What Would Durga Do? by Barbara Ardinger

durga1_4inIt’s one of my favorite T-shirts. Every time I wear it, people who know who Durga is comment. So do some people who don’t know who the Hindu goddess is.


“What would Durga do?” is of course an echo of the question What would Jesus Do?

I’ve just done a bit of research and learned that this phrase may come from the Middle Ages, that it was famously used in a sermon in about 1891, and that it became very popular among evangelical Christians during the 1990s. What would Jesus do? I think he’d remind us to pay closer attention to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7), especially the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt.: 7:12). The Golden Rule is of course given in the other major religions, too. WWJD has also been turned into WWBD—“What would Buddha do?” I think the Buddha would tell us to live more mindfully.

But who, you may be asking, is Durga? Why does she have all those arms? Why is she carrying all those weapons? Why is she riding on a tiger? I’ll answer with reference to Patricia Monaghan’s New Book of Goddesses and Heroines (Llewellyn, 1997). While all the Hindu goddesses are ultimately one goddess with the collective name Devi (“goddess”), Monaghan writes, the goddess appears in different forms. “One of the fiercest of Devi’s forms is Durga … [who is] also the eldest.” She appeared during the “primordial war between gods and antigods” and is the “first manifestation of goddess energy” (p. 106).

The war was turning into a standoff, and so the gods retreated, gathered together, and concentrated their energies. “Flames sprang from their mouths and formed Durga, the first female divinity in the universe.” She was stronger than all the gods put together, so they gave her their weapons to make her even stronger. Then she mounted a tiger (which, I guess, just happened to be standing by) and marched forward to confront the demon Mahisa. Frightened by the sight of a goddess riding a tiger and carrying a bow and arrows, a thunderbolt, a sword, and a trident, Mahisa assumed the form of a huge buffalo. Durga slaughtered it. The demon tried to escape through the dying buffalo’s mouth. She caught him by the hair and butchered him, too, “thereby freeing the earth for the gods to inhabit” (p. 107). You can learn more about the symbolism of the goddess, her weapons, and the lion at the About Hinduism website.

One thing I found interesting as I was looking through the Google images of Durga is that most of the time she’s wearing a sort of meditative smile. She’s not a berserker. She’s not out for blood. She’s doing a job that needs to be done, and she’s doing it calmly and with competence. (Keep that “calmly and with competence” in mind as you read the next paragraph.)

Durga 2And now, Gentle Reader, it’s your turn. Write about what Durga might do today. Here are a few situations in our uneasy 21st-century world. Pick one and write a paragraph. Or if my list is insufficient, write about another topic that has engaged your concern. But please write thoughtfully and carefully. And we don’t need any trolls here at FAR, so please remember your manners.

What would Durga do about…

  • Politicians and preachers who ignore the rights and the safety of women and children
  • Extremists of any religion who rape or kidnap (or shoot) schoolgirls
  • People who hunt and eat endangered species and mistreat animals by experimenting on them
  • People who try to turn textbooks into religious screeds that ignore scientific fact
  • National leaders who wage war on their own people and their neighbors and despoil the land


Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

Categories: Divine Feminine, Goddess, Hinduism, Justice

Tags: , , ,

27 replies

  1. Beautiful post, Barbara! I think you would love Sally Kempton’s book, Awakening Shakti, which has a gorgeously empowering chapter on Durga, and also Laura Amazzone’s book, Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I met Laura once at some festival or other. I’ll have to find out about her book. Does she also make jewelry? Is that how I think I recognize her name?


  2. Fascinating post, thanks Barbara!! I have read in Buddhism that the Buddha statues with many arms, carrying various objects and weapons, are meant to symbolize the myriad ways a Buddha is able to fight off delusion, that is, in order to realize enlightenment. The same may be true of Durga, in which case we can give as an answer to your questions, that in each and every case, she would invite the deluded person into an experience of enlightenment, that is, into a realization of the pure and perfect goodness, or what is referred to as the original nature, of oneself and of all existence.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A God or Goddess with a sword is a image created in a warrior culture. So, if the real prehistoric Durga were to stand up, She would not be holding a sword and She would not be literally or figuratively slaying demons or illusions. Her teaching is that as we are all connected in the web of life, we should care for others and ourselves, appreciate the beauty all around us, and take only what we need.

    I’m sure you have fun with that T-shirt. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • The sword in Buddhism represents pure consciousness as what “cuts through” delusion or ego, etc., and refers also to the mindset Barbara asked us to use in writing our answers today, and where she says “please write thoughtfully and carefully.” All symbols can be used for good or bad, and we have to be careful using them, of course, and the sword, I agree, Carol, is a tough one to work with for sure!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol and Sarah, thank you both. Carol, if Durga’s story and image were real history instead of mythology, I’d totally agree with you about the danger of weapons. But I’m pretty sure the weapons are, as Sarah says, metaphorical. In the Tarot, Swords “mean” intellect, thought, reason. Perhaps Durga is asking us to slice through our old, outworn beliefs. Ya think??


    • I have to agree with Carol. When I researched Durga, it was clear that Brahmanic Hinduism had to integrate Devi, the Goddess, into their pantheon, because of push from the indigenous peoples who populated the Indian subcontinent prior (and after) the Indo-Aryan conquest. Some scholars go so far as to say that the high-caste Brahman priests had to accept Goddess worship so as not to become irrelevant. But they incorporated Her into THEIR pantheon, i.e. changed Her into a) a warrior goddess, something that I believe from my research She wasn’t before then and b) told the myth as if the gods created Her, which we all know isn’t biologically possible (i.e. She gave birth to them). From my research I created a prepatriarchal myth of Durga (a la Charlene Spretnak’s _Lost Goddesses of Prehistoric Greece_) that I would love to share here sometime.


  4. Thanks, Barbara, for a spirited post. I would like to think Durga might hold a magic wand in one of her hands, so that she could transform those of oppress and abuse others (and perhaps we all do) into the ones they have harmed, so they could see themselves through those eyes, in those bodies. I suppose a magic mirror could serve the same function. Swords, in tarot, represent discernment, truth, and speech that goes to the heart of the matter.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One imagines the experience of encountering Durga after a lifetime of engaging in any of the activities offered above would be similar to that of, “hitting bottom,” or the, “dark night of the soul.” This totally enveloping, completely internal and external experience of seeing and feeling the weight of all one has done to that point, the knowledge there is, “no place to run, no place to hide,” brings us all to the brink of coherence, sanity, and desire to keep living. Every imaginable weapon is brought to bear, the speed of the tiger ensures no escape. And yet, at that precise moment when death seems the only choice, the light bursts in upon the body, heart, and soul. The serene, healing, loving, compassionate warrior/birther of all wants only the best, highest, and greatest outcome for even the, “worst,” among us. The light shining upon the darkness whisks it away as even the depths can be filled to overflowing with peace, love, harmony, and beauty. All that darkness, all that fear, all that anger, all that depravity after all opened the heart and soul to make room for the endless, limitless light that comes with Durga’s infinite calm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this wise examination of the icon of Durga. It sure makes sense to me. I wonder if any of us humans can ever attain Durga’s infinite calm. Well, we can aim at it.


  6. I don’t have time to give this wonderful inquiry the attention it deserves in this moment, but I do want to say thank you for it. I’ll save it for later!


  7. Love it. Keep calm and release your inner Durga. I think Durga whispered into many people’s ears to write those hilarious yelp reviews regarding a certain dentist. I think the spirit of Durga was made manifest in the people floating in kayaks and hanging suspended from the bridge in Portland. That such delicate things could delay an icebreaker nearly broke my heart. I think I will make an offering to her in gratitude.


    • I love that idea of Durga helping to keep oil drilling out of the Arctic. Thanks for commenting.

      And I think that dentist should be set loose on the plain so people can hunt him with bows and arrows. (Of course, I’m the one who thinks every gun and every bullet on the planet should be melted down and the metal used to make statues of artists and composers and poets.)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Durga would rain fire upon the evil doers who use the cover of religion to practices their madness.


  9. Wow, the energy in the comments for this post really fits that illustration of Durga! You’ve truly stirred if up here, Barbara, a good read, nice to see, well done!!


  10. Wow, fascinating post and comments. I was attracted to read this because when I followed Guru Maharaj Ji, the 16 year old perfect master (do any of you remember that?), in the early 70s, we called his wife Durga Ji. I was curious to learn more about Durga.

    I find the discomfort with the sword interesting. It made me think of what Susun Weed, a well-known herbalist, said in a talk I heard her give some years ago about women traditionally being not only the life-givers but also the death-givers in terms of killing the animals on the farms for their families to eat (apologies to any vegetarians and vegans). She talked about respecting the act of killing and the animals, and asking them to die for the good of others.

    The sword also made me think of knives, and as an herbalist who grows and wildcrafts much of the plant material I use for medicine, I love knives and working with them. They are such a useful tool. A sword=a big knife.

    I don’t know what Durga would do with any of those situations. The best thought I had was that she would in some way make the perpetrators and those causing pain and harm experience what they are doing to others so they could understand the consequences of their actions. And if that were to happen, we could include the people perpetrating the horrendous acts being forced on the Greek people.

    Thanks for this post, Barbara.


    • Hi Iris —

      Yes, I remember the Guru Maharaj Ji, but when I knew about him he was 13. I was very attracted to his cult after attending one of his satsangs in the Boston area. I got so HIGH just being with the people of this group that I spent about a day thinking about joining. But — I think fortunately for me — I knew this would be a big break with my atheist husband, and my love for him overpowered my desire for that kind of ecstasy. Recently I’ve found my way back to the ecstasy without the cult, namely Tantric meditation as taught by Lorin Roche. In fact, I’m bringing him out to Madison in October.


      • I was in my late teens at the time, and didn’t think it was a cult. Of course, we were taught it wasn’t. I’d been brought up in a cult, so it was easy to get into another one. I didn’t experience ecstasy, but community, which I think is what I really wanted. I got out after a few years, without damage.

        I don’t look for ecstasy, simply equilibrium and well-being.


  11. #2 Religious extremists who harm schoolgirls

    Durga would round them up and force them to do hard manual labor of building a university complex for women. They would have to build the lecture halls, research laboratories, and dormitories for the women, as well as grow and maintain a lavish fruit and vegetable garden (all organic) with beehives and butterfly sanctuary. There would be a fish pond- with amphibians and reptiles that need to be maintained in good health. The extremists would be in charge of harvesting the organic crops and arranging for an equitable food distribution for the community outside the university. They would be the cooks and janitors of the university. They would be in charge of maintaining security so no intruder would destroy the campus.

    in other words, these religious extremists would be forced to BUILD something and to learn HOW HARD it is to create and maintain something in the spirit of LOVE.

    And if that doesn’t work, then bring on the swords and tigers.

    Thanks for the mental exercise!


  12. Thanks, Barbara, for these questions, and thanks, all of you who commented on sword imagery. The story of my namesake, Judith, who beheaded a man with his own sword in order to save her people, has long been a fascination of mine. She was courageous, clever, and calm, but she accomplished her goal by lying and killing.
    What would Durga do to politicians and preachers who ignore the rights and the safety of women and children? She’d take a strong public stand, but she’d use different tools: pen, law degree, art, music, pulpit, blog. Write Op Ed pieces, take them to court, report them to the Human Rights Commission, write proposals to fund the Shelter, conduct a safety audit, organize a protest . . .


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