Once upon a time there lived a demon named Mahisha. He found great happiness in hurting people. Once, he decided to pray to lord Brahma, who he thought would give him a boon, which would make him invincible. Mahisha performed severe penances praying and fasting for months as he stood on one foot. The three worlds trembled under the strength of his penances and a pleased lord Brahma came to give him a boon. Mahisha asked for immortality, which the lord said he could not have as every creature that was born had to die. Mahisha decided that he would ask for a boon that would make him as good as immortal. He asked that no man should be able to kill and, if he had to die it should be only at the hands of only a woman. He was sure that no woman could ever fight against him however strong she may be.
Now that Mahisha was invincible, he and the other demons went about hurting and killing everyone on earth and then went on to the heavens to fight the Gods. Even Indra’s thunderbolt could not withstand the demons attack. Mahisha drove out the Gods and took over Indra’s throne. Mahishasura started harassing all pious people who continued praying to Vishnu or Shiva. The Gods and people were depressed and decided to ask lord Shiva for help. Lord Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma concentrated hard and used their radiant energies, which were joined by the energies from Indra, and the other Gods. This godly energy took the form of a divine lady with thousand arms. In each arm she carried a weapon belonging to all Gods. This was Durga Devi.
She mounted a fiery lion and roared. It was a roar that shook mountains and created huge waves in the seas. Even Mahisha was worried for a second, but his vanity took over when he saw that the terrible form was that of a woman. Durga created a large army from her breath to fight Mahisha’s army and then fought with Mahisha who came in the form of a Buffalo. As he struggled to set himself from the Buffalo form she killed him with her sword delivering the earth and heavens of the Burden called Mahishasura.
Nowadays Durga is still alive. More than ever. This warrior goddess lives in the souls of many women that I encountered last week during my beautiful Bengal trip with the Yoga Gives Back team. In the poor, rural areas outside Calcutta, Durga Devi hides herself in the shanties made of branches, leaves and mud. Wrapped in sarees that conscientiously cover the bruises in her face that is carved through the hands of time, which passes without moments of happiness. Life’s a bitch and apparently women should be treated as such. They’ve seen it al. Misery, deep pain, extreme poverty. Being beaten up, over and over again by their husbands. Abuse in all kinds of ways. Violently being raped. Harassments. Neglection. Betrayal. Severe punishments. The list is endless and hits you straight into the heart.
Trapped up in a deeply rooted pattern that is constantly repeating itself from generation to generation, these women were condemned to a life that is almost unimaginable. They grew up in a world without any rights of existence. A pet is more worth than that. Child labour in their early childhood. Forced to a marriage at the age of thirteen. No love, just serve. While their husbands are spoiling all the little money that they have on liquor and get drunk every day, these Durga Devis cook, clean and work in the fields. With the aid of the poor example that they had, they raise their children; especially boys because useless baby girls are thrown away in the ponds. Take care of their in-laws, who treat them like slaves. But most of all they tremendously suffer. From all the pain that is been doing to them. Because the food isn’t served in time. Or they went a little later to the fields. If they’re lucky they’re only being beaten up badly. Or have to sleep outside in the cold. No food for a couple of days. Or eat poisoned food. They could also easily be killed for this reason and their husband is giving a little party afterwards. Dancing on the floor where he just buried his wife. Everything is possible in the villages of West-Bengal.
Their sad stories took my breath away. It felt like the beauty of being a woman, the soft sweet Shakti energy, was slowly slipping through my fingers. Dripping on the ground. Like all the tears that must have fallen down from the women’s faces throughout the ages. Female power that is soaked up by the earth. A hidden battlefield in peaceful nature.
In this same earth that is drenched with the divineness of Durga, women are slowly awakening like a serpent that has been asleep for a very long time. Shakti strikes back from the roots of existence. Standing up for their rights. Holding her own against any male, without lending her power. No submission. With both feet firmly on the ground. Proud to be present. No need to walk on their toes anymore to avoid the land mines. Blessed with a deep devotion to their female power within, which gives them the ability to breathe again. Crawling out of their dark holes towards the shining light of sisterhood. Connecting women’s strength. Breathing together as one.
NISHTHA is the first NGO that made me so deeply aware of the meaning and importance of empowerment. This is Shakti in its pure essence. These Indian spice girls show what real girl power is all about. Meaning ‘devotion’ in Bengali, NISHTHA is uniting the female energy in the rural areas and work together on equal rights, respect and deliberation of this deeply rooted pattern that captured them for ages. Women are able to breath again. Micro credits, loans and education give them back their creative feminine power and enables them to give their children what they themselves never had. The handicrafts, pure products that they create and sell, bring back their pride, dignity and self worth. For the first time in their life they make sense. Dependent on no one and in the same time feeling not alone anymore. Durga rises above all and the smile of victory doesn’t lie. Life wasn’t meant for suffering. Mahishasura is coming to an end in West Bengal. We’re in this together. Are you with us?
With a growing support of global yoga community, Yoga Gives Back has been able to double the number of fund recipients every year since the “Sister Aid” (www.yogagivesback.org/sisteraid) program with NISHTHA began in 2010, now reaching over 230 mothers and children in West-Bengal. For 10 euros per month you can make a difference in the lives of these women. Be the change!
December 2014 – West Bengal, India