The journey of a goddess
: durga in India, Java and Bali

  • Ariati Ni Wayan Pasek

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This study examines the demonization of images of the goddess Durga in Indonesia, viewed first as a long-term historical process that appears to have begun in East Java sometime during the first half of the second millennium CE. An attempt is then made to show how this long-term process reflected largely in mythology may be related to the demonization of images of women of the Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani) during the transition from the Old Order of President Soekarno (1945-1966) to the establishment of the New Order by Indonesia’s second president, Suharto (1966-1998). In this view, images of Durga and the women of Gerwani have shared a similar fate, moving from a state of being considered attractive and beneficial, but later being understood as terrifying, demonic figures feared by the community.

    I contrast my study of the demonization of images of Durga in Indonesia with the situation in India, where the goddess Durga developed from its sources in the Indus Valley civilization where the “mother goddess” as a source of agricultural and human fertility. During a later period images of this “mother goddess” were incorporated into the pantheon of the nomadic Indo-Aryans as a female counterpart of prominent warrior gods of the pantheon. This has led to an understanding of the goddess Durga as a powerful, protective goddess who is worshipped throughout India during the festivals known as Durga Puja or Navaratri. It was this form of Durga that was most prominent in the early centuries of Indian influence in the archipelago (c.700-900 CE), and continued to be important to the kingdoms of East Java.

    In the Malay-Indonesian archipelago images of Durga went through a radical change in comparison to representations of the goddess Durga Mahisasuramardini of India, which always show her as a beautiful and sensual warrior goddess who protects her devotees from any threat to their safety and well-being. Through a long process of evolution and change images of Durga in the archipelago came to depict her in demonic form. The first radical transformations of this type began to develop during the East Javanese period (c. 10th -15th centuries CE). In this dissertation, I look at the question of external and internal threats to the security of the Majapahit dynasty as possible pressures that led to the development of a special exorcistic tale (the Sudamala tale), which featured a demonic form of the goddess Durga, which eventually is transformed back into an auspicious form through the power of a male figure of authority, in this case the god Shiva.

    The further demonization of images of the goddess Durga began in East Java with the composition of the Calon Arang, a tale about an angry widow named Rangda who becomes a devotee of Durga who dwells in the graveyard called Setra Gandamayu, where she eats corpses. Rangda calls upon the goddess Durga to assist her in bringing disease and pestilence to the kingdom of King Airlangga. This tale has been immortalized in the Balinese performing arts, and has led to the identification of the goddess Durga as the patron of black magic in which form she is worshipped in order to gain magical powers, or kesaktian. It is this fully demonized form of images of Durga that I believe allowed the founders of the New Order to play on fears of the power of uncontrolled women, and to create a mythology about the women of Gerwani that identified them with all the negative aspects of the goddess that are brought out in tales about Durga and Rangda, which are well-known throughout much of Indonesia.
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChristine Doran (Supervisor)

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