Bhagauti – A Critical Analysis
The Term Bhagauti is Braj Bhasha (language) form of Sanskrit word Bhagwati, which in South and West India is spelled as Bhagwathi (in Kerla and Goa, still a large number of Bhagwathi temples can be seen)
Bhagwati is an older term which has been used for the supernatural power (adi shakati) in nearly all ancient Indian religions. Its origin might have been from pre-Dravidian worship of Mother cult where Mother was supreme. It is sometimes considered as the feminine form of word bhagwan i.e. possessing Bhaga (good fortune or luck) or the Bhag - female generative organ, so it is considered mother of all the goddesses. It is the generic name for all Hindu goddesses or for reference to them. It has thirty one manifestations, but the important ones of them are Kali, Durga, Mahalakshmi, Radha, Annapurna, Indrakshi, Chamunda, Sheetla. Followers of Vishnu appreciate her blessings for prosperity (bhagya), as in South and West India, while those of Shiva as per power of creation (Bhag) as in North, Central and East India.
In ancient India, Indo-Gangetic plain was first of all occupied by proto negroid/proto australoid or pre Dravidian people , who moved here from North East Africa. They had matrilineal culture. They worshipped mother as ma or amman. Ma for them meant greatness. The land gives food, so for them it was great, hence “Ma”. In Mohenjodaro and Harappan cultures, mother like figurine were worshipped everywhere. These pre-Dravidians living in 2600 B.C. had well developed settlements but they feared evil spirits' so they created demon like figures to scare away these spirits. This gave rise to many dark coloured ugly looking devis(ferocious goodesses), which we see even now. They also believed in erecting a memorial stone (which may be precursor of Shiva linga) to bless them with victory.
The Aryans, who migrated from Central Asia, had a patrilineal society and on their arrival in India, they developed their own Vedic religion. In one of their Vedas, Rigveda, they developed the concept of ‘prithvi’ as mother earth, which has been mentioned as infinite, unimpaired and mother of gods. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, the same idea was expressed and extended even as mother of Vishnu - the All preserving One. In Mahabharata, a dreaded figure of a goddess - a deity of war and battlefield is given, which may be pre-Dravidian. Here Krishna exhorts Arjuna to invoke her on the eve of the mighty battle. Immediately before the Bhagavad Gita in Devi stotra, hymns in praise of devi are given, “O great goddess, let victory always attend me through your grace on the field of battle.” Yudhisthira addresses devi as the supreme goddess of the universe.
With some initial discrimination and resistance, after 5th century, Dravidian religion got completely mixed with the Vedic religion and the mother goddess was elevated to the rank of Supreme Being. Everything connected with power and empowerment was concentrated in the goddess. In most instances the goddess was characterized by names expressing a specific attribute which leads to countless names for the goddesses. In addition to Vedic and Dravidian thoughts and mythologies, most of the tribes and settlements in isolated places had their own gods/goddesses or animated gods developed by them by their own customs and traditions, which were known as isht devi devta, which exist even now in some places in India. In due course of time, all these beliefs, cults, places of worship got mixed together into a very heterogeneous mainstream religion, which is called “Hindu” now. This assimilation of all these diverse religious traditions is called “syncretism” which is defined as combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, and also merging the originally discrete traditions, especially in theology and mythology of religion. Because of unregulated mixing of ideas of different communities scattered all over India, there was so much overlapping of names and characters of various Indian mythological gods and goddesses that it becomes difficult to find the relation of one to the other or the origin of one from the other.
Broadly speaking, in Indian mythology, there is only one super energy beyond comprehension, which may be called Mahapurush or Bhagawati and in later days as Shakti. It is just the same without any gender. It is only an illusion in our subconscious mind that we differentiate this supreme energy as male or female.
Shakti is power of self or power of the soul, the eternal power or the Cosmic power. It arises from the word shakat, which is from “sakna”- able to do. Shakti is the strong force that animates all creatures, even the gods are powerless without this kinetic energy of the shakti. As we know now whatever we see, feel, hear, or smell are actually electrical signals (shakti). The brain is like a processor of the computer, which detects them. “Matter is only organised energy”, said dark skinned sage Kapila thousands of years back and, as we know now, mass and energy are the two forms of the same thing, in right conditions, mass can turn into energy which Einstein proved by (e-mc2). According to Kapila, the universe was formed by explosion of energy, which we now call “big bang”. The Universe expanded from a very dense and hot state. It gave rise to matter, the substance from which all the components of the universe are formed (prakriti), but this is more or less an unstable combination of vibration of energy (maya).
In some of the ancient Indian literature, Brahma is equated with Bhagwati, as the one who created the universe, but Brahma is not the supreme reality but merely an instrument in the process of creation. Creation” is SRISHTHI, which means, “pouring forth” of the universe from the source. The whole universe is a vast ecological system in which primary life process is one of the bursting forth, pouring forth, growing, flourishing, dying, decaying, withdrawing and coming to life again. Bhagwan or Bhagwati are truly the absolute and everything in the Cosmos depending on him/her of its being and mode of operation. All belongs to God, everything is God.
The above fact shows that Bhagwati as supreme was realised long long ago. Big temples of Bhagwati in South of Kottayam in Kerala are present but there are many local temples of Bhagwati also there. Bhagwati is important to Malayalis not only as a protectress and as a deity of land, she is spirit of mountains. She is paddy and earth from which it grows, for toddy tappers graceful coconut palm is her form. She permeates in all living things through the energy of the soil.
Another aspect of Bhagvati is Bhagvat an early religion form of present Hinduism and is documented around 100 BCE. This religion leads to Vaishnavism and was also called Bhagbatism or Bhagvat Sampraday, which was developed based on-non-Vedic tribal god Naryana and Aryan Vishnu and this new concept was called Naryana Vishnu. This sect largely followed Bhagvati and the devotees were called bhagat. (Guru Nanak had used these terms in his vani, and said, "bhagwati bhagwant bhagat ka rang”)
According to Indian mythology, Bhagauti is supreme of all. When all types of gods approached Vishnu for help to kill Asurs, he approached Bhagauti. As given in Bhagwat Purana, highest of the eighteen Puranas (150 CE), all the gods and goddesses of Indian mythology have arisen from Bhagwati. It is a supreme reality, primordial energy of the universal existence (shakti) without form, sex or dimension (nirguna) and without shape (nirankar), without foundation (niradhar), changeless (nirvakar) - which prevails the universe unborn, all encompassing, essence of this universe. It is an unknown truth. In the beginning there was nothing. No earth, no five elements of nature: earth, light, air, space and water. This shakti was the material cause of nature (prakrti), illusion (maya), elements (tatwa), goodness (satva), passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas). Bhagwat stotra by Vyas highlights the quality of mother goddess as shakti. Here shakti means personification of the universal cosmic energy as the divine mother. It says, “adi shakti namah, ... namo namo pritham Bhagvate (bow before the eternal power and the one who created the universe). Bhagwathi mantra, as a source of shakti, is used as a ritual to ensure ultimate success. In Saraswati vandana for success in life, it is said, “Jay jay hey Bhagwati (hail who created all)”.
In Srimad Bhagvatam, Bhagwati is the supreme personality, as good as Bhagwan.
The high theology of shakti is found in Fifth or Sixth century in Devi Mahatamaya and became more prominent in the Seventh century. It reached full force in Devi Bhagwat Purana in Bengal, a thousand years later. In Devi Bhagwati Mahapuran, it is said that Bhagwati is the truly supreme spirit without form. This everchanging world with all its animate and inanimate is created by her... she is eternal ... she appears in the different forms and things. Bhagwati is manifested Brahma, transcendent Vishnu and unmanifested Shiva. It is dynamic in feminine form and static in masculine form. The supreme reality shakti is manifested as various shaktis under all the names of goddesses. When she takes form she in triple, manifests as satva (purity, power of cohesion) as in Maha Lakashmi, as rajas (passion, power of action) as in Maha Saraswati, and as tamas (darkness, power of disintegration) she is Mahakal (The trident symbol as we see in temples, signifies all these three aspects.)
Sankara Advaita (788-820 CE) recognised shakti as the root of all phenomenal existence and composed hymns in praise of one of its form, Annapurna (the provider of nourishment) saying Mother Divine Devi Bhagavati, “You are the mistress of all humans on earth, you are the goddess who forever provides food. You give happiness to all and make their life propitious.”
In Buddhist literature Bhagwati stands for “blessed one”. It denotes emblem of Bhag (blessings) or a mind having spiritual intellect and wisdom. In this era, Indo-Greek ambassador from Taxila describes himself as Bhagwat. In Jainism cosmos is the expression of Bhagwati. Bhagwati Sutra is the fifth of the twelve Jain agamas and is said to be an encyclopedia compiled by Mahavira to cover all aspects of human life and to explore the subtle mystery and philosophy. In Bhagwati Sutra, Bhagwati is considered a benevolent protectress but in her angry and violent form she is Bhadrakali. In this treatise 60,000 questions are answered. Bhagwati Aradhana is also a part of Jain rituals during the last stages of human life. In Gujarat, recitation of Devi Bhagwat Mahapuran, the eternal power which is the foundation of the world, is common.
Shakti had become part of Tantric sect in the Seventh century, which probably developed under the influence of Tibetan philosophy. In Tantra, Bhagauti occupied the supreme position as the shakti of all the gods together, a singular goddess of many manifestations. Tantric sect in the medieval ages was a movement against the established rules of elite for the right of shudras (the oppressed masses) and women. It remained confined to lower strata, who in most cases had classless, matriarchal society. It was rooted in the material strength of masses, who were dreaming of rising up against unjust rulers. The followers of tantric rituals were called Sakat. Sakat was not an organisation with some rules and regulations, but a small club of anti-establishment people. Bhagauti was very much glorified by the Tantrics. In Kundalini Shakti of Tantriks, the mantra, “prithame bhagvati” means, “that through which divine creates. Or “which creates through God”. In this scripture the divine manifestation of one God, “Prakriti devi” is given.
In ancient India, the Buddhist, Jain and Vaishanav religion with non-violent ideologies followed the peaceful aspect of Bhagwati, which made the Indian population a non-ambitious vegetarian, tolerant, non-violent society, where materialistic gains were not of much use and people were made to worry not for this generation but for the next one, and for salvation. The widerspread philosophy was that the name of God, good deeds and donations to Brahmins were the way towards moksha (salvation). It was propagated that Brahmins or religious men/women, with their aradhana (recitation of mantra) can solve all the worldly problems. (It is said that during the attack on the Somnath temple, the local people, instead of fighting the enemy or offering resistance, started chanting the hymns, believing devi would appear and save them from the enemy. Even in the mutiny of 1857, Rani Jhansi, instead of feeding ghee (butter fat) and milk to the soldiers, got them burnt in havan, as advised by ritualistic Brahmins).
The large scale foreign invasions in 10th century onwards, gave a big blow to the concept of non-violence and simple living, so war lord, like Lord Rama, based on a Buddhist Tamil scripture, was put forth as a hero, who was an Aryan, belonged to a royal family and fought demons and set certain traditions for a model society (maryada purshottam). Society at that time was looking for some killer of demons (foreign invaders), so Ramanand popularised Rama in the form of an epic. Rama’s image was propagated by all the available mediums like stories (katha) from Ramcharitramanas by Tulsi Dass, evening drama (Ram Lila), festivals like Dussehra and Diwali (which in reality are connected with devis), and by preparations of figures and idols of Rama and his family. Some of the ancient devi temples or places were also connected with Rama by mythological tales. With these activities, Rama became a well known figure in India, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plains. He was shown to have an ideal family with a sincere wife, affectionate brother and obedient followers ready to destroy evil. Bhakati movement gave a big boost to this concept.
While Rama was being propagated as an incarnation by Vaishnavs, mostly in Hindi belt of India, in some isolated pockets, particularly amongst tribal peoples in remote areas of Vindhayas, Himalayas, in East India (Bengal) and amongst martial races, the original pre-Dravidian concept of mother cult as Kali devi was revived as demon killer. The worship of Kali involved animal sacrifices including human beings. Even Muslim thugs became disciples of Kali cult and worshipped her before thuggery.
In Punjab plains, during Guru Nanak’s times, amongst non-Muslims, the ancient religion was worship of trees of peepal (Ficus religiosa), amla (Emblica officinalis) and tulsi (Ocimum sanctum). People performed non-Aryan yajnas with animal sacrifices mainly that of goats but sometimes that of cows or human beings also. In the case of goat, the priest kept the head of the sacrificed animal for himself while the flesh after sacrifice was distributed amongst worshippers, who cherished it as mahan prasad (the supreme devotional offering), to distinguish it from common prasad made by heating cereal, ghee (clarified butter) sugar combination. Consumption of alcoholic distillate offered by devotees was also common. At some places, like Vaishno Devi (vegetarian goddess), for sacrifice the living animals were substituted by animal figures made with cereals and liquor distilled from kodo millet (a grain of Himalaya Mountains, which is different from kodrav of Punjab plains). Aboriginal tribes scattered in remote areas worshipped naga (serpent), shakti goddesses, god Inder or Natha gurus. Siddhas and Jogis, moved from one place to another for alms. Traders in cities were mainly Jains and Hindus. Some followed minor cults, such as Surya, Ganesha, Gugga, Mari and Mata. Each of these sects had their own rituals, which often resulted in confusion and conflicts in the society.
The present Hindu religion at that time had four major forms, Shaivism (follower of Shiva), Vaishnavism (follower of Vishnu), Shaktism (Devi worshipper including Tantrics) and Smaritism (ritualistic, dominated by Brahmins for all types of Vedic rituals for prosperity). The non Muslim of the upper strata of the society mostly followed Vaishanism and Smartism, dominated by Brahmin Vedic ideology and the rituals. Between Jhelum and Jamuna areas in the Shivalik hills (named after God Shiva) devi cult Shiva and Shakti temples were quite common. The prominent ones are those where each temple denotes an organ of the devi, which fell on the earth during the fight of devi with the demons, such as Naina Devi where her brain fell. (these temples are very popular even now). These are situated between present Katra (Jammu) and Mansa Devi (Chandigarh).
Equally important at that time was Jallandhar peeth - the hypothetical triangle between Jalandhar, Kullu and Vaishno Devi temples. This was also called Trigarh peeth (three angled combination). Chandi was the deity of these temples who was said to be in every nook and corner of trigarth peeth. The other important devis were Ambalaya present in Ambala, Chandi in Chandigarh, Kalika in Kalka, Hidamba, Vajre Shakati at Kangra, Jawala (where small stream of natural gas burns all the time) and Chintpurni (stress reliever) etc.
Devi worship was so popular at that time that most of working non-Muslim people and some higher class Hindus were devotees of devi. Guru Nanak mentioned eka mai - the mother of all the various forms of the divine mother, responsible for creation preservation and destruction and is undivided total of all the three. The popularity of Devi cult at that time can be substantiated by the fact that second Guru - as Lehna - would take a group of people to Vaishno Devi every year before he met Guru Nanak. He got peace of mind only when he listened to the vani of the Guru. He was so impressed by the philosophy of the Guru that he became his best disciple and was bestowed guruship later on.
People of lower strata had no place in the society at that time. So some of them adopted Muslim religion under the influence of message of love of mankind by Sufi saints but, unfortunately, this was also the religion of invaders and neo converts developed close relationship with the ruling invaders, and not with their own people, which bifurcated the society into Muslims and non-Muslims. The priests of both the groups, instead of spreading the true word of God, exploited this compartmentalization for their benefit, leading to conflicts between the two from time to time. Moreover, no civic law could be implemented in the system which was still developing, leading to anarchy and unrest, fuelled further by religious dogma.
Guru Nanak has given a vivid account of the anarchic civic society prevailing at that time in Punjab and took steps to reform the society by propagating the one God concept. According to Narang, “The popular religion in the Sixteenth century was confined to peculiar forms of eating and drinking, peculiar ways of bathing and painting the forehead...., unmeaningful ceremonials, debasing superstitions, the selfishness of the priests and the indifference of the people. At that time fundamental principles of scriptures and devotion to God included bath and worshipping of images only.”
The first five Gurus wanted to enlighten the society by preaching co-existence and good human values in life. They were mainly social reformers and believed in peace and communal harmony, which appealed to many, but the society required a big change, a revolution. So Guru Arjun felt the need of military power along with spiritual power. This gave rise to concept of Miri (strength) and Piri (spirituality). This had been realized by old sages long ago, where Shiva was consciousness and Shakti power. It was said that Shiva without Shakti is Shav (dead body), so he advised his son, the sixth Guru, to adorn two swords, one for miri and the other for piri. The Sixth Guru strengthened this concept by establishing Sri Akal Takht near Harimandar Sahib.
As it was not possible to carry the martial activity in the urban areas of Amritsar or Lahore, the sixth Guru moved to Shivalik foothills from Punjab plains and started arming his disciples. He called his armed disciples sant sipahi (saint soldier), who were always ready to fight for a good cause. For experimentation, he had skirmishes with local rulers, where he fully exerted his authority. It was a big change in the psychology of masses to see a religious man as an army general and instead of looking for some supernatural power, fighting himself with his followers against the tyrants, who were for centuries considered invincible by the masses.
The Tenth Master also grew up in the same area and had direct interaction with the learned men. He found that the male at that time was effeminate, weak, morally degenerative licentious, but what required for the change of society to fight terror were men who are strong, virile, militant, morally pure, hyper masculine, and had physical, moral and spiritual strength. For removing the inferiority complex in the general masses, and psychology of people, he strengthened their traditional belief in warrior Shiva and Shakti, He studied at Paonta Sahib at the age of 20, both Markandey Puran and Devi Bhagwati Puran, and outcome of this study was Chandi di Var, also known as Var Sri Bhagautiji (it is one of the main compositions of the Guru in Punjabi, rest of Dasam Granth is mainly in Brij).
Many researchers consider that this composition is not written by Guru himself but by one of his poets (Bhai Gurdas II ?). This composition is in the fifth chapter of Dasam Granth. Here, Bhagauti is a multifaceted symbol employed by the Guru to compliment God. About Bhagauti the Guru said, “You have taken forms (avatar) in this creation...., it was you who created Durga and Bhavani (Bhavani nam tamai), you are the East, South, North, West, wherever I look there you stand. You are the mother of universe. You have taken forms (avatars) in the creations as the various paths.”
As given in Chandi di Var and Var Sri Bhagautiji ki, the Guru considered universal metal iron and its product sword, also one of the shakti (Bhagauti), so advised his disciples to wear steel band (Kara) and dagger (Kirpan) and worship weapons. In the book, “Sarab Loh Granth”, said to have been authored by Guru Gobind Singh, iron is in use for all the daily ways of life, including kitchenware. Exponent of Gurbani, Bhai Gurdas supported this concept and gave his view that Bhagauti has been fashioned out of steel. Bhai Gurdas considered Bhagauti as sword which has power for destruction of evil doers. It is the Divine sword which brings about evolution and devolution. Amongst Nihangs Chandi and Durga are not worshipped as such, but in the form of Bhagauti - the weapon power.
As the Ardas starts with prithame Bhaguati, many attempts have been made to define this term. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha mistook Bhagauti as one of the devis and postulated the view of devi upasana (female cult) in Sikhism. The ideas like this, and some other, are being exploited by Hindu extremists, which even show on the internet - Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh worshipping a devi, which is being resisted by some Sikh scholars, who consider Bhagauti as Akal Purakh (immortal divine power).
Dr Jaswant Singh Neki and Giani Balwant Singh, in their article on Bhagauti, have given an excellent account of this term. These authors consider that in Gurbani, Bhagauti stands for the devotees (Bhagat) who are lucky one, probably on the basis of Vaishnavism. According to the illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Bhagwat is devotee or the blessed ones. Nikky Singh, in her book, links it to the female power of transcendent God. According to her, sword is a female figure, who appears in a variety of forms.
Sikhi Wikki explains Bhagauti from Vaishanv point of view, “as a super natural alliance of wisdom and the soul”, but the present study comes to the conclusion that Bhagauti stands for both male and female aspect of the Almighty. Almighty is neither male nor female, so Prathame Bhagauti Simerke, means “First of all remember the Power who created all”.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All