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Durga is perhaps, is the most widely worshipped aspect of Sakti. An entire Purana, the Devibhagavatam, has been dedicated to her. Another work, more well-known than the Devibhagavatam, but containing the same material in a concise form is the Devimahatmyan it is also known as Durgasaptasati or Candi and forms a part of a well known Purana, the Makandeyapurana. This work is so highly venerated that every verse of it is considered to be a mantra of Devi & its repetition is believed to confer whatever boons the votary prays for.

Literally ‘Durga’ means one who is difficult to approach or difficult to know. Being the personification of the totally of the powers of god she is naturally difficult to approach. However being the mother of the universe, she is personified of tender love, when supplicated.

One of the several aspects of Sakti put forward by this work is the power of sleep taking recourse to which, Lord Visnu rests between two cycles of creation. She is praised as responsible for the creation, sustenance and withdrawal of the universe. She is the mysterious power, the very personification of knowledge, wisdom and memory. She is pleasant and beautiful. At the same time she is terrible also. This combination of the opposite qualities is possible only for her.

The next is Mahissasuramardini, the deity who took shape as a result of the pooling together of the power of all the gods who had been oppressed by the demon Mahisasura.

Visnu, Siva and Brahma where incensed by hearing the accounts of the misdeeds of Mahisasura and the Devi was born out of their wrath, followed by the wrath of the lesser divinities. The powers of these Gods formed her limbs and the exact duplicates of their weapons formed her arsenal. Armed with these formidable weapons and riding on a fierce lion she challenged Mahisasura and destroyed him along with his army.

This story is followed by an exquisite hymn which combines in itself both poetic excellence and devotional fervour and insight.

She is the power inscrutable by which the whole universe is permeated and energized. She is the personification of all wealth, beauty, power as also virtues. She is embodiment of Yajna (sacrifice), Pravidya (the highest knowledge of concerning the sprit) as well as Aparavidya (knowledge of secular science). It is she who bestows wealth – both material and spiritual- dispels difficulties, and annihilates the evil ones. Her beauty as well as her valour, is incomparable.

The Gods could not enjoy their freedom for long. Very soon, they were overpowered by the demons Sumbha and Nisumbha. So they had to run to the Himalayas and supplicate the Devi again. The hymn well known as the ‘Aparajitastotra’, praises her as the ‘unconquered’. Her immanence in all the living beings is the main theme of this hymn. The power and activities of all human beings are manifestations of only her power.

In response to this prayer, she manifested herself as Kausiki Durga, emanating from the body of Parvati , who herself became kali the dark one, after this manifestation.

The world – bewitching beauty of Durga attracted the attention of Sumba and Nisumba who sent proposals of marriage through a serf. Unfortunately for them, in a moment of ‘weakness and foolishness’ she had vowed to marry only him who would vanquish her in battle. All attempts at forcibly dragging her away ended in disaster for the demons. Heads rolled the intervention of giants like Dhumralocana, Canda, Munda and Rajktabija not withstanding. Kali the fierce black goddess who emerged from Devi’s forehead, beheaded Canda and Munda and thus won the name Camunda for herself. Only the battle with Raktabija was longdrawn needing some special efforts by the Devi since he had the mysterious power to multiply through the drops of blood spilt in the battle. Even the Saptamatrkas who came out of her body to battle, seem helpless. It was Kali who managed to spread her extensive tongue and drink away all the blood gushing out of Raktabija, thus preventing the emergence of more demons and enabling Durga to exterminate him. The rest was easy. Nisumbha was easily put to death after a mockery of fight. Sumbha being exasperated by now, accused her of taking the help of ‘others’!

Laughing there derisively the Devi withdrew all her emanations and manifestations into herself, showing that she was always the One without a second. In the ensuing battle, Sumba the lord of the demons was easily killed, thus ridding the worlds of a great terror.

This is followed by another peace of prayer, an enchanting poetical hymn, which is as simple as it is elegant. Known as the ‘Narayanistuti’ it starts with fervent appealed to the mother by the grateful gods to be benign and gracious. The hymn describes as a mistress and the mother of the whole creation. She is the mysterious power of Visnu (Vaisnavisakta ), the original cause, as also the power – deludes beings. It is only by pleasing her that one can hope to get spiritual emancipation. She is the very personification of all that is good and auspicious. She is ever engaged in protecting her children. The Saptamatrkas are really her aspects. Kali the terrible is also another of her aspects.

The Devi as depicted has three major manifestations: Mahakali, Mahalaksmi and Mahasarasavti. These aspects should not be confused deities Parvati, Laksmi and Sarasvati. They are actually the three major manifestations of the One Supreme Power Maheshvari according to the three Gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattava).

The story of Mahisasura has several implications. Mahisasura, the he-buffalo, represents the jungle law that might is right. He is the ruthless brute force that does not brook any opposition where selfish ends are concern. And he succeeded even against the gods but only when they are divided. But he fell before their combine powers and the will to fight , which is exactly what the Devi Mahisasuramardini, represents. At the subjective level Mahisasura stands for ignorance and stubborn egoism. The section dealing with her exploits is the longest. Dhumralocana, Canda, Munda, Raktabija, Nisumbha and Sumbha are the chief demons destroyed by her.

Dhumralocana was destroyed by a Hunkara by a mere frown! Canda an Mundawere two mean to be handled by the devi directly. Hence Kali, the horrible finished them. As for Nisumbhs and Sumbha, the Devi was obliged to give them a straight fight. Images of Durga can have four or eight or ten or eighteen or even twenty hands. The eyes are usually three. The hair is dressed up as a crown called called ‘Karandamukuta’. She is gorgeously dressed with red cloth and several ornaments. Among the objects held in hand the more common ones are- shield, rosary, winecup and bell, conch, biscus, trident, bow, arrow, sword and dagger. She may be shown as standing on a lotus or on a buffalo’s head or a riding lion.

Lion, the royal beast, her mount, represents the best in animal creation. It can also represent the greed for food and hence the greed for other objects of enjoyment which I inevitably leads to lust. To become divine (Davatva) on should keep one’s animal instincts under complete control this seems to be the lesson we can draw from the picture of the Sinmhavahini ( The rider of lion).

Courtesy: Hindu Gods and Goddesses by Swami Harshananda



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