In the Tamil Language, ´mudevi´ (moo-day-vee) is an insult. You use it to refer to a lazy, dumb person, or a total moron. When in fact, mu-devi refers to mootha-devi – or Eldest Goddess.
I remember coming across this when I was reading the Thirukurral (and its English translation) as a teenager – and at that age – I did not know the older meaning. I thought the sage Thiruvalluvar (author of the Thirukurral) was calling a form of the wild, older, darker goddess as a fool! (For context – The Thirukurral itself is an ancient Tamil book that lays out a philosophy or vision of good life. A beautiful text in its own right but for that one verse that set me aflame )
My teenage self was right in her anger, though not at the Sage – but of cultural shifts and societal machinations. At the fact that word that once referred to the Dark, wild, Goddess – the Elder Goddess to Lakshmi – over time – became identified with a swearword. At least something you wouldn´t use in polite company.
The worship of Jyestha Devi / Mu-Devi / the Elder Goddess persisted till the 10th century. You can still see her temples and statues in ancient sites and rural villages. But she is mostly forgotten.
She is associated with bad luck, illnesses, disorder, polygamy – everything that a ´good´ Indian wife should never bring into the house. Housewives used to worship her to keep her away from their homes.
Perhaps this is why I have never felt a call to Lakshmi (though I respect her) – her worship stipulates the do´s and don´ts of womanhood and domesticity. It need not be so, sadly, it still is.
This divide and suppression of the forms of the Sacred Feminine.
Personally, I feel this is a later invention and re-configuration of what may have been a Goddess of Time / Tribulations – much as Saturn is. Some consider Jyestha Devi as the wife of Lord Saturn (Shani) – they both share the symbol of a Crow. This too may have been a later attempt to include a powerful feminine figure as part of a andro-centric re conceptualization of spiritual hierarchies.
So much of the wild, dark femininity of the Goddess – especially in traditional cultures – is in practice and text – relegated to the margins of social and spiritual understanding.
Whilst there is a delightful interest in the Goddesses of the East emanating from other parts of the globe, too little thought and attention is given to the Forgotten, Exiled Goddesses. Left now as historical footnotes or spectres of fear.
It´s easy to love the Goddess of Love and Wealth – and to want to identify with her – but what of her Elder Sister?
Jyestha herself is seen as an aspect of AthiParaSakthi (The supreme form of the Goddess) – but is never recognized as such in practice. I would be happy the day the Goddess was not segmented in such a form, or any conception of the sacred, for that matter.
To deem one form of womanhood as elevated, and another as debased. Agh, Hinduism (and just about all forms of organized religion) have a lot to answer for.
Though – there is a temple in Tamil Nadu (my ancestral home) where a temple remains that feature Saturn with his two wives (Mandhi Devi and Jyestha Devi) in Thirunallar. And references to her in other temples in the state – but she is still, mostly forgotten. I hope to visit these place and learn more during my next pilgrimage to India.
The upcoming Gemini New Moon (in the Western system) is interpreted as the Jyestha Ammavasai (New Moon of Jyestha) in the Vedic System – though for them – it´s in Taurus. Jyestha, like Shani (Saturn), is said to be associated with the Crow – and so certain parts of India celebrate this New Moon as the Birth of Saturn.
To me it points to astrological precursors- or older archetypes of planets that existed beforehand.
Perhaps Jyestha is the Goddess of Time, Darkness and Karma. And it s time we began to re-cognize her once more. And a personal search for me that begins to be answered.
I make this interpretation on the basis of her connection with Saturn and the Crow. Saturn / Shani is said to be the Ruler of Time, represented as a Black form riding a Crow.
I had a lucid meditation a few days ago, in which I explored these very themes – but came up short on a Goddess for Time, and her connection with the Sacred Feminine Mysteries.
And presto, came the answer.
Though by no means am I the first to make this connection, nor do I claim to be. There are others who have connected the dots and gone – wait a minute ….
When I look at this Goddess I feel a wave of recognition. And familiarity. This goddess is projected upon as a dweller of inauspicious places, a fat-belled, large breasted dark figure. (Which apparently is the way I am remembered through some of my travels in India – physically at least – so I heard yesterday). Makes me feel proud to keep walking as I walk, and to do as I do.
Here´s to ink coloured skin, pendulous breasts and a belly 😉
Blessings and Love,
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam PhD
POSTSCRIPT ** I received a request to elaborate further on my comment on Goddess Lakshmi and the forms of womanhood she represents – here was my response:
Well, the way Lakshmi is presented valorizes all that is normatively seen as ´good´ or desirable behavior in a woman. And that´s the model or standard by which girls are still judged in traditional Indian families. And it´s a very puritanical standard. Anything that doesn´t conform with that view is discarded as alakshmi or mudhevi. And ignored. Which is why it´s important to speak of these things as these concepts are being introduced (without reflection) to non-Hindu audiences across the globe. Rather than being a form of femininity that encompasses all, or exalts beauty in all forms – it´s actually a very, very, selective and narrowly defined vision of womanhood that is celebrated.
Wikipedia – so you get a feel for how she´s represented –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jyestha_(goddess)
Online video – in Tamil – on an old shrine to her –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-A8_4ruHZs
Excellent response to the question of what mu-devi means (Quora.com) –https://www.quora.com/Tamil-language-What-does-mudevi-in-Ta…
ModaSattva´s commentary on https://controversialhistory.blogspot.co.uk/…/controversies…
A refreshing source on why we should acknowledge and revere this Goddess, rather than ignoring her very existence:http://www.agasthiar.org/AUMzine/0022-Jyeshta-Devi.htm