The goddess Durga writes a letter to her father wondering if she should visit his home this year. This is a thought-provoking story with a contemporary twist from India’s greatest mythologist to celebrate the auspicious day of ashtami
This year I hesitate to return home.
We do this every year. I come with my children, without my husband, seeking a break from the drudge that has become my life. I eat and dance and sing and play with the girls in your courtyard, and then return to that mountain of snow and stone that my husband calls home.
You are happy when I come. You weep when I go. Every year. Again and again. A ritual whose predictability sometimes feels hollow, and sometimes comforting. But this year, I hesitate.
It all started when they said that the man I killed had a caste. And that he loved me. And that I enticed him, tricked him, and murdered him. That this story has been hidden by men like you. That this story is the truth. They did not check with me. Since I am fair skinned, they assumed I have no agency. I am just my father’s daughter.
But am I your daughter, father? Did you father me?
The old texts are not clear. Some say I am the priest’s daughter reborn. In my last life I jumped into the fire pit and killed myself because the priest insulted my husband. My husband then beheaded my father, and wandered the earth with my charred remains, before making the mountain of stone and snow his home, isolating himself from all relationships. Fire purified me. I was born again. Daughter of the mountains. A princess. Your princess.
As patient as the mountains. I heard of the hermit on the hilltop and was determined to make him mine. But he was not interested. When the possibility of love presented itself, he opened his third eye, and reduced love to a heap of ash. He spread it over his body, and tried to frighten all with his ghastly ash-smeared face. It did not work on me. I had made up my mind. Him, or no other. You agreed. We married eventually. As daughter of the priest, I had gone to him.
As daughter of the mountains, he came to me, descending awkwardly on his bull, while I waited on the riverbank, dressed in red, on my lion. But then I was told you are not my father. I was created by men to kill another man. The men who created me called themselves gods. The man they got me to kill, demon. Unable to defeat this ‘demon’, they went to their father, who advised them to release their inner woman from the bondage of male flesh.
Thirty-three flames burst forth from the thirty-three gods, and they merged in a blinding light to create me, Durga, formidable as a fortress. They gave me their weapons. I sprouted ten pairs of arms to carry them all. I still wore my red sari and my nose ring and my bangles, and my face was still smeared with wedding turmeric, as I rode to the battlefield. This time not bull, but buffalo. Some men just don’t take no for an answer. If I want a man, I will face death and walk up a mountain for him. I will dance on him as Kali and wake him up until he satisfies me. But if I don’t want him, whether he is Brahma or Bhairava, I will behead him. Round my neck, like jewels, hang the heads of men who don’t understand that a no means no.
Writers, directors and judges among them. It was hardly a battle. I kicked the buffalo-demon and impaled him as fast as I could smash a pumpkin in my kitchen. The gods blew conch shells to celebrate my victory. I was bedecked with golden marigold flowers. I was made to sit on a throne that was held aloft by Indra and Vishnu and Shiva and Brahma.
They called me the goddess of kings. They organized a feast. Women danced and smeared themselves with blood: his blood, their blood, menstrual blood. My rituals are secret. Those I kill and those I love often merge into one. I am the dark, mysterious one – Shyama Tara unclothed, Durga clothed. Rather than adorn my nakedness, they cover it, with tasteless tassels.
Now they don’t like my black complexion. They paint me blue and green, and yellow, and insist I am as white as the snow-clad mountains of the north. My husband is white as camphor, but they paint him purple. Whose are these people, father, who classify women with paint? Are they your children? Your subjects? Your slaves? Once artisans celebrated my magnificent body; now it embarrasses your kings. They don’t adorn me any more; they cover me. I had children with great difficulty. My husband did not want any. He did not see the point. Children are to facilitate rebirth but you and I are immortal, he told me.
Let us enjoy ourselves or meditate, or just talk. He told me stories and we shared them with the crows who shared it with storytellers. I taught him how to satisfy a woman, and my lessons became the manual of love. With me by his side, he became useful. What use is a hermit alone on a hilltop to families who live by rivers?
Read the full letter here