Motherhood is as universal as it is subjective. The most basic foundation of a human life is laid down by the mother. That life is created by the mother. It is nurtured by the mother. It is protected by the mother. It is blessed and guided by the mother. However, the most basic idea behind motherhood is creation.
Every culture has its own myth of creation. In yoga, borrowing from theories of Samkhya philosophy, creation happens with the union of Purush (the pure consciousness) and Prakriti (matter). It might get a little technical here, but bear with me. So, every thing has a Purush and prakriti. When a Purush connects with a Prakriti, and Prakriti falsely identifies itself with Purush, creation happens. Think of Purush as consciousness, in its purest form, intangible, imperceivable, but at the core of everything. Prakriti is everything else, everything that is not Purush. All of matter, everything that can be known, sensed, felt, and is tangible.
The Indian tradition has, over millennia, tried to explain such complex ideas and concepts in the form of myth and mythology. It makes them more relatable and more accessible for people to understand. Creation, as we have established, is the union of consciousness and matter. Consciousness is seen as the male, and matter as the female. So matter, by extension, is the mother. Matter can also be read as nature – mother nature? There are several stories that explain this union as a sexual and spiritual union of Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati. Shiva is the manifestation of pure consciousness, and Parvati of matter and energy – also called Adi Shakti, the universal energy of the universe, that is female. I will talk more about this in a bit. So, Shiva is Purush (also quite literally, as the word for ‘man’ in Sanskrit is ‘Purush ’) and Parvati is Prakriti (Prakriti also translates to nature). Their union resulted in creation – in the myth, it resulted in the birth of their son, Kartikeya.
Parvati as a figure is thus seen as the Mother (yes, with a capital M). She is seen as the harbinger of creation, as before her, Shiva was an ascetic who lived in the mountains, and was completely isolated from, disconnected with and disinterested in the world. She, with her ‘tapa’ or sheer determination and fortitude, and her charms and seduction (in a good way, think Beauty and the Beast without the curse and the imprisoning), brought him out of his shell and made him engage with the world – with her, for everything in the world is Prakriti.
Parvati is also a manifestation of the Adi Shakti, the energy that runs inherent in the universe. Adi Shakti literally translates to infinite energy, and that energy is seen as female. Every goddess, especially Parvati, in Indian mythology is seen as a manifestation of this energy. This energy is what created the universe and what nurtures and sustains it now. Parvati, in particular, is the avatar of Adi Shakti that is seen as kind, tender and representing motherhood.
Motherhood and mother figures are to be seen in plenty in mythological stories. But it is important to understand what they represent. The woman, the prakriti, the mother is what creates and sustains the universe. She is the source of it all, nothing would exist without her. Indian tradition has always revered the mother as a goddess, and seen motherhood as sacred. I see a mother as the physical, tangible manifestation of the energy that makes the universe, and she represents in the microcosm what structures run deep into the makings of our world.
Happy Mother’s Day!