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Vana Durga

"Tomorrow we will go", she said. It was a bit of a surprise as I'd planned to go on the next full Moon, about 2 weeks away still. A new friend, who is a local authority of the ancient Tantric mystery schools that practice goddess worship, invited me to join her on a pilgrimage to a very sacred but not well-known power spot for the goddess. The spot was on a mountain top about 3 hours away. All was set or so I thought until she told me that tomorrow was the perfect Moon phase to go and perform a specific ritual for this goddess. Something told me to go without a second thought.

The next morning, I arrived at her home and was immediately invited to come to the pooja room. The energy was so palpable that I fell quiet and reverent and stayed within a respectful distance of the deities. The room housed many of the goddess's forms and the overall energy was warm and inviting but was also no- nonsense and almost "fierce".

Items for this evening's fire ritual on the mountain were being prepared by an assistant in front of the shrine. It was not anything I had seen before as all the ingredients: wood, herbs, coconut, etc., were being tied together with red thread and bound up in a red cloth.

We packed food and water, and a separate bag held the mysterious items for the ritual. My friend's mother, who is about 55 years old, wearing a beautiful red and gold sari and a big smile, added a green bottle into the bag.

I didn't ask a lot of questions about our trip as I had the feeling that the answers wouldn't satisfy me anyway. We loaded up the car and headed off. My friend, her mother, and 2 boys.

Just before the turn off to go to Thiruvanamalai, we made a turn in the other direction and started to head toward another set of mountain ranges. The road turned into a field lane and we came to a stop. Everyone got out of the car and the two ladies pointed toward some peanut fields indicating that we walk for some distance before getting to the foot of the goddess' mountain. The boys packed up themselves like Sherpas and lead the way.

We left the car behind and walked single file through a small path in the fields. Within about 20 minutes we came to the foot of a mountain with a shaded shrine to Durga, the very goddess that we were going to visit. Still with a smile, Mama sat with her walking stick on the low cement platform at the shrine while one of the boys pulled the green bottle out of one of the packs and started massaging its contents into her calves and feet.

It was a herbal liniment that had proven to help her navigate the mountain path on several previous occasions. Her body would suffer somewhat but it was nothing that could prevent her from visiting the goddess. She told me that it would take us about 5 hours to reach the top. After seeing the others rub in the liniment I realized that perhaps I wasn't prepared for this. I felt proud of myself for having remembered the sun block and mosquito repellent but it never occurred to me that it was going to be a challenging climb.

But Mother Durga was waiting at the top.

The path was very clear. No briers or brushes impeding our progress. And then came the steps. After approximately 60 steep steps cut into the solid rock were the loose rocks. Repeating mantras helped us to keep focus so as not to slip and twist. It continued this way until the first pit stop under an old tamarind tree. More liniment was rubbed and after 15 minutes off we climbed up again. Mama was always in the rear of our hiking party but was never to give up.

Mother Durga was waiting at the top.

After about 3 hours we reached a plateau where we walked on a dirt path through forest. This was a nice break for the joints and the back. Three cows with neck bells appeared on the path ahead of us. How did they make it up here? They didn't pay us much attention and we continued. Up ahead another shift in the path. We were facing more of a climb and the same rocky terrain. I was told that we had to pass over 4 ranges to get to "Her".

One hour of rocks and forest paths passed and we came to a smooth rock top. I could see a small brightly colored shrine, and it took my breath away. I clamored over the rock ahead of the group and peered into the dark sanctum. Ah Vishnu...Perumal to be exact.

The rest of the group came up behind and stretched out in relief on the smooth rock. Mama smiled and pointed over an expanse of tree tops. On the highest rocks around, there was the hint of the roof of another shrine.

Mother Durga was waiting at the top.

This was a beautiful powerful spot but not the one in our sights. After we paid our respects to Perumal and Lord Hanuman in a smaller shrine off to the side, we headed on. The priest at the Vishnu shrine said maybe 1 more hour. It was his responsibility, his pleasure, duty and life to look after both shrines here and Mother at top. He came with us on the last leg.

There was a small path through the forest on top banked by lush trees and flowering bushes. Then a clearing opened on a compound of sorts with a natural pond the size of a back yard swimming pool right in the rock. A few buildings surrounded that were empty and we left our shoes in one of them with thoughts that we would come back and sleep here at night. It was getting close to 7 pm at this time and we were losing light fast.

On the other side of one of the buildings we were led to another path, another big boulder with a building on top lay ahead of us. The path became the surface of a boulder with a hand rope on one side. Thank you Durga Ma.

She was waiting at the top.

This last leg was thrilling and my heart seemed to skip several beats. With the last step on the boulder, we were on to another dirt path and another clearing. Her Shrine was revealed. We threw down the bags and went to her. OM Goddess! Inside was the dark stone figure of Goddess Durga with 8 weapons over her head. She donned a red sari and silver eye plates.

Beside her was another statue about 12" tall and looked very ancient. The entire head was a cover made of silver stamped with a female face and headdress. She caught my eye but the main statue's energy was awesome.

Another pilgrimage group of about 5 came up the path behind and stood in awe as we were. After paying respects, my friend and her mom went to work preparing for the homa just outside the shrine. The other group prepared for a pooja.

Just as the fire bundle was lit, a strong wind started to blow on the top of the mountain. As the fire ritual continued the wind grew in strength to become fierce. A few of us had to take our blankets and make a shield to protect the flames. I don't know how much time passed as it was as if everyone there and everything was enchanted. Time stood still.

With the ritual complete, the wind stopped. We went inside the sanctum to the pooja to see that they had removed the red cloth sari from the Goddess and were ritualistically covering her body with a turmeric paste. It was applied with great love, respect and reverence. The inner sanctum hummed with individual soft singing, recitation of mantras and the goddess' own outpouring of blessings for receiving this care and attention.

When all was complete, it was late into the night, perhaps the wee small hours of the morning. I was invited with the other ladies to spend the night, actually lay at Durga's feet for the night. I had the same feeling I had at the pooja room at my friend's - only this time, I laid down and in gratitude said my prayers to the goddess. It was hard and cold sleeping on the tiles, but that was only a physical discomfort. I was blissed-out.

I must have dozed off a bit as I had a vision, or at least I think it was a vision. The goddess came to me with her sword wielded over her head. I wasn't afraid. She slashed down and cut out at least 1/3 of my skull. It was only my energetic head as I was physically whole and no blood, no pain, no brain matter falling about. She boomed out. "Stop lying!".

I immediately knew what she was talking about even though I'd never consciously thought about it before. There was part of my personality, my very being that I denied and really had lied about my entire life. I was full of joy as she literally cut through the deep sorrow that this lie had caused. I must have drifted off again as I woke up with vim and vigor.

The others woke up at the same time, we folded our things, bowed to the Goddess with deep gratitude and left the sanctum. I felt so free I cannot put words to it.

Without prompting, my friend told me that this form of Durga is Vana Durga, the warrior goddess of the mountains and forests that cuts through inner fears, darkness and deep sorrow!

She is depicted as standing on a severed head with one foot, the other leg raised to press down her foot on the head of an ox. Seven weapons are in ready position and the trident head is striking downwards toward the ox. Her lion stands by.

The legend on this mountain is that one day while climbing up on the top of the mountain to survey his land, a king found the goddess and sensing her power began to worship her. Soon he was defeating all his enemies and opponents in battle and accumulating great wealth.

One of his enemies that he defeated who was jealous of all of the sudden victories, followed the king to his mountain-top goddess. He hid until the king left and then proceeded to destroy the goddess by cutting off her arms and breaking off her face.

Little did the enemy know, but this goddess was so powerful that she just transferred her energy, her shakti, to another statue that she formed. The king went on to defeat all his enemies over the years and amassed incredible wealth. He built a shrine to Vana Durga on this mountain and paid to have rituals done for her twice daily for as long as he lived.

The original 12" statue remains to the side and word is that it has been dated by an archaeologist as circa 1300 BC.

It was like a miracle as it took us about 1.5 hours to climb down that morning. Everyone was so happy.

Sorrow is a demon which attacks us all at times. Lethargy, doubt, fear...they are all demons. Durga will cut though to destroy whatever demon or demons that are preventing you from being your highest, truest self.