Home Features Saundarya Lahari: Femininity in the Highest Divinity
India’s ancient discussion traditions have yielded major theistic worldviews, with a few being atheistic. They are all respected for their spirit and freedom of inquiry. The dharma ecosystem allows for freedom of movement based on mutual respect. There is no homogeneity, but diversity in the way Hindu philosophers experienced and codified varying worldviews in their search for that Highest Truth, called by many names.
The Feminine Principle in the Highest Divinity is called Devi, or Shakti, and She occupies a superior position in these traditions that are popular in the Caribbean and, of course, across India and its diaspora.
Here we look at a most beautiful and famous poem in praise of Femininity in Divinity – Saundarya Lahiri (Waves of Beauty). Written by Adi Shankaracharya, this famous devotional and sublime Sanskrit stotra (a musical composition of praise) consists of 100 verses on the subject of the feminine principle. The poem’s first part (verses 1 to 41) is called Anandalahari, or Wave of Bliss. It addresses Shakti as the dynamic aspect of the Highest Divinity (called by many names), manifestations for worship, and modes of internal meditation. The second part (verses 42 to 100) is termed the Wave of Beauty, or Saundarya Lahari, and it extols the beauty and form of the Divine Mother.
Verse 1 from the first part says,
shivah shakthya yukto yadi bhavati shaktah prabhavitum
Na chedevam devo na khalu kusalah spanditumapi;
Atas tvam aradhyam Hari-Hara-Virinchadibhir api
Pranantum stotum vaa katham akrta-punyah prabhavati
Only if conjoint with the Sakti (Thyself) would Shiva earn the privilege to become over-lord; otherwise, he cannot stir. While so, how dare one, who has acquired no merit for saluting or praising Thee, O Goddess, who art worthy of being adored even by Hari, Hara, Virinca and others?
Saundarya Lahari is most popular in South India, where devotees recite this poem daily, with great devotion, some even without knowing Sanskrit.
Verse 97 addresses the atman.
Giram aahur devim Druhina-gruhinim agaamavidho
Hareh pathnim padhmam Hara-sahacharim adhri-thanayam;
Thuriya kapi thvam dhuradhigama-niseema-mahima
Maha-maya visvam bhramayasi parabhrahma mahishi.
O Parashakti, You are One with Parabrahma,
Though those who have learned Vedas,
Call you as Brahma’s consort Sarawati,
Or call you as Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi,
Or call you as Shiva’s consort Parvati,
You are the fourth called Maha Maya,
Who gives life to the world,
And have attained all that is to attain.
The Feminine Principle is adored through many names, like Devi Tripuraa Sundari (the One who dominates the three worlds of body, mind and consciousness), Parvati, Devi, Sati, Durga, Kali, Annapurna, Akhilandeswari, Lalitha Tripurasundari and Adi Parashakthi.
Saundarya Lahari is taught to the deserving student by a competent teacher who belongs to that spiritual lineage. The student must qualify as a competent student or seeker of knowledge, and is required to practise certain disciplines in the search for knowledge.
These praises have both esoteric and worldly meanings. There are many prayer petitions for various worldly desires, while some address the higher goals of the atman.