About an hour from Tankara, my ancestral home in India, there is a temple called Marlet Mataji, said to be over 11,000 years old. My grandmother used to take the bus from Tankara to the temple to worship one of the forms of the Mother Goddess, Khodiyar Ma. With 11 children, my grandmother, I am sure, identified more with the female personification of consciousness than with the male.
The road to the steps of the Mandir (temple) is washed out from the heavy monsoon rains, and the air is a murky yellow from the cement plant. After what seems like a very long time from when my father said, “It’s just close by,” we park our car and clamber up a small alleyway. I nod to the cow at the front of the temple.
Before we get to meet Khodiyar Ma in one of her physical representations, we pass numerous photos of children posted by parents who could not bear babies until they prayed here. The temple is constructed around a tree where the original Murti (idol) was formed those thousands of years ago. There is an energy in this space that I would describe as a rootedness: deeply connected with the womb of the Earth.
Hindus and non-Hindus alike flood the temples of India and look with fascination upon the Murtis. Believers and nonbelievers will sit for a few minutes and perhaps say a prayer, “just in case.” However, Hinduism is profound, and the messages are so subtle and beautifully intricate that unless you strive to go deeper, you might miss them altogether.
Khodiyar Ma is the Vedic goddess more formally called Akhilandeshwari Ma, or otherwise known as “She Who Is Never Not Broken.” Akhila means “whole” or “complete,” but Akhilanda means “never not broken,” and eshwari comes from ishwari, which means “the “supreme ruler.” It is a very specific name, and today people chant and praise Akhilandeshwari Ma, but unless you break down the name and understand the Sanskrit, you are missing the very nectar of the fruit. In her name lies her purpose and truth.
In religions, philosophy, and culture, we are very much focused on completeness, both in ourselves and outside ourselves. We are obsessed with perfection and are constantly striving to have everything in place, so we can feel whole and final. Akhilandeshwari Ma represents the opposite: every fragmented piece of us that is strewn across the floor. I am drawn to her because, by recognizing these shattered pieces of myself, I am embracing this truth and I am far closer to the concept of completeness than I would be otherwise.
Why is acknowledging our own brokenness so attractive? The Goddess represents the power and creativity to pull ourselves back together as we wish to be—that is, the power to constantly and repeatedly re-create ourselves.
If we are given a puzzle, it is up to us to determine how we wish to piece it together. If we do not have pieces within us, how do we then move, adapt, and change our life? It is not possible. It is only through acceptances of these pieces and the gaps between us that enable us to grow up and face the trials and tribulations of the world. Akhilandeshwari Ma is beautiful because she reminds you of who you are and who you have the potential to be. The Goddess takes consciousness and puts the energy and the reins back into your hands. To put it simply: Don’t moan that you’re broken—be happy that you can break so that you can continually remake yourself.
We may think that if there are pieces, there must be gaps as well, and gaps mean separation. However, consciousness is all-pervading: It is in the piece and in the gap between the piece. There is a constant thread running through us. We are not literally breaking or losing anything, though we may feel that we are because we are only identifying with one part of us. When you identify with all parts of you, you can see the unity in the gaps and you can acknowledge this pain as a rearrangement of the many parts of the whole.
Don’t be swallowed by your fears: Use that very fear to be your transportation to a better version of yourself and your life. What a goddess!
The symbolism of Akhilandeshwari Ma goes even further, since her chosen mode of transport is a crocodile: our human fears. In Vedanta, fear of death can be broken down into many basic fears: fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of rejection, and fear of loss. Like a crocodile, fear is forever gnawing at us with its razor-sharp teeth, ready to swallow us up for breakfast. Fear itself drives us to feel this insurmountable brokenness and grief and has the power to disable us from putting ourselves back together when things go wrong. Akhilandeswari Ma stands right on top of the crocodile and uses it as her vehicle on the lake.
We often hear adages such as “the only thing to fear is fear itself” or “stand up against your fears.” This is just what Akhilandeshwari Ma, one of the oldest depictions of God from Vedic India, is stating. Don’t be swallowed by your fears: Use that very fear to be your transportation to a better version of yourself and your life. What a goddess!
In my own temple, I’ve never had a Murti of an Indian goddess, but this time I picked up a small idol of Akhilandeshwari Ma. The Goddess is dressed in a bright, beautiful sari. She holds her trident proudly in one hand and the other offers blessings. Her face beams as she stands on top of a crocodile.
Here lies the reason for idol worship by Hindus: It is not because I believe that a physical object is God; it is because every time I wake up and look at her, I am reminded of how I am like the Goddess Never Not Broken. I am completely shattered, yet I am fearless, I am beautiful, and I am ready to stand up.