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April - June 2023

Sadhana Lessons from Devi

Brahmacharini, the second of the  Navadurgas, is the young daughter of Himavan and Menavati, living the life of a brahmacharini – subsisting on nothing (not even leaves, and hence called Aparna) and unadorned, with single-point focus on Shiva. She is the ideal for all sadhakas in the intensity of her sadhana and her single-pointed goal to attain Shiva. The lesson from Brahmacharini is a demonstration of an uttama sadhana chatushtayam- the four-fold qualities of viveka (discrimination), vairagya (dispassion), shatka sampatti (sixfold wealth – She forsakes all other pursuits (uparati), discards all comforts (dama), develops fortitude (titiksha), attains intense focus (samadhanam) with extreme mind control (sama) and complete shraddha) and Mumukshutvam (intense longing for Moksha) needed for vedanta sadhakas.

After years of Brahmacharyam, Parvati did attain Shiva, aided by the ikshu-chapa (the sugarcane bow) of Kama, conspired by the Devas, in order to facilitate Kumara sambhavam – the necessary birth of Kartikeya.

However, Kanyakumari or Kanyaka Parameshwari is the eternal tapasvini – in an endless tapas to attain him. She is beyond time. Staying in tapas itself is the goal. She teaches us the deep advaita truth that jeeva-brahma aikyam is not at some point in the future at some place, but here and now.

There are other instances where Parvati goes into self-imposed tapas, all of them beautiful leelas that teach us profound lessons in sadhana.

Once she took the form of Lalita to rid the earth of Bhandasura. After the purpose of her avatara – Bhandasura-vadham – was fulfilled, she did tapas to re-attain Shiva. As Kamakshi, She crafted a Prithvi Lingam out of sand and engaged in tapas in Kanchipuram. When the river overflowed, she anxiously hugged the Lingam and Shiva manifested and merged with her. The lesson Devi Kamakshi teaches us is that while we can engage in our duties in the world, we should always come back to our true goal of moksha. It is this single-pointed goal that Sri Krishna calls “vyavasayatmika buddhi” in Bhagavad Gita 2.41.

Devi is also Shiva’s prime disciple for vedanta and bhakti. There are many works including Rama charita manas and Guru gita which are Bhagavan’s teachings to her. However, even with her calibre and the greatness of her guru, her attention wandered sometimes, reminding us that focus is not easy!

In one legend, her attention wanders in the middle of a Vedanta discussion. Sadashiva is angered and causes her to be born as a fisher princess. She forgets her true identity and is about to marry another fisherman when Nandi intervenes in the form of a whale. Shiva arrives as a fisherman, vanquishes the whale, and wins her back. The beautiful lesson is that even when we forget our true nature, Bhagavan’s anugraha will draw us to Him, even without our effort. This is similar to the helpless kitten being picked up by the mother cat – the Marjara kishora nyaya.

A similar drama ensues when Parvati gets distracted by the sight of a peahen and is herself caused to be born as a peahen (Mayil in Tamil). In this case, though, she remembers her separation, does tapas and attains him in what is today Mayilapur (Mylapore), a popular area in Chennai. The lesson in this story, in contrast with the previous one, is that we have to put tremendous effort to hold on to Bhagavan, like the baby monkey holding on tightly to its mother through all the ups and downs – the Markata kishora nyaya.

Another inspiring story is that of Parvati playfully closing Shiva’s eyes, forgetting that one second of their time is thousands in the physical universe, thus plunging the world in darkness. Countless creatures die. Shiva chides her that a Jaganmatha cannot be playful like this. Filled with remorse, she takes the form of Gauri and arrives at Gautama Maharishi’s ashrama in Arunachala to seek his advice on atoning for this act. Arunachala puranam outlines the advice Gautama rishi gives Her. She performs intense tapas and Shiva manifests as the infinite light, and she merges into it. Ramana Maharishi is said to have been always moved by this story. Through this legend, she shows that prayaschittam is critical, no matter how powerful we are. Gurus are our guides, no matter how much learned we are.


All these leelas are sweet ways in which Parashakti, who is herself Guru mandala rupini, teaches us important lessons for our own sadhana.