Goddess Durga : Her Presence and SignificanceSeptember 19, 2022
The Many Aspects of Goddess Durga
Among the Hindu goddesses, Goddess Durga is the most important. She is a symbol of power and strength, and has many names, personas, and facets.
In the form of Mahishasuramardini or Shakti, she is the one who destroys evil. In her ten arms are deadly weapons given to her by the Gods. In the form of Sati, the daughter of King Daksha and Queen Menaka, she earns her father’s wrath for marrying the outlier, Shiva. In the form of Kali, she evokes fear and terror with her appearance – black-hued, emanating ferocity and anger, tongue lolling out in blood-lust, and wearing only a garland of skulls. As Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, she is beautiful, calm and benevolent . As Bhawani, she is the symbol of life. In the form of Sati, she is the object of death. As Basanti, she heralds springtime. She is also Amba, Tara, Jagadhatri, Ambika, Annapoorna, etc.
Durga is the essence of salvation and sacrifice. Her daughters are Lakshmi and Saraswati, who are the goddesses of wealth and knowledge, so she is the mother of wealth and bounty, and also beauty and knowledge.
She embodies purity, truth, knowledge, and self-realization. Atman (supreme consciousness) is the highest form of truth in any being. It is infinite and beyond birth and death, time and space. Goddess Durga is the energy through which Atman manifests itself.
Goddess Durga is the power of the Supreme Being that is responsible for preserving Dharma in the universe. She is the Lord’s energy aspect. Without her, Lord Shiva has no expression and without Shiva, Durga cannot exist. Lord Shiva is merely a silent witness. It is Durga who is the doer of all actions.
Durga in Sanskrit means ‘fort’. Durga, the Divine Mother, protects mankind from the forces of evil and misery by destroying selfishness, ego, jealousy, anger, prejudice, and hatred. She evokes the stronger and fiercer aspect of womanhood.
According to myth, Durga is the skin of Parvati, which slips off and wages battle against the demon brothers – Shumbha and Nishumbha. Durga also created helpers to fight for her, and Kali the most famous of them. Other versions claim that she created the Saptamatrikas, the Seven Mothers. They were Yaksha gods originally.
It is significant that she does not require any male assistance in her fierce battles with male demons. Interestingly, she takes on the powers of the male gods to protect the universe.
Durga and Mahishasura
Mahishasura was a demon who pleased Lord Shiva with his severe penance. Shiva gave him a boon that no man or god could kill him. But Mahishasura began to terrorize the Universe, killed many people, and even attacked heaven. The war between the gods and demons went on for a hundred years and eventually, Mahishasura defeated the gods.
The gods went to Lord Brahma, who took them to Shiva and Vishnu. On hearing of the demons’ atrocities, pure energy emanated from the Trimurtis. The energies of all the gods merged with it. Its light illuminated the three worlds. Soon it became concentrated in one spot and took the form of the Goddess. Her face came from the light of Shiva. Her ten arms came from Vishnu. Her feet came from Brahma. Her hair came from the light of Yama (god of death), her breasts from the light of Somanath (Moon God), her waist from the light of Indra (the king of gods), and her legs and thighs from the light of Varuna (god of oceans). Her hips came from the light of Bhoodev (Earth), her toes from the light of Surya (Sun God), her fingers from the light of the Vasus (children of Goddess Ganga) and her nose from the light of Kuber (the divine treasurer). Her teeth came from the light of Prajapati (the lord of creatures), her eyes from the light of Agni (Fire God), her eyebrows from the two Sandhyas (sunrise and sunset), and her ears from the light of Vayu (god of Wind). Thus Durga was created from the energy of many gods.
The gods also gave her their weapons and other divine tools to fight Mahishasura. Armed to the teeth, she went into battle. Mahishasura changed shape many times – as a buffalo, man, lion, and elephant – to escape her. But she killed him eventually.
Origins of Goddess Durga
Traces of her origin have been found in the Vindhya Mountains and among ancient tribes like the Sabaras and Pulindas. She is first mentioned in the Mahabharata epic as a virgin who loves wine, flesh, and animal sacrifice. Her connections with agriculture, especially in the Durga Pooja festival, may come from her early origins. She is believed to be the power that is inherent in the growth of crops and other vegetation.
Her origins can also be traced back to Mesopotamian culture. She bears a striking resemblance to the Mesopotamian goddess, Ishtar, who was worshipped by the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and even Romans and Egyptians, since 2000 B.C. Ishtar was an independent goddess who liked to roam in the forests and deserts, and wage battles. She rode a lion and had many arms which held several weapons.
Ishtar may have entered ancient Hinduism through trade routes and ancient cross-cultural contacts. One can find other forms of Durga in many other regions, cultures and religions as well, especially Japanese-Buddhist forms.
In the texts of the 4th and 7th centuries, one can find evidence of widespread worship of Durga. There was a resurgence of goddess worship in those times. Durga is the only goddess who has an entire Upanisad to her name.
Durga came to be seen as the supreme deity by her devotees. Her role was similar role to that of the major male deities. She was the leader of the gods in their battles against the demons and like Vishnu, descends to earth to destroy evil. Blood offerings please her. Despite her association with Shiva, Durga is independent.
Her popularity grew after the 6th century and in the medieval period. The Puranas, classical texts from the 3rd to the 15th centuries, mention her feats and exploits. An entire Purana, known as the Devi Bhagavatam, is dedicated to Goddess Durga. The most important text related to her is a section of the Markandeya Purana called Devi Mahatmya, (possibly of the seventh century), which is also called Durgasaptasati or Chandi Mahatmya. This text is deeply venerated, and every verse in it is regarded as a Durga Mantra.
Goddess Durga’s Significance
Durga is extremely beautiful. She traps her foes with her beauty and then destroys them. Her vehicle is a lion, which appears whenever her strengths are required. She is not a creator, but rather that of a preserver. She helps preserve the cosmic order by slaying demons that threaten to overthrow it.
Durga is also a protector. She listens to the prayers of her devotees and comes to their help. The Devi Mahatmya extols her as a personal savior who will protect her devotees from wild animals, forest fires, robbers, imprisonment, execution, etc.
Goddess Durga maintains the play of the divine universal God through the three attributes of Nature – Satva (equilibrium and serenity), Rajas (dynamism and kinesis) and Tamas (ignorance and inertia). Her forms comprise knowledge, peace, anger, greed, lust, egoism and pride.Saraswati represents her Sattviki Shakti (power of equilibrium). Lakshmi represents her Rajasik Shakti (power of activity). Kali signifies her Tamsik Shakti (power of destruction).
Festivals in Honor of Goddess Durga
Durga Pooja is the most important festival that honors Durga. It is also known as Navratri and Dussehra. Durga Pooja is celebrated in Ashwin month (October) and is very important in West Bengal. It is a 10-day festival that celebrates different forms of the goddess.
Durga Pooja is the process by which the divinity within every being sheds its layers of ignorance and achieves self-realization. During this period, Hindus observe fasts and meditate. They reflect on their spiritual journey and the progress they have made. The festival celebrates the triumph of the supreme consciousness over the demonic forces of ignorance. It reminds us that evil will be vanquished by the power of truth.
Navratri is a 9-day festival that celebrates Durga’s victory in battle after 9 days of her fierce battle against Mahishasura. On the 10th day, or Vijayadashmi, she finally killed the demon. Nine forms of Durga are worshipped on these 9 days – Shailaputri (daughter of the Himalayas), Brahmacharini (one who observes celibacy and does penance), Chandraghanta (one who has the moon in her necklace), Kushmanda (creator of the universe), Skanda-Mata (the mother of Skanda), Katyayani (daughter of Sage Katyayana, who took birth to help the Devas), Kalaratri (the One who is black as night), Mahagauri (wife of Lord Shiva, who does severe penance), and Siddhidatri (the One who offers Siddhis or mystic powers).
Durga, goddess of power and strength, reminds us of the constant battle that rages within us, between the forces of good and evil. Her presence in our consciousness is a warning as well as protection. By worshipping her with true devotion, we can gain the wisdom and courage to wage battle against our inner demons, purify our souls, and align with her divine energies.