“There are many hundreds of thousands of temples of Vishnu and Devi, and sometimes they are worshiped simultaneously. The worshiper of the power, Durga, or the external energy of Krishna, may achieve all kinds of material success very easily, but anyone who wants to be elevated transcendentally must engage in worshiping the Powerful in Krishna consciousness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 2)
Question: “What is wrong with worshiping Goddess Durga? I hear that there is controversy in this area and I don’t think there should be. Her position is very exalted. She is highly respected. Why should she be ignored? I don’t understand the difference between worshiping her and worshiping Krishna or Vishnu or Rama.”
The material world is like a fort that is difficult to overcome. The problem stems from illusion. Things are not what they seem. The best example is illicit sex life. There is the allure of relations with a member of the opposite sex for the sole purpose of sense gratification. The hope is to enjoy something out of this world. The result is something different. Problem after problem, which stems from illusion, as the enjoyment doesn’t last very long. Neither does the attractiveness remain forever.
In professional wrestling there is a style of match featuring the steel cage. The objective is to exit the ring, which is surrounded by a cage made of steel on four sides. The top is empty, so there are two ways to get out. One is to open the door in one of the corners and the other is to climb out of the cage. The allure of sense gratification while in the human body is something like being near the top of the cage and then looking down to something that distracts you. Though you are almost out, you come back down out of illusion, thinking that you’ll enjoy more. Your objective is to leave the establishment, yet somehow your mind gets bewildered into thinking that staying inside is what will really benefit you.
The manager of the fort that is the material world is a goddess, or devi. Not surprisingly, one of her many names is Durga, which means “difficult to overcome.” She is shakti, which means “potency” or “power.” The material world has forces that easily overcome us. Though we can generate wind through breathing out heavily, the wind from a tornado is many times more substantial. We can light a fire using a match, but the forest fire is more powerful in force.
Durga Devi is in charge of the forces of the material world, and so it is only natural to worship her. To seek her favor is a wise move, one followed by millions since the beginning of time. Though she has so much power, she does not use it improperly. She is a devoted wife, having undergone tremendous austerities to receive Lord Shiva as her husband. He is the destroyer of the universe, and he also manages the material mode of nature known as ignorance or darkness.
Yet behind the power is the powerful. In the home you get power from the electrical sockets. There is enough power to charge appliances such as televisions, microwaves, lamps and air conditioners. The power has a source, though. If the link to the source goes down, there is no power in the home. If the source itself is removed, there is no question of getting power.
The Vaishnava typically worships the powerful exclusively. They know that the powerful can make anything happen, that His favor is more important. Through His mercy even life inside of the fort can be made truly enjoyable. That enjoyment is known as bhakti, or devotion. It is both the objective and the means. Pure bhakti, true devotion, can only be directed at the powerful.
Sometimes worshipers of the powerful offer honor and respect to the power in a formal way. There is the example of the gopis of Vrindavana. They prayed to Goddess Katyayani [another form of Durga] to get the association of Krishna as their husband. This prayer wasn’t needed, but the gopis are so respectful of anyone who is looked upon favorably by Krishna. They wanted the association of the powerful and so their worship of Katyayani was not for material rewards. There was no desire to exit the fort, to alleviate material distress.
The distinction is this. If you worship the power, you don’t automatically get the favor of the powerful. However, if you worship the powerful, you get the same benefits and beyond that are received by the worshipers of the power. Durga Devi holds the trident in her hand that symbolizes the three miseries in life. Other living entities, the mind and the body, and the forces of nature combine to make life in the material world very difficult. Her favor alleviates those distresses to a degree.
The favor of the powerful, Shri Krishna, can change the nature of those miseries entirely. He turned the natural disaster of a torrential downpour in Vrindavana into a sacred event celebrated annually as Govardhana Puja. He turned the misery of the distressed minds of the gopis into a way to remember His all-attractiveness in bliss. He turned the misery of obstruction through deadly force applied by Hiranyakashipu into a cause for His own descent, as Narasimhadeva to protect the five-year old boy Prahlada. The Vaishnavas remember these incidents and use them as justification for continued worship of the powerful. That worship includes respect for the power, who work directly for the Supreme Lord’s benefit.
From Vaishnavas worship to the Powerful going,
Since His supreme standing knowing.
Material world like a fort difficult to overcome,
Pain eased when Durga’s favor is won.
Gopis to Katyayani giving respect,
Not with material rewards to expect.
Ideal example to world giving,
How happy even in this land living.