If you ever think that strength is only male’s domain, meet Mother Durga! She is not only a fearsome fighter celebrated across the three worlds as Mahishasura-mardini for Her heroic feat of killing the otherwise invincible demon king Mahishasura, Durga Devi is famed for Her exceedingly exquisite beauty that perpetually remains an unsurpassable marvel of God’s perceivable domain.
With these apparently contradictory yet unique characteristics, it is no fault of mortal beings to quickly assume that Durga Devi must be an imagination of a novelist, storyteller, or a poet. The modern trend, especially among scholars and leaders, is to call ancient events a myth just because they are not comprehensible by ordinary human brain. Such conclusions are a clear sign of poor fund of knowledge regarding the very purpose of cosmic creation. There have been even attempts to present Ma Durga as a mere symbol of victory of good over evil.
The reality, however, is different. The super excellent beauty possessed by Her and the formidable weapons held in Her mighty arms are transcendental reality. Being the personification of the aggregate feminine principle of material nature, Her appearance is inconceivably gorgeous and Her activities equally enthralling. The mighty weapons in Her hands are presented to Her by real celestial beings like King Indra, Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu Himself. The ferocious lion who She rides on is not symbolic either.
For example, the trishul, or trident, that She holds is not just symbolic; it is a factual weapon She uses to punish the big time miscreants although She does not use it always as She can execute Her missions simply through agencies like epidemics, wars, earth quakes, volcanoes, floods, droughts and so on. Scientists today are able to make remote sensors and perform wonderful tasks from great distance. They have also invented chemical weapons that can make the atmosphere poisonous and kill thousands. If we tiny brained humans can do this, why can’t higher celestial beings remotely dispatch various atmospheric changes and even deadly diseases in targeted locations where sins are on rise? This examples shed light on how it is possible to operate natural resources to control this world remotely by various demigods (devatas) from much greater distance; the phenomena generally seen as a myth by less intelligent people.
Brahma-samhita explains Mother Durga’s transcendental position as follows:
sristi-sthiti pralaya-sadhana-shaktir eka chhayeva yasya bhuvanani bibharti durga
icchanurupam api yasya cha chestate sa govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami
TRANSLATION: The eternal potency Maya who is of the nature of the shadow of the chit potency, is worshiped by all people as Durga, the creating, preserving and destroying agency of this mundane world. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda in accordance with whose will Durga conducts Herself. (Brahma-samhita 5.4)
In an earlier article Ma Durga – Busting the biggest myth of all times we discussed at length Her divine position from scriptural point of view. In this article the focus is Her personal features, extraordinary prowess and transcendental characteristics.
The historical event describing how Ma Durga annihilated Mahishasura is unique in nature considering it’s a one-to-one fight between a most powerful male demon of his time, the fearsome son of demon Rambh and Durga Devi, a stunningly graceful divine female possessing extraordinary powers. Mahishasura became extremely powerful after receiving a boon from Lord Brahma that no male will be ever able to kill him. Having this boon, the demon started capturing the upper planetary system, the heavenly planets. It is said that due to Lord Brahma’s boon, great demigods like Indra, Varuna, Vayu and Agni couldn’t subdue him. To keep the words of Lord Brahma, even Lord Vishnu, the supreme male, celebrated as Purushottama in the three worlds, chose not to kill Mahishasura by His infallible Ssudarshan disc. Instead He invited Durga Devi and gifted Her a disc to kill the demon.
When all demigods were defeated by Mahishasura, they, along with Lord Brahma, went to see Lord Vishnu and prayed to Him to find a way to kill the demon. Lord Vishnu, knowing the nature of the boon, said that since the task can only be accomplished by a woman, let there be a woman who will become the death of Mahishasura.
The following excerpts are from Devi Bhagavata describing the pastime of Ma Durga’s appearance in the assembly of celestial leaders and killing of Mahishasura:
“As Vishnu said this, a dazzling pillar of light emerged from the face of Brahma and shone in the sky. It was red like a flawless sapphire and was bright like the sun. Next, from the body of Lord Sankara, a silver colored flame emerged and joined that from Brahma. Vishnu also contributed his power to this group. A divine woman with unsurpassed beauty appeared before the assembly.
Her face was created by the grace of Lord Shiva. Her eyes were an aspect of Agni. Vayu’s power created her ears. Her nose was created by Kubera’s grace. Her teeth were from Brahma’s power. Her lower lips were created by Surya’s lustre. Her upper lips were from Kartikeya’s (Skanda) grace. Her arms and shoulders possessed the power of Vishnu. Her fingers were created from the power of the Vasus. Her hips were created by Indra’s lustre. Her thighs and knees were from Varuna’s lustre. Her backside was of the earth.
Lord Vishnu said, “Let us all give all our attributes and our special weapons to this great lady. Let us arm her suitably for battle. Let her be endowed with our strength, to slay the evil Asura.”
Vishwakarma gave Her ear drops, shoulder ornaments and bracelets. Tvashta gave Her jewels known as Nuparas which were decked with thousands of priceless gems. The King of the oceans gave Her many necklaces and rings. Varuna gave Her a garland of ever-blooming Lotus flowers and a garland known as Vaijayanti. Himavan (King of mountains) gave Her many priceless gems and a lion for her to mount on.
Lord Vishnu gave Her a discus, the clone of his famed Sudarshana-Chakra. Lord Shankara gave Her a trident, the spitting image of his own. Varuna gave Her a conch to blow and strike terror in the hearts of Her enemies. Agni gave her a powerful weapon known as Shataghni (शतघ्नीं), capable of slaying the Asuras by the thousands. Vayu gave Her a quiver that will never run dry, and a matching bow. Similarly different demigods gave Her different items. Indra gave Her his all-powerful Vajra, Yama gave Her a powerful Staff, made from his famed Kala-Thanda. Brahma gave Her a Kamandal (water-vessel) filled with the water from the sacred Ganga. Varuna gave Her his noose. Vishwakarma gave Her an axe. Tvashta gave her Kaumodaki, the divine mace and an armor, and Surya gave her his blinding rays.
All the Devas prayed to this most powerful expansion of Maha Lakshmi and said, “Salutations O Mother. Salutations to you, who are our deliverance. O Bagavathi, we salute you. O Vaishnavi we salute you. You are the heaven, you are the earth, you are the eternal principle, you are the great eternal truth. We salute you. We salute Her who is free from the cycle of life and death. Mother, save us from the ravages of the evil demon, that powerful Asura, Mahisha. He cannot be slain by anyone other than you. Have mercy on your pitiable plight. Kill him and restore us to our legitimate place in the heavens. You are our only hope!”
Ma Durga smiled and said, “O Devas. Have no fear. He has become falsely proud due to the boon from Brahma, but his end is near. I shall march on his capital and utterly destroy him and his demonic forces.” With these words, the Durga Devi mounted the lion and marched towards Amravathi, the capital city of Indra, where Mahisha had established his court. She let out a terrible roar as she approached the city.
When Mahisha heard this tumultuous sound, he was struck with wonder. He turned to his advisers and asked them, “What is the reason for this uproar? Who dares to disturb the peace of my city?”
Soldiers were dispatched to discover the source of the deafening noise. They were ordered to capture the perpetrator and bring him before their King in chains. When the soldiers saw the Goddess, fearlessly advancing towards them on Her lion-mount, they were struck with fear and ran back to their king.
They said, “O King, There is a beautiful woman outside your gates. She is traveling on a huge lion. Her beauty is divine, she is decked in expensive jewels and clothes. She is not human nor an Asura maiden. She might be an Apsara. She is carrying terrible weapons on all of them. We do not know who she is.
Mahishasura said, “Hearing about this woman has filled my mind with desire for her. Go with a small division of our army and woo her on my behalf. I shall make her my queen. If she resists, imprison her, but do not hurt her, for she is to be mine.”
Accordingly, his prime-minister took a small band of soldiers near the Goddess and said to her, “O Lady! Who are you? My King, the great Mahishasura has sent me to invite you to his palace. He has triumphed over the Devas. He cannot be killed by any man. He has obtained many boons from the creator. He has heard of your divine beauty and he wants to meet you. He is capable of taking any form. If you desire, he shall take a human form to please you. Please accompany me to the city. Or if you so desire, I shall bring him in person. State your wish.”
Goddess Durga replied, “Know me to be the mother of the gods. Capable of destroying all Asuras, I am Mahalakshmi. I have come here to kill your King, the evil Mahisha. I have not brought any army to battle him. Alone, I shall dispatch him to the abode of his ancestors!”
As the demons tried to convince Her, Ma Durga let out a roaring laugh and said, “By your idle words, you have proved your lack of intellect. How can a King be any better when his ministers are such idiots? You are well aware that your King is fated to die at the hands of a woman. Well, here I am, a woman, equipped for battle by the Gods. I challenge him to battle. If he is willing to flee to the safety of the nether-world and restore the heavens to Indra, I shall spare his life. However, that does not seem likely. To me, it appears that your King must be a coward, for who else but a coward would desire death at the hands of a woman? Go to your king and tell him that Durga challenges him to battle!”
The demon soldiers came and reported this to Mahishasura who then turned to his favorite general Tamra and said, “Go to this woman and humble her pride. Do not harm her. Use your warcraft and the art of illusion to imprison her without causing any injury to her.” Impelled by his fate, Tamra saluted his master and went forth, fully armed for battle and said to Her, “O Lady, do not be so stubborn. The whole world knows that my King is without equals. He is smitten with desire for her and seeks to wed you. You will be his queen, just say the words.”
At this Mother Durga laughed at him and said, “O Tamra, Looks like your end is near. Go back to your dim-witted leader and tell him that I am not in search of a husband. The Lord of the Universe is my husband.” She glorified Lord Shiva’s unlimited prowess and great qualities and asked, “Am I mad that I shall forsake him for this oaf, this buffalo Mahishasura?. I shall make him (another) mount of Yama (Note: Yama has a buffalo as his mount.)” With this, the Devi let out a roar, that was like the sound of the destruction of the universe at the end of time.
Different demons tried their hands but were unsuccessful. Bashkala and Durmukha went to battle, accompanied by many of their kinsmen. Bashkala wielded his deadly mace and attempted to strike the Devi down. Ma Durga countered him with Her own mace and struck him down. When the Asura got up from the impact of the blow, She impaled him with Her trident and killed him. Seeing his friend die, Durmukha grew very angry. He rallied his soldiers, who were showing signs of panic, and personally led the attack on the Goddess. After a great battle Durga Devi broke his bow with Her sharp arrows and shattered his chariot. Frustrated, the demon tried to knock Durga off her mount. Despite a hard blow to its head, the lion stood its ground. Angered, the Devi struck off his head with her sharp sword.
Then came Sikshura and Tamra. This was the most vicious battle till date. Devi Durga, also known as Ambika, caused a chariot to appear and fought from it. When Tamra hit her lion with a iron stick, the Goddess beheaded him with her sword. When Sikshura tried to kill Her with his sword, She stopped him in his tracks with five sharp arrows. The first arrow knocked his sword away, the second cut off his hand, and the other arrows beheaded him. Thus the greatest of Mahisha’s generals were slain by the Ma Durga. The next to be killed were the great warriors Asiloma and Bidala. They were destroyed along with their army.
Mahishasura came out in person to confront the Goddess. He changed his form into that of a handsome man and said to her, “O thou of the beautiful eyes, I have been slain by the arrows of lust emanating from thy person. I have never begged anyone for any favors. I am begging you to accept me as your lover. All the gods know of my prowess in battle. I am your slave to command. Satisfy my longing”
Mother Durga, also known as Bhagavati, said to him, “I am the eternal bride of the Parama Purusha, the Supreme Person. I am His energy. Just as a chunk of iron is animated by a magnet, He animates me. If you wish to live, make peace with the Devas and either retire to the earth or to the Nether-world. Else, you must face me in battle.”
Mahisha drew forth his bow and arrow, and the battle begun. For every arrow shot by the Asura, the Devi broke them up with her steel-tipped arrows. At this, the Asura, abandoned his man-form and took up that of a lion. He then tried to gore the lion of the Goddess to death. Angered, the Devi struck him with steel tipped arrows, shaped like serpents. The Rakshasa took up the form of an elephant and uprooted huge rocks. He hurled these rocks at Durga Mata. They were also smashed to smithereens by the steel-tipped arrows of the Goddess. Her lion attacked the elephant-shaped Asura and tore at his forehead. He then shape-shrifted into a giant serpent. The Ma Durga then attacked him with Her sword.
At this, the Asura took his natural form, that of a buffalo and tried to gore the divine Mother to death. She struck him with Her trident. He fell down in a swoon but recovered shortly. He then kicked at the Goddess. He also let out a deafening roar to intimidate her.
Deciding to end the battle there, the Goddess then summoned her discuss (given to her by Vishnu), that was a clone of the Sudarsana-Chakra. She launched it at Mahishasura and beheaded him. Thus, the terrible buffalo-demon, who had terrorized the Gods with boons obtained from Lord Brahma, met his end at the hands of Durga.” (Quoted from this article)
Ma Durga, is none other than an expansion of Lashmi Devi, the eternal consort of Lord Vishnu. People worship Durga Devi for material benefits, which She mercifully gives, but Her real pleasure is in making them purified of material desires directing them towards the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, Her eternal master. For this reasons, along with material benefits, She also gives three types of miseries, adhi-bhautika, adhi-daivika, and adhi-atmika. By going through these miseries, conditioned souls gradually come to their senses and give up the desire to control and enjoy this world independent of Lord Krishna. When they thus surrender and take shelter of Lord Krishna’s lotus feet, Mother Durga happily releases them from material bondage.
One more thing is, we have to understand that although in scriptures sometimes we find that a particular demigod or goddess is glorified as the supreme power, it is a relative truth concerning that particular situation. Lord Krishna, who is the source of innumerable Vishnu expansions, is the Supreme Absolute Truth, but He expands Himself into Vishnus, Shivas and Brahmas in innumerable universes (each universe has one Brahma, one Shiva and one Vishnu) for executing various tasks like creation, maintenance and destruction. Being the Supreme Father and maintainer of all living entities, Lord Vishnu takes the charge of maintenance.
Just as Lord Krishna expands into Lord Vishnu and then Lord Shiva, Srimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna in the spiritual world, expands into Lakshmi Devi and then further into Ma Durga. The science behind repeated cycle of cosmic creation, maintenance and annihilation is beyond the reach of human brain but it is meticulously carried out by Lord Krishna’s divine energies. Ma Durga is the principle energy so far material creation is concerned and thus She is worshiped as universal Mother by one and all in this world. She is a great Vaishnavi. May Her merciful glance be upon us so we can understand Her mission and surrender to Lord Krishna’s lotus feet. That will please Her the most.