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Why is Maa Durga Always Riding a Lion?

During the Navratri festival, devotees honor 9 different forms of Goddess Durga. Durga is one of the most important female deities in Hinduism. She represents strength, courage, protection, destruction, and motherhood.

Most of the Hindu deities have their own vehicles, which are usually birds or animals. Lord Vishnu’s vahana (vehicle) is Garuda, the eagle, Lord Shiva’s vehicle is the bull, Nandi, Lord Ganesha’s vahana is the mouse, Goddess Saraswati’s vehicle is the swan, and Durga’s vehicle is the lion. These creatures represent the character of the deity too.

Thus, the lion represents the fierce power of Maa Durga. But how did the lion become Durga vahana?

Why is Maa Durga Always Riding a Lion

The Myth behind Lion as Durga Vahana

Once Lord Shiva was deep in meditation for a long time. Goddess Parvati, his consort, who had once incarnated as Maa Durga, waited for him to emerge from his meditation, but Shiva continued his austerities. Parvati then left Mount Kailash and made her way to a dense forest to do penance. As she was meditating, a hungry lion saw her and moved stealthily towards her.

The lion pounced on Parvati, but it could not penetrate the protective layer that surrounded her. The lion then waited for the goddess to come out of her meditation. Meanwhile, pleased with Parvati’s penance, Shiva came to the forest to fetch her.

When Parvati emerged from her trance, she found a lion sitting near her patiently. Having divine powers, she knew that the lion wanted to eat her. But she did not feel angry towards the lion. Being the Divine Mother, she felt compassion for the lion and took the beast with her to Kailash. Since then, the lion has been her vahana and faithful companion.

Another Version of the Story

Once Shiva was residing on Mandarachal with his consort, Uma (Parvati). In a playful mood, Shiva made fun of Uma’s dusky complexion. Hearing this, Uma became angry and decided that she would become Gauri (the fair one) and then return to him. Without further ado, she left for an unknown destination on Mandarachalam and began to do penance to Lord Brahma.

One day, a hungry lion came that way, looking for prey. On seeing the meditating Uma, he thought of attacking and eating her, but the Goddess showed mercy towards the beast. By using her divine powers, she entered the lion’s soul and removed all its animal instincts. She also destroyed all its karma and made it pure. The grateful lion became her faithful servant and protected her from the wild animals in the forest.

Meanwhile, two demons called Shumba and Nishumba did penance and got a boon from Lord Brahma, by which they could not be killed by a male. When they began to create havoc, the gods approached Brahma for help. He went to Shiva, who told him that a female power born of Uma’s body would kill the demons.

When Uma’s penance was complete, Lord Brahma appeared before her. When Brahma asked her about the lion, she replied that it was her devotee, and she had accepted it as her vahana. Brahma then praised the lion and said it was very fortunate. Parvati then told Brahma that she was fed up of being called ‘Kali’ (the black one) and wanted to become Gauri. Brahma then gave her the boon she wanted, and she became fair. All the dark cells in her body fell off, and she became fair. A dark-skinned goddess called Kaushiki then emerged from the black cells. Uma then handed over Kaushiki to Brahma, who gave her the weapons to fight and slay the demons, Shumba and Nishumba.

Gauri returned to Kailash and gave the lion a name – Somanandi – and made it her dwarapala. This story also reveals that the Divine Mother accepts even those who harbor evil thoughts. Such is her mercy and compassion.

The Symbolism of the Lion as Durga Vahana

The lion represents the power and character of the deity whose vehicle it is. It symbolizes the divine energies of Maa Durga, who was created from the energies of all the gods to slay Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. Thus, the lion embodies heroism, strength, and prowess. It also represents the strength required of the spiritual aspirant to embark on the difficult path of Shakta-Tantric religious practices that hold many dangers for the uninitiated.