Rohit Arya_Sacred India Tarot#Creating the Strength card

The Strength card in the Sacred India Tarot was always going to be Durga – she who rides a lion. The western tradition had moved away from the archetype of male strength killing a lion to it being controlled by a woman’s spiritual power – a still astonishing and unexplained transformation. Durga is described as Shakti rupena the “Goddess whose form is strength” so the fit was marvelous.

Rohit’s Notes:

The article we attach should give you some interesting ideas.  There is a literal embarrassment of riches where sculpture is concerned, so we send you a few choices.  The Frenzy with which she fights the horned demon from the Ellora sculptures seems the most dynamic, and I would like that recreated.  Most representations show her at the moment of triumph impaling the poor wretch, as though there was no struggle, as though it is enough for Strength to be present without ever manifesting itself or indeed even testing itself – to see if it is in fact and deed the strength of the righteous that triumphs, and not just a pleasant delusion.  That is a dangerous fallacy, that the right has no struggle in its triumph over the wrong.   This is a Titanic, elemental clash, and the angry laughter of the goddess shakes the four quarters.  She should be a White Goddess in no uncertain terms, including her armour.  For the rest as you please.

Correspondence:  Jane – June 2002

I would like Rohit’s further notes on Durga.   I feel that for ‘strength’, Durga on her lion should not be just dashing madly into battle, but expressing the containment or discipline of her extraordinary energy.  What do you think?”

 Correspondence:  Rohit

“Dear Jane,

I completely agree with you about the manner in which Durga is to be represented.  The saying of Uyeshiba, founder of Aikido, may be relevant here, that the true stillness is the stillness found at the heart of vigorous motion.  It is not a wild battle frenzy that needs depiction as much as the overwhelming triumph of strength that is spiritual.  Durga is always in control, no matter how wild her behaviour is, she is Apollonian in her outlook, a Pallas Athena sort of remote and icy presence, pure and powerful and terrifying, because of the sheer easy perfection she represents – there is no space for weakness and indulgence of any sort.  She is the epitome of the intellectual warrior.  Kali on the other hand, is pure Dionysian, an elemental chaos force version of strength and death, titanic, chthonic, pre-rational, purely instinctual.

 “Please do not make the rakshasha (demon) grotesque, he represents not just brute force and ignorance, but also the smug self satisfaction of a sensate culture, over-achievers in material terms with contempt for all higher modes or aspects of thinking and feeling.   Such people are always superficially sleek and elegant, confident and therefore not prone to overt exaggeration in displays of strength – they would consider it a tacet admission of weakness.  The asura or sensate philosophy is very attractive.  Most modern societies are predicated on an unthinking assumption of its principles, and the virtue of strength, is precisely that it can overcome something which is so seductive and powerful, as well as point out something higher, as an evolutionary path.

 “Durga should have golden armour.  She is white in complexion, with extremely long black tresses.  As for the rest, please do as you have always done.  I trust this additional input will help you.”


Early material:  Centaur, Athene & Owl – JA 1988.    In fact Pallas Athene’s gaze is described as clear, grey, amused and profound


Rohit’s Notes (Excerpts from the article on the Indiayogi website) :

“Durga is not formidable;  she is stupendous – in the old sense of the word, co-mingling ‘tremendous’ as well as ‘stupefying’.

“… Her basic function in the popular mythology is to beat up the Cosmic bad guys, especially when the other gods have failed.  She is therefore a weapon of last resort and final appeal, an instinctive feminine answer to the problems of the world when masculine logic fails.

“Vedic India had no demon slayers in their goddesses, though Saraswathi is once described as a great warrior.  In fact the traditional Hindu framework had no place for the Great Mother religions.  Durga is an amalgamation of many local area fertility goddesses as well as India’s most significant religious import.  For the Indian mind had no such concept;  to be frank, battle queen goddesses riding animal mounts were just not part of the zeitgeist.  Once this concept had entered the country however – about 2000 years ago – it was quickly assimilated into the collective unconscious and filled up a gap in the emotional life of the people that the too-masculine nature of Godhead could not.

“Durga is almost certainly Ishtar of Mesopotamia, now the Middle East, worshipped by the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and even the Romans and Egyptians on the sly.  She has been around since 2000 BC at least, when an already old tale was set down as the epic The Descent of Ishtar.    This worthy was a very independent and headstrong goddess who roamed the wilds of forest and deserts at will, and had many lovers, constantly seeking battle and being given generally, a very respectful and extremely wide berth by everyone.  Ishtar and Isis were the two opposite polarities of the ancient mother cults, but Isis never came to India, though the Mahadevi is a good enough substitute.  Ishtar however, proved the words of the song ‘Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere’, and she became the most popular goddess of the ancient world, even if not quite as intellectually respected as Isis.  The common man however, preferred this wild energy that was no respecter of pretensions and pomposity, and cared not a fig for show and class division – Ishtar’s lovers being an extremely eclectic assortment of professions and social classes.   India embraced this wilderness-haunting, battle-loving, multiple-armed, lion-riding Goddess with great enthusiasm, but they could not countenance the promiscuity, and quietly dropped those parts out.   Durga was the result of this strange deity being introduced, an Ishtar that has got her act cleaned up, and is also  ‘chaste as the icicle on the Temple of Diana’.

“… Durga’s behaviour (a sort of feminine Shiva) is extremely offbeat in the Hindu social context, and as such, like all rebels, she has become a symbol of freedom for all those who are resigned to their narrow grinds and call it their duty.   Durga does what is good;  and duty is for lesser beings.

“Naturally there was great embarrassment about such an independent feminine energy running around … and spreading subversive thoughts amongst her devotees, and the mythologizers got busy and married her off to Shiva.  Then they wrote many stories which show her to be the manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s wife.  Durga is Parvati’s divine wrath which has taken physical shape.  Even as they were making up the myth, they could not avoid her essentially independent nature.  In parts of the country she is supposed to be the mother of a Divine Family with Skanda, Ganesha, Lakshmi and Saraswathi being her children.  This is an amazing example of popular feeling as to what is right and proper triumphing over the texts itself.  None of these deities are in any way connected to Durga actually, from the evidence of the texts, be they mythology or scripture.  However, a goddess could not be childless, so she had better have the best children possible.

“The old Durga, even with her Ishtar lineage, seems to have been a fertility goddess, closely connected with the harvests and wild vegetation.  There are religious ceremonies even today practiced, which ask her to hasten the growth of crops and the sprouting of the seeds.  She was obviously accepted first by the tribal and semi nomadic peoples.   Hence … she is known as VANAPRIYA, she who loves forests.  She also accepts blood offerings, in the typical renewal and nourishment ritual so well known to all ancient cultures.  That however, has become a problem today, as the faith has become uncomfortable with such beliefs.  It does not help that the great battle Queen inflames herself for combat by drinking wine till her eyes are red, and sometimes when that is not enough, she quaffs blood … (they) were very sociable drinkers indeed, as all the old texts and epics show again and again.   It is only nowadays that this kind of behaviour seems inexplicable…

“However, it is not to be supposed that Durga is a chaotic, undisciplined force of nature.  She is so terrifying precisely because she is always in control;  there is something cool and deliberate about her, that freezes the blood.  Even her attahasam, the cosmic bellow of laughter that shakes the earth, seems to be derisive mockery of the pretensions of evil, rather than the outburst of rage it would be in Kali’s case.   In fact there is something singularly chilling, a Himalayan coldness, in the descriptions of the manner she wipes the floor with demons.  Wave after wave of asuras and rakshasas are annihilated by her, and then she waits with this menacing calm for the next lot to rush up on her and meet their doom.   Kali would have been chasing them round the four corners of the Earth as soon as she had killed a few.  The battle fury is always ready to break out in Durga, but she never loses control.  It never becomes the blood lust that motivates Kali’s dance of destruction.  It is impossible for Durga to get carried away, and it is this superhuman control of hers that has rendered her The Inaccessible.

“In some myths, Durga is the skin of Parvati, which slips off and fights the demons Shumbha and Nishumba, a pair of brothers who did not know the old saying – ‘united they stand, and divided by desiring the same woman, they fall’.   Sometimes she is supposed to create helpers to fight for her, Kali being the most famous.  As Kali is an old tantric deity, the assimilative trend here is only too visible.   In other versions, she is supposed to have created the Saptamatrikas, the Seven Mothers, who are originally Yaksha gods!   However it is worth noting, that Durga, like Ishtar, never needs male help.   She is independent of all direct male influence, and she fights only male demons.   In the myth of her origin, what is most interesting and crucial, is not that she is presented as the Shakti power behind the male god, but that she takes their powers upon herself, so that she can save the universe.

“This subsuming and in a sense takeover of the formal powers of all creation is what has led the famous Hymn to Durga to extol her as the composite of all the elements.  Ya Devi sarva bhuteshu, Shakti rupena samsthitha    – “O Devi, who is the amalgam of all the elements, whose form is that of strength.”   This indicates her essential independence of all that is – as she is made of the very stuff of the universe.

“Among her powers and attributes, are listed not just positive ones like wisdom and peace, but also she whose form is hunger, sleep and thirst.  Durga therefore, is only too familiar with the Shadow of the Universe.  Durga is thus an impossible reconciliation of opposites, the aspect of divinity that will always remain out of reach of the comprehension of man.  She is the divine life force, that may not be understood, but only accepted.”

 During SITA card 11, I was working in a Celtic energy field of the Priestess of Black Isis, this is one of three drawings of her, done at the same time.


Jane’s Notes – 30 June – 2 July 2002

In this little painting of She, she has lifted her veil of night to glimmer through it nakedly like the moon.  But I don’t think I have captured her wild mystery.  She is intended to smile, or only begin to smile, like moonbeams.  In the ravens wing of her hair, and at the bottom, is another little oval like a pebble or crystal … the Lynx to her left side, is a wonderful creature, a grey feral cat with topaz eyes and tufted elven ears like horns of the Moon.  One should follow the way the Lynx moves, in all one’s alchemy.  The Lynx shows how to do it, how to dance, how to purr the moon-rays over the hill, how to stalk the prey.

“… Why does God have so many prejudices? – the dark crystallizations up and running?  God has every prejudice in the book, and is none of them.

“I wonder if my moon-drop drawing of She, is the Lady Alchymia.  The great beauty is the unfetteredness from identity.  The great beauty is cherished by the unpersoned servant.

“Today I drew Durga – STRENGTH – for India Tarot.   She’s come out as an Elven warrior-Princess – not Indian at all, even with her six arms.  Lions are always very difficult to draw, because they are almost human, or human caught in the noblest sleep of the animal kingdom, and thus deformed.   Rohit wants Durga white skinned with flowing black tresses and golden armour and Pallas-Athene eyes – so he’s got a Royal Elf.  He wants the demon to represent the sleek and seductively cynical Consumerist – like a handsome, glittering car.   My demon isn’t yet coloured in, but lies along the ground with sensual face and figure-eight serpent tail, raising a hand in salute, which looks like “Cheerio then folks.   She’s coming.”  The tall narrow format of these little paintings is a difficult compositional challenge every time, and the resolution is never what I first envisaged.

“In the contemplation of Binah – Kabbalist Understanding – is also the interrogative Hebrew name of God, “Mi” – ‘Who?’   This morning I looked out of the kitchen window to the poplar trees along the railway, heavily green with summer.  My inner vision can penetrate the clothing of the carpark and townscape, and discover in that urban space, co-incident with it, a meadow of long grass:  woods, flowers and beasts.  Why not?  This is the feeling looking out of the window at and as anything.  Create what you like.  This too shall pass.  The underlying atoms, all alike, seethe in combination and deliver belief.   I see an umbrella a few hundred years – I mean yards – away, even though it is not raining.  Minutes later, a downpour veils the poplar trees.  Rain drums swift rings of sound in puddles and wet road.”

Two earlier versions of “Strength” in the west.   In some decks, “Strength” is 8 and “Justice” is 11, the other way round from Sacred India Tarot.   This does not interfere with readings – the concepts of strength and justice interchange well and contribute mutual insights.

The pencil drawing is of Strength as  FOHAT – the universal “magical agent” or astral Light.   Note the raised five headed cobra from the coils of the lion’s tail, bridging eastern and western yogas.    Now here is Sacred India Tarot’s:

Correspondence:  Jane – 3 July 2002

“Dear Gautam, I have sent you Durga via Mr E’s mail.  At the moment, these are scanning somewhat darker than the originals.  The skyline for instance along the distant mountains in this one, is lighter and violet-pink in tone, getting very dark half way up.  The blues and greens are good, but the pink-violet and yellow-gold tones are obscured – the originals of cards 8,9,10,11 are brighter and lighter.  However it gives you a sufficiently good idea, and when we bring the whole thing together, we can research optimum reproduction.

 “The demon in Durga is based on Rahu, as being suitably glitzy as per Rohit’s description.  Durga’s strength is in her concentrated power and sighting.  I picked up your tip about Pallas Athene and ‘icy stupendous’.  She is swinging the bow round to shoot, and the dagger extended points to a higher path.  Another pair of hands are completely calm, the left hand gently restraining the Lion.  The long narrow format of the cards is compositionally challenging.  Was delayed a few days with toothache (now recovered), but couldn’t have done it anyway before Rohit’s useful note came along.  I shall start card 12 next week, after your feedback.  With greetings to you both, Jane.”

Jane’s Notes:  The rakshasha represents that sleek and seductively sufficient material over-achiever.  His hand raised – as if barring a paparazzi lens – is the gesture of an entity which grows fat on the consumerist society thank you very much!   This rakshashi or demon wears the loop (head-dress) of Rahu’s glitzy media dream of nectar, like a crown.  The serpent power is densely coiled into illusions, which trap human beings and mortgage them to the hilt.   NB – Durga’s third pair of hands behind the two active pairs:  almost hidden, the gentle hand on the lion’s head.  Strength overcomes the seductive sleek blinds of modern Ferraris and electronics.

Correspondence:  Rohit and Gautam – 18 July 2002

“Dear Jane, finally I’m back from what turned out to be a Cathedral pilgrimage of sorts, since I visited over a dozen of them in France, including the one and only Chartres.  A visit to Cathar country was undertaken as well, including the hill castle of Montegur.  Felt like I was a knight in some past life, perhaps revisiting for a recap of sorts.

 “Hope all else is well at your end.  It’s monsoon time in Bombay, but it’s not been raining much…

 “Rohit dropped in to the office today, and we discussed the Strength card.  Herewith are the comments.  We like the overall composition, it is extremely beautiful and powerful.  A few points:  the left hand on the bow should be below the arrow, and perhaps more of the arm needs to be seen in perspective.  We like the idea of casting the demon as Rahu, but unfortunately he’s too firmly associated with Vishnu.  So, should we eliminate the serpent body and leave the head as it is, or should we substitute it for a buffalo body, because Mahishasur is the buffalo demon, and mythologically the arch antagonist to Durga?

 “What is the significance of the prominent palm shown beneath Durga’s feet?   Warm regards, Gautam and Rohit.”

Correspondence:  Jane – 21 July 2002

“I have been away for a few days, and now have your email, thanks.

 “I’m afraid you gave me no indication of the demon being associated with Vishnu, though I looked right through the material several times.  The only thing I had to go by, was Rohit’s note:  ‘Please do not make the rakshasha grotesque, he represents not just brute force and ignorance, but also the smug self satisfaction of a sensate culture …’ (etc., see above).


“To me, this suggested an aspect of Rahu, the glamour glitz of consumerist media.  My interpretation was led this way, visualizing for instance, the sleek surfaces of cars and electronics!   The serpent form is lent easily to this, but doesn’t have to be Rahu, the headdress can be altered.  It is compositionally extremely difficult to fit in a buffalo body.  The serpent was the only solution (after several hours).   Incidentally, the hand palm is the demon’s own right hand in a salute, to ‘blind’ the seeker to the demon’s identity and to the presence of Durga – like a hand stretched out to put over the camera lens.  The hand is also a symbol of occult defence.   This one has almost no character lines.   The demon is adept at masking identity.   I shall definitely need more information before I can proceed, and please also send me some visual data (your descriptive stuff is fine) how you see card 12.   In 11, Durga’s left hand can be adjusted – the arrow is meant to protrude between her index and third fingers, but can lower it if you prefer – and will try to indicate more of the foreshortened arm.   Will begin 12 after I have heard from you.  What an interesting trip you have had in France.”


Jane’s Note – June 2012

There seems to have been no further correspondence on this matter.   Here, for a reference, is my drawing of the planet daity Rahu (north node, eclipse plane – see the little symbol, bottom left).  He has been lapping at the nectar of the gods.  Catching him, they cut off his head, condemning him to a disembodied eternal life, to taste, fantasize and persuade, but never quite attain.  Rahu’s general nature seemed to match Durga’s as adversary, as he stands for glamour and worldly snares.   In the light of our correspondence, the lion-power leaping from his breast is interesting, and so is the cobra north-node uraeus on his third eye, and in the palm of his hands:  Rahu is the deity of projection and illusion.   But in the positive sense, his power realizes our dreams, and drives us to create new horizons.

And here is an early working sketch for the Rahu drawing:

 This sketch indicates the Moon’s phases.   The horses in the main drawing are Rahu’s black lotus.

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five languages} the first book on tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He has also written A Gathering of Gods. He is  a corporate trainer, a mythologist and vibrant speaker as well as an arts critic and cultural commentator. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga

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