The Goddess of Nainital

A distinguishing feature of Hinduism is the existence of Numerous Gods and Goddesses. This is so even though Hindus believe firmly that there is only one God in the universe Who pervades everything and that there is nothing else besides him. To a person not familiar with Hinduism this monotheism appears contradictory to the polytheistic practices of Hindus. However, to a devout Hindu there is no contradiction. In Hindu philosophy it is believed that the infinite eternal Supreme may act through any finite being in the universe in order to carry out the functions of the universe or to communicate with a devotee. A devotee may regard the Infinite in a particular finite form possessing defined attributes and a chosen name in order to establish a tangible relationship with the Infinite and formless God of the Universe. The Bhagavat Gita (Or Gita in short), one of the most highly regarded scriptures of Hinduism explains this in verses 3-5 of chapter 12 as follows“ Those who controlling all their senses and even minded towards all, devoted to doing good to all creatures constantly adore the Supreme, even as present in their very selves, the unthinkable, all pervading, eternal unmanifest and immutable Supreme spirit they come to me. However the path of those who have their mind attached to the formless unmanifest is rugged for identification with the formless is attained with difficulty by a consciousness centered in a body possessing form and attributes. “When a Hindu chooses his or her favorite form of the Divine Infinite, it may be one that is characterized by particular benefits that the chosen God can grant to a disciple. Thus the Goddess Laxmi is regarded as a Goddess that can shower wealth on a devotee if pleased. 

The Bhagvat Gita does not regard highly a devotee that approaches the Divine Spirit with the aim of securing particular worldly benefits. This is explained in verses 21 to 23 of the Gita as follows:“Whatever Celestial form a devotee seeks to worship with faith the Eternal being stabilizes the faith of that devotee in that very form. If he worships and desires an enjoyment from this deity, he obtains that enjoyment if it pleases the Eternal Being. However the enjoyment gained by such persons of limited intelligence is perishable. The worshippers of Gods attain the Gods, whereas the worshippers of the eternal supreme spirit attain the eternal supreme spirit.”Thus it appears that although Hinduism as expounded in the Gita supports the practice of approaching the Eternal Supreme being through various Deities possessing various forms, it does not regard this practice as the best if it is associated with achieving some worldly gain. Elsewhere the Gita has explained that the best devotee is one who approaches the Divine out of wisdom and love only and not for the attainment of any gain or alleviating any suffering. The Divine can see that on His own and grant a devotee unasked anything that is necessary for his or her welfare.There is full freedom in Hindu practice to choose any particular God or Goddess for worship. It could be a single God or it could also be many since all represent different aspects of the same Infinite Supreme Being. The eternal Supreme Being is neither male nor female but the Gods who are a part of the physical universe are either male or female and a Hindu may choose either a male or female representation of God as per his or her inclination. The various forms and attributes of the innumerable Gods and Goddesses have been handed down through the ages. The origin of some is not known whereas some have been due to the visions of saintly seers. In this respect new forms of Gods and Goddesses can and do constantly emerge. When a God and Goddess is a historical personality there is likely to be a great deal of history and mythology associated with that God or Goddess. Some Deities such as Shankar, Krishna, Rama and Hanuman and the Goddess Durga are widely worshipped whereas there also exist deities that are worshipped in a single village consisting of a few hundred people only. In many cases a single God or Goddess may possess many different forms and names particularly if the God or Goddess is an elevated one close to the Infinite. Thus the God Vishnu possesses many names and avatars and so does the Goddess Durga. Some forms of the Goddess are gentle and others fearful. The Goddess takes on a fearful form when conquering great evil forces of the world. The Sanskrit text Durga Saptashati by the sage Markandya describes many of the forms and names of the Goddess.The scriptures describes the eternal Supreme being who may be related to the Divine name Om or Shiva existed as neither male nor female at the beginning of creation. He then produced the female principle in order to propagate the physical universe through the union of males and females. The female entity was produced from the very being of the male creator much in the same way as eve was produced from a rib of Adam in Semitic mythology. It is interesting to note that modern scientific studies have established that the males of all species carries both the male and female, x and y, chromosome whereas the female carries the female y chromosome only.The original female divinity, the Goddess Durga has the position of a female consort of Lord Shiva. Both Siva and Durga have appeared in various forms and continue to do so in order to create the physical universe. They may also act through other beings including humans who worship these divinities and surrender their free will to them. When such worship and surrender is total, the human acquires supernatural powers and may be regarded as a physical representation of the chosen deity. Thus it is held by some that Shankar was a sage who meditated for several years on mount Kailash of the Himalayas to the extent that he lost his own individual consciousness to Lord Siva. He is therefore known as Shiv Shankar and his is the form in which many Hindu’s worship the infinite formless creator. As Shiv Shanker the primal Goddess Durga too took a human form and became his consort.

In the Nainital District of the Himalayas the form the eternal Goddess is worshipped in is as Naina Devi of Nainital or as Nanda Devi in the higher reaches of the district. She is known by other names and forms as well such as Kasar Devi or as Nando Devi. Nanda Devi is believed to have reincarnated several times in the district over the ages in various communities that came to live in the district and often had the same or similar name even in her human reincarnation. The origin of Goddess worship in Nainital district dates back to around the beginning of this millennium. The first mention of Naina Devi in human history is as the Goddess Nana in ancient Sumeria. A diplomatic treaty signed 1895,  by the Shah of Persia, accorded to France the exclusive right to carry out archeological excavations in Persia. Morgan was appointed Delegate-General of Antiquities in Persia, with a mission to carry on the research at Susiana. Morgan and colleagues commenced work there in 1897 The remains discovered by them consist of immense numbers of inscribed bricks covered with cuneiform writing and of works of art. As to the inscriptions in the Elamite language. Several were brought to the Louvre in Paris. Dr. Scheil has deciphered these: -

About B.C. 2280 the king of Susa, Kudur-Nakhunta, affected the conquest of Mesopotamia and decorated his capital with the spoils of the towns of Chaldae. Among these was the statue of the goddess Nana, which he caused to be transported from Uruk to Susa. During the twelfth century B.C. The kings of Nineveh became the most powerful rulers of this part of the world. They were the dominating power in Chaldæ and constituted themselves protectors of the country against the incursions of the Susians. Under Sargon, king of Assyria [B.C. 722-705] and his successors there began a mighty struggle, which ended with the ruin of Susa by Assurbanipal in B.C. 647. The king of Nineveh, relating his conquests in the land of Elam, records that sixteen centuries earlier Kudur-Nakhunta, king of Susa, had invaded Mesopotamia, and carried away the statues of the Chaldæn gods, more especially the image of the great goddess Nana, which thus remained prisoner until he, Assurbanipal, went to her rescue. (Assyrian Discoveries: An Account of Explorations and Discoveries on the Site of Nineveh, during 1873 and 1874 (Paperback) by George Smith, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001, ISBN 1402155719) 

By the beginning of the present millennium the worship of Goddess Nana appears to have spread through a very large part of the old world including Hungary, Armenia, Persia, Central Asia and South Asia. In India the worship of Goddess Nana appears to have been introduced first by the Kassites deported from Persia by the Assyrians and later perpetuated by the Kushanas. A rock inscription seven kilometers from Almora in Nainital District estimated to date to second century B.C. pays homage to the Goddess of the Kassites – Kasar Devi or Nana. The Kushanas recognized Nana as the Goddess with the lion and as the consort of Lord Shiva as depicted on their coinage. The Kushana empire (First to third century) stretched from central Asia to northwestern India covering the Himalayan regions as well as much area to the south and north of the city of Ujjain including present day Uttaranchal. The Kushanas were of central Asian mongoloid origin and it is probably partly because of this reason that the northwestern tribes of Himalayas display partial Mongol features. The reverse of Kushan coins is a space reserved for gods and goddesses, often symbols of dynastic power and authority. On the reverse of coins there is an image of a lion along with the Mesopotamian goddess Nana. The image of the lion is drawn from the reverse of the coins of the Greek kings. It is certain that it represents a lion in this case because in the Kushan period Nana is often represented with a lion. There are no earlier examples of Nana on central Asian coins but after Sapadbizes she appears on coins of several Kushan rulers. Though most coins use the simpler spelling Nana, some of Kanishka’s coins use the legend Nanaia. The spelling Naina has been introduced over the past two centuries when the district of Naninital came under British rule. On the coins of Huvishka and Kanishka II/III the Goddess appears seated on a lion. The early Guptas (Chandragupta) continued the use of this image on their coins. Huvishka stuck coins with Greek, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Bactrian deities. Some of his rare coin issue shows Goddesses Uma and Durga with her vehicle Lion. The representation of Nana with Shiva on some of Huvishka's coins is significant. It shows that the Kushana Hindu priests recognized Nana as the primal Goddess and consort of Shiva. Later Kushana rulers (VasudevaI, KanishkaII, Vashishka) used either Shiva or Lakshmi in their coinage.A kasssite tribe the Katyuris appear to have ruled the Himalyan region of Kumaon since ancient times both during the Kushan and Gupta period as well as later. Villages of Taleshwar, Tillari and Deora about two hundred kilometers from Nainital have archeological remains and inscriptions of Katyuri Kings. The Goddess Naina is believed by some to have reincarnated as a princess of the Chand dynasty of the region. She was worshipped as an avatar of Goddess Durga or Naina. A buffalo killed her on her way to her in-laws soon after her worship began as a goddess to neutralize the Karma of a previous birth when the Goddess had killed a demon who had taken the form of a buffalo. The highest peak of the region is regarded as her abode and named after her.The Naina Devi temple site in Nainital is recognized by some as the spot where both eyes of the Devi fell during her avatar as Sati. However The Nainital region is not the only region recognized for this. Another spot more famous for that is in Himachal Pradesh north of Anandpur Sahib where a huge temple of Naina Devi exists. In 1880 when Nainital District was under British rule a huge landslide took place destroying the ancient temple. Amarnath Shah reconstructed the temple in 1883. The most famous temple of the Goddess with the name Nanda is in Almora.The Goddess of Nainital has been the patron Goddess of some of the greatest civilizations seen ay mankind for over four thousand years. It is not surprising then that the District of Nainital where She presently reigns supreme. The present Uttarakhand Government must do its best to preserve the glory of this district as such and the author of this article is prepared to assist that effort in any humble way that he can. This article is a small contribution in that direction.

Comments

keiko amano said…
Ashok,

I'm overwhelmed with much information, but very satisfied to read this post. Long ago, I read "Our Oriental Heritage" by Will Durant. Since then, I'm fascinated with the history of India. And I haven't read all, but I bought Gita and other scriptures in Japanese. I wish my brain works better and I can remember all the details.
Ashok said…
Thanks for liking the post Keiko. Yes even I find the information overwhelming, especially those from historical records.

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