Veneration of the Spiritual Mother – an ancient tradition alive in HinduismIn the ancient Religion of the Sun — once practiced by a lost global civilization forgotten to history which arose at the end of the last ice age — the Spiritual Mother was venerated as part of the divine trinity of Spiritual Father, Mother and Son.1
This feminine aspect of divinity was represented by numerous Goddesses in many cultures and traditions which descended from this lost civilization of the sun. Examples include Inanna (Sumer), Isis and Sekhmet (Egypt), Athena and Hecate (Greece), Coatlicue (Central America), and Senge Dongma (Tibet), etc. She was often depicted as a warrior, to signify her role and ability to eliminate a person’s ego states (like anger, fear, jealously and lust) thereby rescuing an aspirant from the darkness within and increasing inner light (consciousness).2
Many of those great ancient cultures and civilizations, like those of Egypt, Greece and Sumer, have come and gone, and are now relegated to history along with their religions. In many parts of the world, traditions venerating the Spiritual Mother were sidelined or supplanted by the rise of other traditions where the role of the divine feminine was mostly forgotten, distorted, heavily suppressed and diminished — or in some cases completely erased.3
Hinduism is one of the exceptions to this however: in India, the veneration of the Spiritual Mother has been kept alive through the worship of various Goddesses who represent her various qualities. Perhaps the most prominent are the Goddess Durga and Kali, who embody her role as a warrior and destroyer of evil.
While mythological tales of the Goddess doing battle with demons are told and retold, there is also the understanding that this conflict can represent a personal inner spiritual battle between light and darkness within.4
The Devi Aparadha Kshamapana Stotram
The tradition of Goddess veneration survives not only in Indian spiritual texts, but is renewed and kept alive in the lives of everyday people through cultural expression like song, dance, religious holidays like Navratri, art, sculpture and even through TV shows and movies in India.
This cultural expression has been going on for thousands of years. The Devi Aparadha Kshamapana Stotram is a devotional hymn said to have been written in the 8th century which is still performed today, under various musical arrangements. The lyrics have been attributed to the noted Hindu theologian and philosopher Adi Shankara.
An upbeat rendition of this hymn has been recorded by Ashit Desai and Hema Desai, a husband and wife duo from India. It appears on their 2002 album “Maa Shakti” under the title “Bhavani Stuti”; this song features as a resource on the traditional and folk music section of this website.
Another rendition of this song has been performed by the North American artist Krishna Das under the title “Prayer to the Goddess For Forgiveness”, which features on his 1996 album “One Track Heart“:
According to Das, this song as written by the noted 8th century Indian theologian and philosopher Adi Shankara, and there is a story behind its composition which he relates on his website:
The story behind the prayer is that Shankaracharya was traveling through the Himalayas on his way to a debate. In those days Shankaracharya was a believer in Non-Dualism, the doctrine of Absolute Monism. He did not believe in the reality of the Divine Mother (Shakti) and Her Creation which, according to his philosophy, was all Maya (illusion). Keep in mind that the word shakti also means ‘power’ or ‘energy.’ Shankaracharya was climbing up a steep hill when he suddenly became very ill with dysentary. He had to lie down and finally he passed out. He was awakened by the feeling of water on his face. Opening his eyes, Shankaracharya saw a very beautiful young girl smiling at him and sprinkling him with water. He passed out again. He was awakened by the girl and once more he passed out. The third time he awoke, the girl leaned over to him and asked in a sweet childlike voice,”Maharaj, what is wrong with you?”
Shankaracharya replied in voice weakened by pain, “I have no shakti.” On hearing this the girl leaned close to him again and said, “Oh? But you don’t believe in Shakti!” And laughing, she changed right before his eyes into the form of the Goddess called Bhawani, the Mother of the World, and disappeared! He was completely healed, and from the depths of his heart he composed this prayer.
While it’s impossible to know whether this legend is true or not, what is clear is that the lyrics of the hymn carry a profound sense of repentance, and convey the author’s deep longing to humbly reach out to his Spiritual Mother for help. Krishna Das provides an English translation of the some of the first verses of this hymn on his site:
I don’t know how to recite Your mantra, how to worship You with yantra,
Nor do I know how to welcome you or meditate upon you.
I don’t know how to pray to you or how to do Your mudra.
Nor do I know how to open my heart to you and tell you of my suffering.
But this I know, Oh MA!
That to take refuge in you will destroy all my sorrow.
Because of my ignorance, poverty and sloth,
I have not been able to worship Your feet.
But Oh Mother! gracious Deliverer of all,
All this should be forgiven,
For a bad son may sometimes be born,
But a bad mother, never…
Oh MA! You have so many worthy sons on earth
But I am a worthless,
Yet it isn’t right that You should abandon me
For a bad son may sometimes be born in this world
But a bad mother, never…
Oh Ma! Mother of the World.
I have not worshipped Your feet
Nor have I given wealth to You
Yet the love and affection You bestow on me is without compare.
For a bad son may sometimes be born in this world,
But a bad mother, never…
A more complete translation of the entire hymn is provided on another website by greenmesg — some of the later verses from the hymn shown translated below speak of the longing to change one’s own inner states and conduct and seek help from one’s Spiritual Mother for this to occur:
(O Mother) I have not worshipped You as prescribed by tradition with various rituals,
(On the other hand) What rough thoughts did my mind not think and my speech utter?
O Shyama,5 in-spite of this, if You indeed, to a little extent, to this orphan have extended Your Grace, O Supreme Mother, It indeed only becomes You (i.e. is possible for You),
(O Mother) I have sunk in Misfortunes and therefore remembering You now (which I never did before), O Mother Durga, (You Who are) an Ocean of Compassion, …
… (Therefore) do not think of me as false (and my invocation as pretence),
(Because) When children are afflicted with Hunger and Thirst, they naturally remember their Mother (only),
O Jagadamba (Mother of the Universe), What is surprising in this!
The graceful Compassion of the (Blissful) Mother always remains fully filled,
(Because) Inspite of the son committing Mistakes after Mistakes,
The Mother never abandons the son,
(O Mother) There is no one as Fallen like me, and there is no one as Uplifting ( by removing Sins ) like You, Considering thus, O Mahadevi, Please do whatever is proper (to save me).
In the Religion of the Sun, the Spiritual Mother is understood to be higher part of one’s own Being, whose role is to assist and rescue the human aspect of consciousness which is sent to live in matter in order to acquire knowledge and awaken.7 Observing ego states within oneself (the inner causes of sin and suffering) and appealing to the Spiritual Mother for their destruction is one of the core practices.
Read together, the above verses of this song capture the spirit of repentance which is essential for this process of inner change to take place, conveying how a person can can reach out to their spiritual Mother in humility with a genuine wish to change within, to find refuge and be rescued from suffering. It also captures the incredible love and compassion she can show to someone who sincerely admits their mistakes and defects and wants to repent — no matter how bad someone has been, she remains an “ocean of compassion” to turn to whose divine help is a saving grace.
Lara Atwood, “Reestablishing the Feminine in Godhead: The Role of the Mother Goddess in Divinity”, https://belsebuub.com/articles/reestablishing-the-feminine-in-godhead-the-role-of-the-mother-goddess-in-divinity
By ಶ್ರೀ ಶಿಲ್ಪಿ ಸಿದ್ದನ್ತಿ ಸಿದ್ದಲಿಂಗ ಸ್ವಾಮಿ (1885 – 1952) – ಜಗನ್ಮೋಹನ್ ಅರಮನೆ, ಮೈಸೂರ್ (Jagmohan Palace, Mysore), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36642862