One of the most invoked forms
of the Great Goddess is her manifestation as the
youthful, multi-armed deity who successfully battles
the mighty buffalo demon that symbolizes among
other things, the elemental powers of brutish
ignorance. In her this incarnation she is referred
to as Durga, the 'unattainable'.
Great Goddess Durga was born from the energies
of the male divinities when the gods lost the
long drawn-out battle with the asuras (demons).
All the energies of the gods united and became
supernova, throwing out flames in all directions.
Then that unique light, pervading the Three Worlds
with its luster, combined into one, and became
a female form.
The Devi projected an overwhelming omnipotence.
The awesome three-eyed Goddess was adorned with
the crescent moon. Her multiple arms held auspicious
weapons and emblems, jewels and ornaments, garments
and utensils, garlands and rosaries of beads,
all offered by the gods. With her golden body
blazing with the splendor of a thousand suns,
seated on her lion or tiger vehicle, Durga is
one of the most spectacular of all personifications
of Cosmic Energy.
The tremendous power of the Goddess
was poised ready for the grim battle to wipe out
demonic forces, the asuras whose exaggerated ego-sense
was destroying the balance of the universe, and
whose sole purpose was to dominate and control.
It was the universal war between knowledge and
ignorance, truth and falsehood, the oppressor
and the oppressed.
The world shook and the seas trembled
as the Goddess engaged the Great Demon Mahisasura
and his hosts in fierce battle, creating her own
female battalions from her sighs breathed during
The Great Goddess first annihilated
the army of the titan. Then she roped his own
mighty buffalo-form with a noose. The demon escaped,
however, emerging from the buffalo body in the
form of a lion. Immediately, the Goddess beheaded
the lion, whereupon Mahisa, by virtue of his Maya-energy
of self-transformation, escaped again, now in
the form of a hero with a sword.
Ruthlessly the Goddess riddled
this new embodiment with a shower of arrows. But
then the demon stood before her as an elephant,
and with his trunk reached out and seized her.
He dragged her towards him, but she severed the
trunk with the stroke of a sword. The demon returned,
now, to his favorite shape-that of the giant buffalo
shaking the universe with the stamping of its
hoofs. But the Goddess scornfully laughed, and
again roared with a loud voice of laughter at
all his tricks and devices. Pausing a moment,
in full wrath, she lifted to her lips, serenely,
a bowl filled with the inebriating, invigorating,
liquor of the divine-life force, and while she
sipped the matchless drink, her eyes turned red.
buffalo-demon, uprooting mountains with his horns,
was flinging them against her, shouting defiantly
at her the while, but with her arrows she was
shattering them to dust. She called out to the
shouting monster: "Shout on! Go on shouting one
moment more, you fool, while I sip my fill of
this delicious brew. The gods soon will be crying
out for joy, and you shall lie murdered at my
Even while she spoke, the Goddess
leapt into the air, and from above came down on
the demon's neck. She dashed him to the earth
and sent the trident through his neck. The adversary
attempted once again to abandon the buffalo-body,
issuing from its mouth in the shape of a hero
with a sword; but he had only half emerged when
he was caught. He was half inside the buffalo
and half outside, when the Goddess, with a swift
and terrific stroke, beheaded him, and he died.
The chief demon Mahisasura was
thus dead, and the gods praised the Goddess, joyfully
worshipping her with flowers, incense and fragrant
Thou Ambika [a name of Durga]
dost overspread the universe with thy power.
The power of all divine beings is drawn into Thy
Thou art Great Mother, worshipped by all divine
beings and Sages.
We bow ourselves in devotion to Thee.
Bless us with all that is good for us.
We bow before Thee, O Devi,
Thou who art the good fortune of the virtuous,
Ill-fortune in the house of the evil,
Intelligence in the minds of the learned,
Faiths in the hearts of the good,
The modesty of the high born.
- Devi Mahatmya
The world was at peace again.
The skies cleared, the rivers kept their courses,
there was sweet singing and dancing. The winds
blew softly, the sun shone brilliantly, the sacred
fires burned steadily. Strange sounds that had
arisen in the various quarters died away.
The departing Durga offered the
gods a boon. She promised that as 'Sakambhari'
she would nourish the world in time of need with
the vegetation grown from her own body, and that
in her 'terrible' form she would deliver her worshippers
from their enemies, and bless them. Then she vanished
from the very spot on which the gods were gazing.
Thus the reveries of Mahisa are
exterminated. Into this wondrous male fantasy
intrudes the Mother Goddess. She lures and entices
him and, because she represents the power of the
unconscious and the pull downward and backward
into the protective womb, the demon unwittingly
plunges into her dangerous orbit. In a throwback
to reciprocal animal mating postures, they dance
in mutual desire and dread. Mahisa is forced into
sacred, single combat with the fascinating but
enigmatic, dangerous creature. On the battle stage
the disguise of each is penetrated; then the demon
and the Goddess are reduced to their true nature;
in the last analysis they are alike. Finally,
like the ancient bull-kings who were themselves
royal sacrifices, fecundators of the earth, bearers
of vicarious guilt, hero is transformed into victim
and, having lost his position in heaven, now Mahisa
loses his very life. He is decapitated by the
Mother Goddess, and on earth, paradise is restored,
but only temporarily, for the demon inevitably
returns to earth for the eternal cyclical repetition
of the entire life process.
The myth is saturated with the
potential for violence inherent in the male-female
oppositions. As the story unfolds, the relationship
between Mahisa and the goddess is manifested at
many levels: psychologically both demon and goddess
become what the other is, both behave like ferocious
animals and one never knows what will happen in
the next instant, as the constant alternations,
which range from the bestial to the divine, are
the only reality. Thus each of the antagonists
can be symbolically interpreted as now the monster/dragon,
now with feminine or with masculine attributes.
Each can represent justice and power or evil and
danger; and each contributes to the orgiastic
disorder necessary for recreation. The myth thus
transcends the male-female alternative, signifying
psychic totality. The condition of the contemporary
urban dweller who howls in fear in the dark as
he confronts the bad animal of his nightmare differs
little from the fright syndrome of the jungle
dweller, forced into struggle with a live animal.
Until the dreamer awakes, he is in the same situation
as his prehistoric ancestors were. Pervading the
deepest levels of the psyche, ready to spring
at random, the residual animal, source of human
energies, seeks recognition. The unfocused, floating
primordial imagery, rooted in the biological heritage,
is stabilized in culture. Externalized projections,
first structured into dance, cultish animal rites,
orgiastic fertility ceremonies and much later
into literature, art, myth and ritual, provide
the camouflage of human respectability and channel
the anxiety into an acceptable form. Left to itself
without organization, animal nature will surely
When left unrecognized and unattended,
under stressful conditions, animal impulses break
through in random fashion, and blind fury re-emerges
in full force. As repository for the archaic residue,
Mahisamardini, the Goddess who slays the buffalo,
is a therapeutic symbol.
Durga's name literally means
"Beyond Reach". This is an echo of the
woman warrior's fierce, virginal autonomy. In
fact many of the figures associated with her are
officially virgin. This is not meant in the limiting
sense understood by the patriarchal order, but
rather in Esther Harding's sense: she is "one-in-herself",
or as Nor Hall puts it, "Belonging-to-no-man".
As Harding further observed of 'The Virgin Goddess':
'Her divine power does not depend on her relation
to a husband-god, and thus her actions are not
dependent on the need to conciliate such a one
or to accord with his qualities and attitudes.
For she bears her identity through her own right.'
The disappearance of Durga from
the battlefield after the victory over aggression
expressed one of the deepest truths of the episode,
for the feminine action in the cosmic drama is
without retentive, ego-seeking ambition.
is linked also with some of the oldest known prayers
for humankind's protection. In the Ramayana, Rama
went to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife, Sita,
from the grip of Ravana, the Emperor of Lanka.
Before starting for his battle, Rama aspired for
the blessings of Goddess Durga . He came to know
that the Goddess would be pleased if offered one
hundred blue lotuses. But after traversing the
whole world, he could gather only ninety-nine.
Rama finally decided to offer one of his own eyes,
which resembled blue lotuses. Durga, being pleased
with the devotion of Rama, appeared before him,
stopped him from committing this act and blessed
him. In the fierce battle that followed, Rama
was able to annihilate Ravana, thus again triumphed
good over evil. To this day, this day is celebrated
as Vijaydashmi (Day of Victory), and Goddess Durga
worshipped all over India.
Indeed the Mother Goddess, it
is believed, controls the fate of all. But even
though she makes her appearance when the male
deities conglomerate their respective energies,
she is, in fact, not 'created' by them. All her
incarnations are the result of her will to be
in the world for the benefit of mankind; she chooses
when and how to effect her lilas (play of the
Goddess in the world). In this situation her sudden
arrival spells doom for Mahisa, but only after
a protracted interaction during which the confrontations
between animal/demon and Goddess, male and female,
son and mother, lover and beloved, equal combatants,
victim and sacrificer, hero and deliverer, are
given due attention as an exploratory venture
into the dynamics of the laws of opposites. Their
combat is, in the final analysis, an enactment
of a many-aspected reality, reflecting a mode
of thought which perceives seeming opposites as
mere stages in a graduated spectrum of reality
which has a minimum of definite boundaries.
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