The Sanskrit narrative text Devī Māhātmya, “The Greatness of The Goddess” (henceforth DM), extols the triumphs of an all-powerful Goddess, Durgā, over universe-imperiling demons. These exploits are embedded in an intriguing frame narrative: a deposed king solicits the counsel of a forest-dwelling ascetic, who narrates the tripartite acts of Durgā which comprise the main body of the text. Why is this?
This study argues that the DM’s frame narrative cleverly engages a dichotomy at the heart of Hinduism: the opposing ideals of asceticism and kingship. These ideals comprise two strands of what is referred to herein as the brāhmaṇic double helix. This work decodes the symbolism of encounters between forest hermits and exiled kings through the lens of the dharmic double helix, demonstrating the extent to which this common narrative trope masterfully encodes the ambivalence of brāhmaṇic ideology. Engaging the tension between the moral necessity for nonviolence and the sociopolitical necessity for violence, this project deconstructs the ideological ambivalence throughout the DM to demonstrate that its frame narrative invariably sheds light on its core content. Its very structure serves to emphasize a theme that prevails throughout the text, one inalienable to the rubric of the episodes themselves: sovereignty on both cosmic and mundane scales.
Acknowledging narrative’s paramount function of encoding ideology, this project locates the DM ideologically more so than historically. To draw from Umberto Eco’s narrative theory, this study argues that the DM’s model reader is not only expected to be equipped with the ideological savvy outlined above, but also with a certain structural savvy. The former of these interpretational tools pertains to content, while the latter pertains to form. Regarding the latter, this research demonstrates that the DM’s narrative enframement is an indispensable component of a complex, consciously orchestrated, meaningful narrative structure, one purposefully geared towards encoding ideology and eliciting interpretation through structural cues. It constitutes a synchronic study of the glories of the Goddess, one that necessarily makes sense of the text as a whole, frame and all. As emphasized by its subtitle, this thesis is not merely about royal ideology in the DM, it is equally about how to read that ideology.