Devi: The Great Goddess
Devi (in Sanskrit and in English)
HomepageAspects of Devi
Cosmic Force
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Vishnu reclining on his serpent who floats on the cosmic waters. Photo by Barbara Wagner.
The first story of the Devi Mahatmya shows Devi in her universal form as shakti (literally energy or power). This is the most abstract way of defining or naming the Great Goddess. Here Devi is central to the creation myth; she is the power that induces the god Vishnu's deep slumber on the waters of the cosmic ocean prior to the creation of the world which is a continuous cycle of creation, destruction and recreation. Vishnu lies on his serpent that is coiled in the form of a couch. Two demons arise from Vishnu's sleeping body and set out to slay Brahma who is preparing to create the next cycle of the universe. Brahma sings to the Great Goddess, asking her to withdraw from Vishnu so he can waken and slay the demons. Devi agrees to withdraw and Vishnu wakes and kills the demons. Here Devi serves as the agent who allows the cosmic order to be restored to the world. This is the first story told in the Devi Mahatmya. However, this tale has rarely inspired artistic creations, perhaps because Devi's role is one of quiet withdrawal rather than dynamic action.

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The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.
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