22.8: Mother Goddess
Another unique feature of Hinduism is the fact that it conceives Divinity also as Mother Goddess. The concept of 'womanhood' in Indian culture is actually a concept of 'motherhood'. It is the all-suffering all-forbearing quality of the woman as mother that stands foremost. Listen to Swami Vivekananda:
… Woman! Thou shalt not be coupled with anything connected with the flesh. The name has been called holy once and for ever, for what name is there which no lust can ever approach, no carnality ever come near, than the word mother? That is the ideal in India … The one thing that fulfills womanhood, that is womanliness in woman is motherhood. That according to the Hindu mind, is the great mission of woman - to become a mother.
It is only in Hinduism that we see the Ultimate Power being also expressed in feminine terms. It must be said to the credit of the Upanishadic seers that they categorically asserted that Real Godhead has to transcend a gender-specific connotation and invented therefore the unique word 'tat' - meaning, 'that' - for that Divinity. And therefore, they argued, whatever reason or rhyme we have in referring to God by a masculine pronoun, the same right there is for us to call God by a feminine pronoun. In fact Hinduism goes further. It conceives the energy of every cosmic Divinity as feminine and thus arrives at the interesting concept of primordial Power, technically named as parA-Sakti. When we thus talk of the Energy of the Ultimate Supreme it looks as if we have already stepped down from the supreme pedestal of the Unmanifested Ultimate. But the beauty of Hindu philosophy is that this parA-Sakti Herself is transcendent beyond anything that is finite and immanent in everything there is. While Brahman can only be cognised, parA-Sakti can be worshipped with a form and a name. She is the Divine Will personified. She is the Conscious Power behind everything. She is the Presence, invisible and constant, which sustains the world, linking form and name, holding them in interdependence. There is nothing impossible for Her. She is the Universal Goddess. She is all knowledge, all strength, all triumph and all victory. She is in fact the Mother of the Universe. She is Durga, the Goddess of supreme strength. She is Lakshmi the supreme Goddess of Love and Delight. She is Saraswati the Goddess of divine skill and knowledge. You may worship Her as a Goddess with form and attributes or you may imagine that Energy to be abstract and therefore has to be only cognised and felt in your bones. In one case She is adored as one of several forms resplendent in the numerous temples with any one of Her more than thousand names. And in the other case She is the Kundalini Sakti who is present as the dormant energy in every one of us.
Another traditional way in which the Mother Goddess worship manifests itself is the worship of the cow. There are great religious obligations in respect of the cow, on which the economy of the country is based. Ancient tradition very thoughtfully developed certain practices - which are unfortunately disappearing because of the modern craze for urbanisation of everything - to be observed in every household that will provide good care of the cows. All kitchen garbage like plantain leaves, skins of all fruits and vegetables, water used for washing rice and water that remains after boiling rice in it, -- all these used to be kept neatly and hygienically, thus providing good fodder for the cows in the house almost at no cost. Since the family, and not the individual, is considered in Hindu codes of ethics as the basic unit for all purposes, the entire economy of the society was based on the concept of rearing and nurturing every member (young or old) of the family including the cow. In fact the cow worship may be considered as a perfect blend of science and spirituality. The cow dung and cow urine should go back to the earth. This is an ecological requirement. There is enough evidence to show the capability of cowdung coated walls to prevent nuclear radiation. Mother Goddess is said to reside at the hind part of the cow. The worship of the cow is equivalent to the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. Cow slaughter is therefore considered as one of the greatest of sins.