All ways of knowledge are your aspects, O Devi; so are all women in the world, endowed with various attributes. By you alone, O Mother, this world is filled – Chandi, II, 6

According to the Mahapuranas or ancient Hindu scriptures dating back to c. 250 CE, Durga (meaning "the inaccessible" or "the invincible") is the most popular incarnation of Devi, or the divine feminine, and is one of the main forms of Adi Parashakti in the Hindu pantheon. Durga's story appears primarily in the Skanda Purana and in the Devi Mahatmya, itself a part of the Markandeya Purana, but very similar stories are told in the Brahmanda Purana and also in the famous epic, the Mahabharata. She also appears elsewhere in tantrik texts, such as the Kulachudamani Tantra.

Durga is a multi-faceted goddess, with many names and personas. According to the Skanda Purana, Goddess Parvati, who is the complete incarnation of Adi Parashakti, accounted the name "Durga" after she killed the demon Durgamasura, son of Ruru. In the most widely-accepted form of Mahishasuramardini, Durga is the destroyer of evil – with her ten mighty arms carrying lethal weapons, she triumphantly slays the demon Mahisha. Durga, through all her forms, encompasses the essence of salvation and sacrifice. She is the embodiment of purity, knowledge, truth and self-realization. ‘Aatman’ or supreme consciousness existing in any being or ‘jiva’ manifests itself through the dynamic energy that is Goddess Durga. She represents the power of the Supreme Being that preserves moral order and righteousness in the universe. Durga, also called Divine Mother, protects mankind from malevolence and misery by destroying evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger, and ego.

The projection of the stronger and fiercer side of womanhood is but obvious in the tales surrounding Goddess Durga. In her epic battle with Mahisha and his cohorts, she assumes the powers of the male gods to save the universe without any male assistance. As the warrior goddess, Durga is virgin and does not lend her power, or ‘shakti’, to any male. She is not seen as a submissive god, but one who can hold her own against any male on the battlefield. Her battles signify the universal war between knowledge and ignorance, truth and falsehood, the oppressor and the oppressed. Mary Esther Harding, the American Jungian analyst, observed of “The Virgin Goddess” in Woman's Mysteries: Ancient & Modern: “Her divine power does not depend on her relation to a husband-god, and thus her actions are not dependent on the need to conciliate such a one or to accord with his qualities and attitudes. For she bears her identity through her own right.”
The myth encompassing Goddess Durga is saturated with the potential for violence inherent in the male-female oppositions. In the Puranas, and in North Indian traditions, there is an implied sexual tension between Durga and Mahisha; in the South, particularly in Tamil myths, this sexual tension is heightened. In fact, most Southern myths identify Mahisha as Durga’s suitor. As the story of Mahishasuramardini unfolds, the relationship between Mahisha and the goddess is manifested at many levels: psychologically both demon and goddess become what the other is, both behave like ferocious animals and one never knows what will happen in the next instant as the constant alternations, which range from the bestial to the divine, are the only reality. Thus, each of the antagonists can be symbolically interpreted with feminine or masculine attributes. Each can represent justice and power or evil and danger; each contributes to the orgiastic disorder necessary for recreation. The myth thus transcends the male-female alternative, signifying psychic totality.

Virgin Goddesses encompassing many different fields of enterprise have featured in other civilizations too, such as Greek and Roman. What they have in common is the fact that they are self-contained, pure, independent, uncorrupted and un-partnered. "Virgin" is not to be construed in the sense of a patriarchal society. Virgin in this context has more to do with state of mind and attitude rather than physical attributes or sexual status.

Often the virgin goddesses are unmarried, but this does not mean that they are necessarily asexual. In fact, some of the virgin goddesses express their sexuality openly, owning their sexuality proudly and without shame. It is not given away or bartered or owned by their partners, it is wholly and solely within their dominion. Goddess Ishtar, worshipped in Mesopotamia since about 2000 BCE and depicted as riding a lion and had multiple arms holding many weapons in a striking resemblance to Goddess Durga, was thought to have had many lovers from all sorts of backgrounds. As a virgin goddess, Durga belongs to no one fully.  She is one of the consorts (a patriarchal position) of Shiva, the Destroyer, and shares a job with him – slayer of the demons.  However, unlike the relationship of Shiva and Parvati, their relationship is non-sexual; instead, we find them as battlefield comrades.

Another interesting trend shared by the virgin goddesses is that originally there was one goddess within each dominion, but over time she was divided up into differing personalities. For example, Markandeya Purana identifies ten forms of Durga: Durga, Dashabhooja, Singha-Vahini, Mahisha-Mardini, Jagadhatri, Kali, Muktakeshi, Tara, Chinnamastika, and Jagadguree.

The concept of virgin goddess is grounded in the assumption that prehistoric societies in various parts of the world worshiped a goddess who could appear in three forms or Trinity: maiden (often used synonymously with virgin), mother, and aged wise woman. Devi, being an equal counterpart to divine masculinity, herself manifests as the Trinity: Creator (Durga or the Divine Mother), Preserver (Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati) and Destroyer (Mahishasuramardini, Kali and Smashanakali). Susan Seddon Boulet, a well-known Bay Area artist, made the following observation about Trinity in The Goddess Paintings:

“The Triple Goddess, the original trinity symbolizes the three faces of the Great Goddess and is the earliest representation of her division into multiplicity. The Goddess with three faces is a universal motif, found worldwide. The Triple Goddess is intimately associated with the changing phases of the moon; just as the moon transforms from one phase to another, the Great Goddess moves among her many roles. Her three faces are usually virgin, mother and crone: virgin representing the strong, self-defined goddess; mother representing the nurturing goddess as source of all nourishment; and crone representing the goddess of death and transformation. This symbolism embraces the role of goddess in all phases of existence, from birth through death to rebirth. The Triple Goddess reminds us of our sacredness regardless of our age or function in life. She reminds us that despite her many forms there is one goddess, always present and always sacred.”

Based on their interpretations of Stone Age artifacts, some archaeologists, most notably Marija Gimbutas, promoted the idea of a parthenogenetic (Greek: parthenos, “virgin,” and gignesthai, “to be born”) primal goddess that might have emerged in the Paleolithic era. According to Gimbutas’ hypothesis, the primal goddess, who was a virgin, was equated with nature as a whole and therefore did not have a particular shape. The earliest goddess images, the so-called Paleolithic Venuses (dated before 10,000 BCE), are images of the awesome creative power associated with woman and nature. The goddess could be represented by triangular stones or by stone or bone carvings emphasizing her vulva, buttocks, and breasts. In the Neolithic or early agricultural era (which began c. 9000 BCE in the Near East), goddess images symbolized the cosmic energy of birth, growth, death, and regeneration, on which farming, and indeed all life, depends. She was often depicted in zoomorphic shape or with animals as her companions.

The anthropomorphic goddess images, according to Gimbutas, gradually became differentiated into two functions, one as "the giver and taker of all," and the other as “rebirth and regeneration.” Eventually these two images were characterized as the Mother and the Maiden. The Mother was the sustaining power, represented especially by the enduring earth, the bedrock that underpins all life. The Maiden, related to the forces of renewal and regeneration, was represented especially by new life, plant and animal, that emerges in spring. The Mother, the eternal, and the Maiden, the ephemeral power of nature, were understood to be two aspects of the same whole. It is interesting to note that the actual worship of Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with the spring season in Bengal, and is called Basanti (Vernal) Durga Puja.

A parthenogenetic goddess stands as a primordial creatrix who requires no male partner to produce the cosmos, earth, life, matter, and even other gods out of her own essence. Plentiful evidence exists that in their earliest cults, before they were subsumed under patriarchal pantheons as the wives, sisters, and daughters of male gods, various female deities of the ancient world were indeed considered self-generating, virgin creatrixes. Virginity, perhaps on account of its rarity in those days among women of a marriageable age, always had a halo of sanctity cast over it. The curious veneration for virginity, particularly the belief that some occult power was attached to the state of virginity, survived even up to the Middle Ages.

The Sharodiya (Autumnal) Durga Puja celebrated during the month of ‘Ashwin’ is now the hallmark of Bengali culture worldwide. According to The Ramayana, this ‘Akal Bodhan’ or uncustomary time invocation of Durga was initiated by Rama at the onset of his battle with Ravana. The Sharodiya Puja also involves the worship of Shiva, Durga's consort, their (Goddess Parvati’s) children Ganesh and Kartikeya as well as those of Lakshmi and Saraswati, who are part of the Trinity that includes Parvati. The North Indian tradition of Durga Puja, which stresses Durga’s character as a gentle young wife and daughter in need of family tenderness, contrasts sharply with the South Indian tradition of depicting Durga as a dangerous, indeed, murderous, bride who poses a fatal threat to those approaching her sexually. Both traditions reflect strong influences of patriarchal societies that dominated most of the history of the Indian subcontinent.

The Virgin goddess appears whenever a woman is pursuing her own desires and ideas for herself. The Virgin or Maiden has been given a bad rap as a selfish wanton being for centuries in a culture that has taught women to only please and look after others to the exclusion of all else. She is now making a comeback as women everywhere are beginning to follow their own hearts and dreams to manifest a reality other than that of partnerships, motherhood and child rearing.


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