The Goddesses Of The Mauryans
By Sumedha Verma Ojha
Swarajya - October 07, 2016
This is the time of the year, the Sharad Navratri, when we awaken the goddess inside us; Durga, Kali, Saraswati and the myriad forms of Devi which reflect her different aspects, a tradition whose beginnings are shrouded in the mists of time.
Seals and figurines found on the banks of the Sindhu and Saraswati rivers are witness to the fact that mother goddesses have been worshiped in this part of the world for thousands of years.
Coming to a part of history for which we have comparatively clearer evidence, what were the modes of worship for the Mauryans of Magadha and which manifestations of Devi did they worship?
There is both literary and archaeological evidence to tell us more of their practices.
Let us begin with that ancient encyclopedia of information, the Arthashastra. A picture emerges through examining the references to temples, goddesses, rituals, festivals and fairs apart from sanctuaries, holy places, groves, waterworks etc.
In Book 2 where Chanakya sets down the basic structure of the city, a temple is mandated to be built in the centre of the city, at each of its four gates, in store houses and in its four different quarters. Countryside temples maintained by villages are also mentioned elsewhere.
Temples owned large properties including â€˜cattle, images, persons, fields, houses, money, gold, gems, cropsâ€™ etc. â€˜Temple bullsâ€™ and other â€˜temple animalsâ€™ were especially safeguarded with stringent punishments against theft. Disrespect towards images of goddesses was especially punished. Festivals were frequently organised in holy places.
Other than this, there were also icons and images of gods and goddesses made of perishable materials which were carried around by itinerant sadhus and worshipped by the populace. If Patanjaliâ€™s Mahabhashya is to be noted, the Mauryans also sometimes established such images within temples and the offerings became revenue of the state.
The Sanskrit plays of the time mention different festivals such as the Basantotsav and the Kaumudi Mahotsav enjoyed and celebrated on a large scale, which were dedicated to different devis and devatas.
Temples in general are described in the Arthashastra but who were the deities worshipped in these temples? There are many Vedic deities mentioned and invoked in the Arthashastra including different forms of devi.
A special shrine to Devi Aparajita, a manifestation of goddess Durga and the undefeated goddess of war was to be built in the centre of the city. Goddess Shri is another devi to be worshipped in the large central temples. She was the deity of prosperity and we shall see more of her and Devi Aprajita as Durga below. There were temples to Uma and Shiva as guardians of the king.
Chanakya has invoked Saraswati in the Arthashastra. Paulomi, the daughter of Puloma, the Asura, and the wife of Indra, mother of Jayant, the Vedic goddess of power is also invoked. Aditi, a Rigvedic goddess, the mother of the devas and Anumati, another Rigvedic moon goddess, the granter of wealth, intelligence, prosperity, children and spiritual enlightenment and Bhumi Devi, mother earth, find mention, too. The wives of the Sun god, Usha and Pratyusha were also worshipped along with their husband.
No large Mauryan city has been found intact probably because of the overarching use of wood and mud to build them and the building of later layers of habitation on top of them. The Mauryan images made of perishable materials have not survived, either.