Sing this day of Durga,
Om Jai Mahadevi!
Sing this day of Cybele,
Ave Magna Mater!
Sing this day of Rhea,
Khaire Mêtêr Theôn!
Sing to the Great Mother,
Goddess of ten thousand names!
Sing ever to the Great Mother,
Mother to gods and men!
Dear cousins in Hinduism,
My name is Aldrin, and congratulations, we just sang together up there.
By the way, I’m pagan (click it, if you’re not familiar) and I’ve come to you today in a spirit of brotherhood and community, and perhaps also gratitude. Well, actually, gratitude is the primary reason why I’m writing this letter.
Now, as there are countless beautiful things that modern pagans have to thank Hinduism for, I’m not going to explore all the facets of the diamond here. I wanted to thank Hinduism specifically today because of your divine mother, Durga.
I know she’s everybody’s mum on a cosmic level, but culturally, you are her children and I’m but a nephew. That said, who says you can’t love your auntie like your own mum, eh? So, thank you, cousins, for keeping her worship alive and vibrant throughout the centuries and making it possible for foreigners like me to experience the blessedness that comes from calling Durga “Ma”.
I guess, I wanted to write this letter because I never really thought about how I ‘met’ her until yesterday, when a Hindu asked me how I came to know the Mahadevi. Quite a good question, actually, since it’s not every day that you meet a non-Hindu who claims to be a devotee of Durga. (I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of inarticulateness at that time, so I am writing about it to make up.)
Interestingly, I was introduced to Hinduism early on in high school, when I would pray to Vishnu and Shiva to protect me from nightmares (perhaps, one reason why I could already be part-Hindu as we speak), but not to Durga Mata. Not yet. She came in rather late in my early twenties when I was reading on our own great mother goddesses in Hellenismos (that’s roughly “Hinduism for Greeks” FYI), particularly Rhea-Cybele who was referred to as Mêtêr Theôn (Mother of the Gods) and Magna Mater (Great Mother) by my pre-Christian ancestors.
The Phrygian Great Mother, Cybele, seated on a lion, a symbol of power
Rhea-Cybele, Mother of the Gods, enthroned and drawn by lions
The Divine Mother of Hindustan
It wasn’t that hard to connect Rhea-Cybele with Durga. They’re both primal forces, divine progenitors, and are both associated with power, lions, mountains, and the best ecstatic music there is on either side of Alexander‘s empire. They’re not exactly alike, of course, but you get the picture.
From that moment on, I’ve only been in sheer awe at her beauty. I remember the first time I watched this video and just melted into ecstasy. “Holy shit”, I remember myself saying with pure devotion. BECAUSE SHE IS TOTALLY AWESOME OH WOW LIKE TOTALLY FREAK ME OUT I MEAN RIGHT ON DURGA SURE IS NUMBER ONE!
Here, watch this:
(I love that aarti to death, I swear.)
It wasn’t long after I met her that I came to know and love other deities such as Ganesha and Hanuman, too (who, to my delight, both resemble a great deal with my beloved Hermês). Call it self-affirming syncretism and I won’t argue. I mean, I am an unapologetic multicultural mongrel.
As finite beings who have to be born into a certain time or culture, it’s only natural for us to know and name the divine powers that move and preserve the cosmos in our own languages. But whether we speak their names in Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit, or whether it’s Navratri or Megalesia that we’re celebrating, it all boils down to our personal, honest-to-rta relationship with each other: human to beast, human to god, and human to human.
That and because I would rather sing of what we have in common than how we differ. (Luckily, it isn’t in our nature as pagans and Hindus to exclude each other as many Christians and Muslims do.)
So, thank you again, dear cousins. I wish for the continuity of our life-affirming, celebratory traditions for ten thousand more years. Hail the waters of the Indus! Hail the encircling lands of the Mediterranean!
May the Great Mother keep you safe.
From Alexandria with love,
Your Hellenistic cousin