It’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.)
And 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.