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“Wake up, Durga! Don’t take abuse and discrimination based on gender, color, or anything else lying down.”
Feminist spiritual teacher, Vedic philosopher and author, Acharya Shunya’s latest book, Roar Like a Goddess, is a call to women the world over to bring out their inner goddesses and roar in “righteous rage” to fight against patriarchy and misogyny.
The Inner Voice of Women
Shunya’s book centers on twin concepts of Divine Shakti, the inherent feminine power, and the Devi Durga, the righteous and mighty embodiment of this Shakti—along with the pantheon of goddesses, primarily Kali, Ambika, Parvati, and Sati—all of whom are incarnations of Durga.
In a tone that is conversational yet urgent, and sprinkled with wry humor, Shunya talks to women about issues that are universal in nature, and situations they may face at home, at the workplace and in society.
At the very outset, she dives straight into the subject of patriarchy and its many repercussions, and exhorts women to listen to their inner voices—to roar—and be the force of defiance against “a society dominated by men: sexually, emotionally, economically, religiously, and of course, politically.” The analogy of the roar comes from Durga’s vahana, the lion.
A Devi Bhakta
“I am a Devi Bhakta,” Shunya declares. She defines the divine Goddess power as an essence that is sourced from within, infinite and growing with each expression, self-validating, regenerative, and abundantly creative.
Born in Ayodhya to a family of Vedic teachers and practitioners, Shunya was introduced to the concept of Shakti through mythological stories her mother told in her early childhood; stories of Durga in her Divine Shakti form and the various demons she vanquished.
“It was all very dramatic, and I was enthralled. My mother transitioned out of her body when I was just 10, but even at that time she put it in my DNA that we can also roar like the Goddess.”
The book is dedicated to her mother and her grandfather, who she lovingly calls Baba, and from whom she got her education and training in the Upanishads, the Vedas, Ayurveda and Ashtanga Yoga.
“Baba’s teachings of the Upanishads took me beyond the deity and connected me to her divine presence dwelling within me. Thus, we have a union of sorts,” she says.
Personal Expression of Emotions and Experiences
Roar Like a Goddess, for Shunya, is also a personal outpouring of emotions and experiences, like her relationship with her mother, being bullied in school, and coming out of an unequal and unhappy marriage.
“In writing this book, I addressed some personal pain and felt the transcendence from that pain through the employment of the Goddess archetypes.” The book came to her “spontaneously,” while writing another book on Ayurveda and “I felt that at that time I became an instrument of a greater power,” she says.
In Roar Like a Goddess, she retells several of the Devi stories from mythology. Her personal favorites are the stories of the birth of Kali as an incarnation of Durga, where the two avatars together vanquish the demons Shumbha-Nishumbha, and the story of Sati and her father King Daksha. While Kali was born in a roar against sexual exploitation, Sati’s roar commands unconditional self-respect.
Sati, and the Roar for Self-Respect
“Sati’s story impacted me the most perhaps because it was one about self-respect.”
According to the legends, this divine avatar of Durga was born to King Daksha and his Queen, and at birth the celestial being declared that she would live on as their daughter only so long as she was respected.
In time, Sati married Lord Shiva against the wishes of Daksha who could only see in Shiva an impoverished Yogi with a snake around his neck and a tiger skin wrapped around his loins; he could not see the divine consciousness that Shiva represented.
Then, at a large Yagna he performed, Daksha, embarrassed by his son-in-law, excluded Shiva and Sati from the invitations. A livid Sati arrived, admonished Daksha, and in an act of self-immolation, shed her mortal form before the vast audience and ascended to heaven in her celestial form.
Durga, The Go To Goddess
“This story led me to ignite and set fire to all the wrong agreements in my life,” Shunya says, “and renegotiate the terms and conditions in relationships, both in intimate and professional situations. The Devi really taught me that above all materialistic things—love, family, children, home, and wealth—as women we want respect. That fact gained clarity. The image of Sati burning really allowed me to let go of all that was not serving the Devi within me,” Shunya says.
“Durga has always been my go-to goddess,” Shunya continues. “She calls a spade a spade. She breaks stereotypes. She changes form, and she carries many weapons though she is the mother of compassion. I imbibed my strength from her whenever I had to have a difficult conversation, lay boundaries. At the same time, Mahishahasura, the demon she vanquished, is the ego, the blindness that she annihilated. That ego and blindness is within all of us, even women, and we have to fight that every day,” she explains.
Shunya addresses racism and sexism in the United States and among other cultures. She compares American civil rights activist Rosa Parks to a modern-day Durga who faced her fears in the face of violent racial discrimination to be that spark of resistance.
She also alludes to Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston marathon, as a Durga who “ran into the arms of fearlessness.” While Rosa Parks brought about a revolution by resisting racial discrimination, Switzer roared to fight sexism and gender discrimination in sports.
Lakshmi’s Greatest Wealth
In the second part, Shunya talks about Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty, pleasure and prosperity. “Sometimes the Goddess roars for sheer pleasure,” she writes, “this is a roar of happiness that emerges from living the life of a goddess, embodying the divine light of dharma, and ultimately, enjoying the beauty and comforts life has to offer.”
Lakshmi embodies pleasure, abundance and gratitude. The greatest wealth Lakshmi has to offer, according to Shunya, comes from valuing oneself. She also represents mother nature. Her beautiful garden represents rest and rejuvenation. Through her chapters on Lakshmi, Shunya advocates cultivating unapologetic pleasure and joy.
Saraswati, the Non-Confirming Goddess
In the third part, Shunya writes about Saraswati, the goddess of learning, who represents four dimensions of human intelligence: mind, intellect, memory, and ego. Shunya describes her relationship with Saraswati, who she calls a non-confirming goddess, as the deity who helped her accept her own non-confirming self.
“I am a nonconforming seeker, just like Saraswati is a non-conforming Guru goddess. I am not bound by any mold, domestic or spiritual, Eastern or Western, masculine or feminine, except to be authentic to my own goddess-like self.”
The ultimate dharma, then, is to be able to recognize the goddess powers that are latent within oneself and to roar for greater good.