Online Darshan

Mythical Roots

Durga, the demon-slaying goddess,

She is again a goddess of vegetation (as symbolised by the Nabapatrika, a collection of nine branches of plants, kept to the right of Ganesha during the worship), returning every year with promise of a good harvest. In Markandeyczpurana, after demon-king Shumba falls, Durga departs with the promise that if crops failed she would return as Shakambhari and nourish the world with vegetation.

The epic, Mahabharata, describes Durga as one who ends all miseries (durgati-nashini). In Devipurana, she is also the protector of fortresses (durgo means a fortress in Sanskrit).

The form in which Durga is portrayed in the annual festival derives from another myth. Mahishasura, the buffalo- demon, once prayed long and hard to Brahma, the Father of Creation. Satisfied, the god appeared before the king of the nether world and offered him a boon. Mahishasura sought to be immortal. When this was refused, he thought up the next best option—that he die only at the hand of a woman. After all, what risk would he, an intrepid warrior, stand from a frail female! Armed with this confidence, he set off to conquer the universe. First, he took over earth and then marched with his army towards heaven. The war raged for a thousand years and the demons were victorious. The gods were driven out of heaven and flocked to Lord Shiva for protection. As Shiva listened to their tale of woe, a divine effulgence emanated from his face. The other gods too emitted a similar glow. This energy combined to take a 1,000-armed towering female form. Jewellery and gems from Kshirod Sagar, the mythical sea of milk, were brought to dress her up with earrings, rings, bangles, necklaces amid anklets. The gods, then, created replicas of their own weapons and armed her (see boxy. Himalaya, the king of the mountains, gifted her a lion which she took as her mount.

Divine conception

The glow emanating from each of the gods shaped a distinct portion of the divine figure.

Shiva-.face; Yama, the God of; Vishnu-arms; Chandra, the moon-god-breasts; Indra, the thunder-God-loin; Varuna, the sea-God-thighs and shank; Earth-.hips; Brahma-feet; Surya, the sun-God-fingers of the feet; Ashtabashu, the eight demigods-fingers of the hand; Kubera, the god of wealth>> nose; Prajapati, Brahma’s ten grandsons-teeth; Agni, the fire God-.three eyes; Sandhya, the evening Goddess-brows; Vayu, the God of wind-.ears.

Adorned in finery and armed to the teeth, Durga let out a roar and headed for Mahishasura’s palace. Such was the impact of the sound that it uiileashed cyclones in the sea and landslides in the mountains. Mahishasura rushed out to check the cause of the uproar. But on seeing Durga, he burst out laughing. This infuriated Durga even further. She reminded the demon-king of his vulnerability, and urged him to battle. As Mahishasura summoned his army, Durga exhaled deeply. Immediately, thousands of soldiers were produced to fight on her side. The demon, who could take on the guise of any animal, first assumed his favourite form, that of the buffalo. It trampled on hundreds and injured hundreds more with the lashing of its tail. Durga threw a lasso at the raging animal. To slip out of the noose, Mahishasura transformed himself into a lion. But Durga soon chopped off its head with a sword.

Gifts from the gods

Shiva-trident; Vishnu-.discus; Vayu-bow and quiver; Agni-.mace; Mahakaal (Time)>>falchion; Yama>> shield*; Varuna-Nagpash- Indra- elephant goad and bell; Yiswakarma, the divine craftsman-axe.

*In some accounts, Yama’s gift is Kaldanda, his staff, the touch of which spell death.

**Nagpash: A missile from which snakes spring forth and fasten the enemy in a poisonous embrace.

Accounts’ vary from scripture to scripture. In some, the catalogue includes a garland of beads and a water-pot from Brahma and thunder from Indra.

The demon king waged war in his own form for some time before metamorphosing into an elephant. The elephant attacked Durga’s mount, the lion. Durga immediately cut off its trunk with her sword. At this, the elephant gave up its form and turned to a buffalo. As the buffalo raged across Creation, the Goddess raised a cup of wine to her lips and glared at the animal with blood-shot eyes. “Roar as you please, you foolish beast. When I destroy you, the gods will make more noise in celebration.”

The buffalo, which was hurling trees and mountains at her, now sped towards her, neck craned and horns pointed. Durga leapt on the creature and cut off its head in one fell blow. Mahishasura tried making his way out of the creature’s body but Durga was ready. The divine trident pierced the demon’s chest. This is the moment that is frozen in the images worshipped every autumn.

<<Previous Page

Next Page>>