Presently, Hindus are observing the occasion of Nau Ratree. During this nine-day period, God is being worshipped as Mother.
Although the idea of the Motherhood of God is today a speciality of Hinduism, it had wide prevalence in the ancient world. The religions of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece and other ancient centers of civilization had their Mother Deities and systems of worship connected with them. But these ancient religions were swept away by the two faiths of Semitic origin, - Christianity and Islam.
The preference of a male God would not tolerate any feminine element in the Deity. So ingrained is the idea of a male God that many are repelled by the notion of their Deity being represented by a woman. The problem is exacerbated by the doctrine of the incarnation, which teaches that the word of God was made flesh and came to live in the world in the male person of Jesus.
The choice of a male, rather than a female body seems to indicate that God must also - somehow- be like a man. The Trinity is always Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and never Mother, Daughter and Holy Ghost. This, of course, is to regard God in far too reductive a way. When pushed, even diehards will admit that since God is Spirit and transcends all human categories, "He" cannot be confined to a particular gender. Both sexes are, therefore, capable of expressing the mysterious divine essence. In Christianity, however, God as mother survives in a fugitive form as reverence for the Mother of Christ. Hinduism is the only religion where Motherhood of God has received continued recognition and flourished with a background of lofty philosophy and rich devotional tradition.
Every religion can be analysed into a composite pattern of thought and life consisting of three elements - a philosophy, a mythology, and a system of rituals, inclusive of methods and practices for attaining communion with the divine. While philosophy deals with principles, mythology elucidates and illustrates those principles through symbolic accounts of Gods and god-men through legendary history.
In the ancient world, people took it for granted that God or the Sacred could never be experienced directly, but always in something other than itself. One of the earliest icons of the divine was a female. In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, hundreds of little statuettes/images, dating from the early neolithic period, have been unearthed and which clearly represent the Great Mother Goddess. Some of the earliest religious artists instinctively depicted the creator of heaven and earth as a naked, pregnant woman.
At that time, when agriculture was beginning to transform human life, the fertility of the soil was experienced as a sacred force. The earth seemed to produce plants and nourished them in the same way that a mother gave birth to a child and fed it from her own body. Later, when man began to build cities, more masculine qualities were revered as manifestations of the divine force. Male Gods then started to personify the sacred. But even then people did not forget the Great Mother.
She appeared alongside the male deities in the various pantheons of the ancient world. She was Inanna in Mesopotamia, Ishtar in Babylon, Anat or Asherah in Canaan, Isis in Egypt, and Aphrodite in Greece. She was still revered as the source of life, and since there can be no life without death, she was also the Lady of the Underworld. In the ceremonies symbolizing these spiritual truths, women served as priests as a matter of course as the earthly representatives of the Great Mother.
Hinduism, like the other ancient religions, constantly reminds us that the Divine can never be confined to any one human expression. The mystery which underlies the fragilities of life is pictured in Gods and Goddesses who resemble human beings; - images that express a sense of affinity. The Female is seen as potent, not passive, and just as capable as the Male in the constant attempt to bring new life out of darkness and death.
These stories have never been regarded as historically factual. Rather, they express truths that are too profound and elusive to be recounted in any other way than poetry and fiction. Such a multi-faceted vision of the Sacred is still preserved in Hinduism.
To the Hindu, the Supreme Being is the Absolute, Infinite and Indivisible Being. It is beyond thought and word. The categories of time, space and causation cannot comprehend It. While the transcendence of all limitations is thus a necessity of thought regarding the Absolute, the human mind also looks to It as the ultimate source of this universe. The Absolute will be tantamount to a non-entity, a fiction indistinguishable from a Void, if It is not conceived as endowed with the power of manifesting this universe. This Power inherent in the Absolute is called the Personal God.
Without the Personal God, the Impersonal Absolute will be a Void; without the Impersonal Absolute as the ultimate Ground, the Personal God will only be a limited being. Hence, both of these constitute the nature of the same Reality. Without the Impersonal Absolute, the Personal has no existence. Without the Personal God the Impersonal has no expression. It is like fire and its power to burn. If you see the fire, you must recognize its power to burn also. You cannot conceive of the sun's rays without the sun.
The universe existed in a potential state in that Energy, and gradually the whole potentiality has become kinetic or actual. This Power or Energy is the conceiving Force of the Lord in the universe. By this force or energy the whole universe is born. Wherever we cast our eyes, we find the expression, not of an accidental combination of matter and mechanical forces, but of regular laws guided by divine purpose. This universe is not chaos, but a cosmos, one harmonious whole. Therefore, that Energy or Consciousness or Power or Force must be Intelligent. It is also Good.
This Hindu idea harmonises with the modern scientific conception of God, which traces the whole universe back to the state of eternal Energy. Science has disproved the theory of 'creation out of nothing' through the fiat of an extra-cosmic God, and has shown that something can never come from nothing. Science teaches that the universe existed in a potential state of that Energy. We call this self-existing, intelligent, eternal cosmic Energy, the MOTHER of the universe. She is the source of infinite forces and phenomena. A verse says, "Thou art the Creative Divine Energy of the Supreme Being. Of Thee is born everything; therefore, Thou art the Mother of the universe."
A creator, when deprived of his creative power, is no longer the creator. The Hindus have understood this Eternal Energy as the Mother of the universe more than anyone else and have worshipped Her from prehistoric times up to today. It is not Nature worship.
In all religions, the Father element is predominant. But if God can be called Father, it is equally legitimate to call that God Mother, too. It is from out of the earthly mother that all the offspring comes. So, accordingly, the concept of Motherhood is more appropriate to describe the Power of the Supreme Absolute Being, out of whom the world-offspring has come. In the procreation of all species of life upon earth, the male is the seed-giving father, while the female is the conceiving mother. God is, therefore, both the Father and Mother of the universe. He is the seed and womb of the universe. The Spirit of God fertilizes our lives and makes them what He wants them to be.
There remains a solitary reference in Christianity to God as Father and Mother in Isaiah 66:13, to wit: "As one whom the mother comforteth, so will I comfort you..."
In the culture of devotion, the attitude maintained by the devotee towards the Supreme is of very great importance. The Supreme Being is not only Power, but a Power that is beneficent to the devotee. It is held that the Mother concept brings out this beneficence in the most important way, and as such offers a very potent means of spiritual progress. Mother signifies to the child trust, protectiveness, sweetness, forbearance and wisdom. He feels the mother to be his very own and can even press his demands on her.
Cosmic Power and Motherhood are twin ideas which have remained inseparably associated in human consciousness. Swami Vivekananda once said to a western disciple, "You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power that thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Mother."
Pt. R. Balbadar.