. That within a woman's body are the tools we need to battle the demos or shadow. In other words we have the power to defeat those things that no longer serve us. Like Durga, we bow our heads in gratitude and say Namaste before severing the internal turbulence, or the demons from our lives. They were there for some reason, now cut them out, to make space for LOVE!
Kempton, S. (2013) Awakening shakti: The transformative power of the goddesses of yoga. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.