Senator Kamala Harris has a niece who is a 36-year-old lawyer. Her name is Meena Harris. On October 17, 2020, Meena posted an image of a Hindu goddess known as Durga on her Twitter account. This would have been fine except that Durga’s head was replaced with that of her aunt, Kamala Harris. In addition, Durga’s attendant is usually a lion or tiger, but its head was replaced with that of presidential candidate, Joe Biden. And, there was another character in the picture, that of a demon being slain by Durga. It’s face was replaced by that of President Donald Trump. Meena was bombarded by Hindu faithful who reprimanded her for disgracing and offending an important goddess of the Hindu pantheon. Some angry Hindus even alluded to Mohammed:

Meena eventually deleted her post.
Meena posted this photoshopped photo during a nine-day Hindu festival called Navaratri

that is celebrated by Hindus across the world. Navaratri is celebrated in autumn, and lauds the accomplishment of Durga and her nine avatars. Although Navaratri is celebrated in different ways depending on the locality, it is basically a celebration of good over evil. The origin of Navaratri is associated with a battle between Durga and Mahishasura, a demon who represents egoism. The nine days of Navaratri are devoted to Durga’s nine avatars.

Durga is a feminine deity who represents strength and protection. She battles evil and demonic forces that threaten peace and prosperity in Hindu mythology. Battles are fought to maintain the righteousness of the dharma. Durga is usually depicted riding a fierce lion or tiger. She has three eyes. Her left eye represents desire, symbolized by the moon. Her right eye represents action, symbolized by the sun. She has an eye on her forehead, representing knowledge, symbolized by fire. She is depicted with many arms, from eight to eighteen, each wielding a different weapon. Durga battles and defeats Mahishasura. Mahishasura was a buffalo Asura in Hinduism. In Indian mythology, Asuras (阿修羅) refer to a number of clans that pursue power. They were constantly in battle with the Devas.

Mahishasura, despite being an Asura, studied the meditation of Brahmas (梵天). He asked Brahma to grant him a wish. He first asked for immortality, but was turned down by Brahma. Mahishasura reworded his request and asked for the power to not be killed by either man or any god. This request was granted to him, making Mahishasura invincible. Mahishasura was considered particularly deft at deception, and do so by changing himself into different apparitions. What were stable were his demonic goals. Mahishasura eventually used his power to attack the Deva family and defeats Indra (帝釈天). The Deva clan approached Shiva and Vishnu for their help. This news angered Shiva and Vishnu immensely, both of whom irradiated a great light. This inspired other deities to do the same. It is said that the totality of light amassed together to create a goddess, of such abundant beauty and strength, that this deity would defeat Mahishasura who could not be toppled by gods and men on their own. In this way, the Devas borne a young and beautiful deity known as Durga.

Durga laid siege upon Mahishasura for nine nights. On the night of the tenth day, Durga managed to defeat Mahishasura for good. This great victory would be celebrated as Navaratri. Durga is one of the most popular figures in Brahminism.

Why is Durga of interest to us here? Kamala’s niece, Meena, may have made a fatal mistake in plastering her aunt’s face over Durga’s. However, if there is a silver lining to Meena’s ineptitude, it is that she introduced an important and popular Brahmin god to Americans. I would like to expand on Durga, and how faith in a Brahmin god was absorbed into Buddhism.

To get a better grasp of this, let us examine India first. India is a vast stretch of land, that is densely populated. It follows that its culture is many-faceted. Diversity abounds in India. It is not surprising that India’s religious foundation is polytheistic in nature. Let us examine Durga as a case study. Durga herself is celebrated in various renditions. Let me read a quotation from Learn Religions:

In Hinduism, the major gods and goddesses have multiple incarnations, meaning they can appear on earth as any number of other deities. Durga is no different; among her many avatars are Kali, Bhagvati, Bhavani, Ambika, Lalita, Gauri, Kandalini, Java, and Rajeswari.
When Durga appears as herself, she manifests in one of nine appellations or forms: Skondamata, Kusumanda, Shailaputri, Kaalratri, Brahmacharini, Maha Gauri, Katyayani, Chandraghanta, and Siddhidatri. Collectively known as
the Navadurga, each of these deities have their own holidays in the Hindu calendar and special prayers and songs of praise.

Durga is understood to possess various manifestations depending on who or where one is. Different sects of Hinduism have differing depictions of Durga. Shaktas and Shaivas

associate Durga as Shiva. Vaishnavas consider Durga as a transformation of Lakshmi, who is a consort of Vishnu.

Durga has been incorporated in other religions native to India. In Sikhism, for example, Durga is exalted as the divine in a sacred text of Sikhism called Dasam Granth. In Jainism, Jain cave drawings of the Ellora Caves depict deities that scholars have shown to be inspired by Durga. Durga’s influence crossed over beyond the borders of India. Tantric Buddhism has also adopted Durga into their tradition. The Tibetan goddess Palden Lhamo shares many of Durga’s characteristics such as its fierceness and its protective aspirations.

In Japan, Durga is embraced by Buddhism as the bodhisattva Jundei Kannon (准胝観音 ). Jundei Kannon is considered one of the Six Kannon of the Shingon Sect. In the Tendai Sect, Durga is considered a butsu-mo (仏母). butsu means “Buddha”, while mo means “mother.” The two characters together as butsu-mo refers to the dharma or teaching itself.

From these examples, we can know that Hindu deities have found their way into the Buddhist pantheon. Hinduism had existed as much as 2000 years before Buddhism ever came to be. As such, Hinduism and its deities were well established in Indian history and culture. Philosophies and practices that came into existence after Hinduism developed upon a base which was essentially Hinduism. Indian religions are extremely tolerant of importing gods and deities from beliefs other than its own. In this sense, Buddhism was no different. There are many personalities associated with Hinduism that resurface in Buddhist texts and are thus embraced in Buddhism. Indians had no problem with it. Buddhism was very flexible, and not always insistent on creating its own personalities. Buddhism may have been a reaction to Hindu beliefs, but it did not completely eschew it. Buddhism merely built upon existing concepts, such as those found in Hinduism.

(Eisei Ikenaga)