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An even older mythological source for the reverence of compassionate maternal figures, however, comes out of the culture in which Mother Theresa practiced, rather than from the Christian tradition she lived by. This is the figure of Durga, one of the many incarnations of Kali, the Mother Goddess of the Hindu religion.
Alternatively, Kali and the many other forms of the goddess are seen as emanating from Durga (Rajhans, par. 3). According to this view, Durga is supreme power of the Supreme Being, the force of all creation, preservation, and destruction of the world (Rajhans, par. 1). This latter element does not fit with Mother Theresa, but the first two are essential qualities that she possessed and portrayed, and which were the primary foundations of her mythological status. This also illustrates the complexity of Hindu mythological and religious figures; at times, the separate functions of the Mother Goddess are seen as personified in different identities.
One of Durga's primary qualities, the one from which this person of the Mother Goddess is wholly inseparable, is her ability to alleviate all desperate situations (Rajhans, par. 1). In fact Druga's creation, according to some versions, came as a result of the threat of destruction to the gods; she was formed by all of their highest powers in order to combat the evils that threatened them with various weapons and with her creative and compassionate powers (Rajhans, par. 6).
The militancy that Druga has in many incarnations is in direct opposition to the actions and attitudes of Mother Theresa. This is also not a part of the Western archetype of the maternal. This is far and away the biggest difference between Druga and Mother Theresa -- destructive power is no way a part of the latter's mythological (or historical) persona. Druga is usually depicted holding many weapons, however, and is often astride a tiger or other vicious animal on the attack (Rajhans, fig. 1). Depictions of Mother Theresa are, of course, much more serene; they even tend to block out any scenes of poverty and focus on the face of the woman herself, intensifying the mythological aura surrounding her (Abrams, fig. 2)..
In Hindu mythology, just as in many Eastern traditions, the concept of balance is an inherent part of everything. Thus, Druga's creative and compassionate powers must be balanced by her destructive capabilities, and her role as an instrument of vengeance and retribution. The ability to create without the ability to destroy would simply lead to excess; an imbalance. This is the major force behind the differences in the mythological perspectives of the maternal.
Considering only the creative side of Druga, then, the parallel between the Hindu Mother Goddess and the Mother Theresa of twentieth century Calcutta becomes quite clear. Both were seen as maternal creators and preservers of life (Rajhans, par. 1). Both were sent into desperate and seemingly hopeless situations and yet managed -- at least in mythological terms -- to achieve a great deal of success. Druga accomplished the destruction of the evil forces confronting the gods, and Mother Theresa's work, though grown to mythological proportions, did much to relieve the very real suffering of the poor.
I believe that mythology and myths exist due to universal commonalities in the human experience. That is, there is no coincidence in the repeated characters and motifs that appear in the mythologies of the many different cultures, but rather they exist because they represent aspects of human life that exist in every culture. In the Druga/Mother Theresa case, the common human experience is easy to identify. Every human being in the world (as far as we know) has a mother, and most humans throughout history have had the opportunity to form a relationship with that mother or a surrogate, with profound effects on individual and cultural development.
The universality of mothers does not mean that motherhood and maternal qualities are viewed as exactly the same by all cultures and mythologies. The difference in Druga and Mother Theresa illustrate the different experiences of the cultures that produced the mythologies. In Western culture, largely due to the influence of the Christian tradition, the maternal ideal has been one of purity and total sacrifice as typified by the Virgin Mary. Mother Theresa also exemplifies these ideals, or at least the myth of Mother Theresa does, making her an archetypal example of the Western mythological concept of the maternal. In the Hindu culture, women were just as capable of action as men, though there were heavy restrictions on the proper times and ways to act. This activeness, coupled with the universal creative aspects of maternity, led to the dualism that is present in the mythological figure of Druga.
Both Druga and Mother Theresa typify the mythological maternal. In different ways, each stands out to their culture as an exemplary standard of the life-bearing feminine.
Abrams, Irwin. "Mother Theresa: Biography." Nobelprize.org. Accessed 10 March 2009. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1979/teresa-bio.html
Bierlein, J.F. Parallel Myths. New York: Random House, 1994.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.
Kennedy, Dan. "In Gloucester, a Murky Clarification." Media Nation. Accessed 10 March 2009. http://medianation.blogspot.com/2008/06/in-gloucester-murky-clarification.html
Rajhans, Shri Gyan. "Goddess Durga: The Mother Goddess & Her Symbolism." Accessed 10 March…[continue]
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