Durga is the Active Energy of the Supreme Lord. She is the embodiment of purity, knowledge, truth and self-realization. As a warrior goddess, She is also known as Shakti or Devi. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Durg’ means a Fort, or a protected fortified place that is safe. Also, ‘Durga’ means the one who is invincible. Also ‘Dur’ means ‘prison’ and ‘Ga’ means ‘go or approach’. It means the one who sends or makes the miscreants go into the prison. She is the Active Principle in the Universal affairs. She punishes the disturbing elements. She is in charge of this material world which is described as ‘Dukhalaya’ or the place full of miseries (‘Dukha’ means pains and ‘Alaya’ means place as in ‘Vachnalaya’-library, ‘Bhojnalaya’-place where food is served).
Goddess Durga protects the human race from evil and misery, and it’s believed that praying to her destroys all negative forces like ego, hatred, prejudice, selfishness and jealousy etc. Another meaning of ‘Durga’ is ‘Durgatinashini’ which means "the one who eliminates sufferings."
Form and formless, Durga is Mahashakti – the very essence of creation, preservation and annihilation. Legend has it that she was born from the collective powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to fight the demon Mahisasura to protect both gods and other living beings.
A multidimensional goddess, she possesses various divine facets, names and personas. The destroyer of evil with ten mighty arms, each carrying its own weapon, she is Shakti or Mahishasuramardini. Durga is also Sati, the object of death who gives up Her kingdom, and she is also Kali – black as the night in Her rage and fury with a garland of skulls adorning Her neck. She is the serene Parvati who is the consort of Lord Shiva, and She is also Bhavani – the symbol of life. Her other names include Amba, Basanti, Annapurna, Tara, Ambika, and Jagadhatri. Durga is revered as the most powerful among Goddesses, all across India. As Santoshi Mata, She appears standing along with Her tiger. However, She is also worshipped as Shanta Durga in Her peaceful avatar.
Durga, through all her forms, encompasses the quintessence of salvation and sacrifice. She is the very crux of divine knowledge, wealth, power, bounty and beauty, with Saraswati and Lakshmi as Her daughters. Goddess Durga is the inherent dynamic energy and the divine life-force from which the supreme consciousness manifests itself. It’s believed that Durga is the sum-total of the combined powers of Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati.
She is often depicted as a beautiful woman with ten arms that bear divine weapons to protect all that is pure and sacred. She overcomes evil and negativity, and bestows knowledge and sustenance. The festival of Navratri, celebrated with fervour all over India, is dedicated to the nine divine forms of Goddess Durga. The festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. She is the very personification of the divine female power.
Goddess Durga is considered to be a female warrior with eight hands, each carrying a different weapon. Like Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga is also known as "Triyambake" - meaning the three eyed Goddess. The left eye represents desire, the right eye represents action, and the central eye represents knowledge. Durga Maa is depicted as riding on a lion or a tiger.
In Her hands, she carries:
- Conch Shell: It symbolizes 'Pranava' and happiness of fulfuilling one’s duty in life. She carries it in in Her first upper left hand.
- Chakra: It symbolizes dharma or duty and righteousness. She carries it in Her first upper right hand.
- Sword: it symbolizes overcoming of vices and attainment of knowledge. She carries it in Her second right lower hand.
- Bow and Arrow: They symbolize Her absolute energy. She carries them in Her second left lower hand.
- Lotus Flower: It symbolizes the certainty of success but not finality, as it is only half bloomed. She carries it in Her third lower left hand.
- Club: It symbolizes devotion and surrender. She carries it in Her third right lower hand.
- Trident/Trishul: It symbolizes courage. She carries it in Her fourth left lower hand.
- Thunderbolt: It symbolizes rage and anger. She carries it in Her fourth right lower hand at times. At times, this hand is shown to symbolize forgiveness and her blessings.
Vahana or vehicle of Goddess Durga is a lion, and sometimes a tiger. The lion represents power, will and determination, and riding it represents Goddess Durga’s mastery over all these attributes. The tiger also symbolizes unlimited power, and riding it represents Goddess Durga’s unlimited power, which she used to destroy all that is evil and protect that is virtuous.
Forms of Durga
Goddess Durga has many names, forms, personas and avatars. She is worshipped in Her original nine forms called the Navadurga - the manifestation of Durga in Her nine different aspects according to Vedic scriptures. Each goddess has a different form and a special significance and each one is worshipped on the nine nights of Navratri. These are:
- Shailaputri - Daughter of the Himālayas
- Brahmacharini - One who observes the state of celibacy in penance
- Chandraghanta - One who bears the moon in Her necklace
- Kusmanda – The creator of the universe
- Skanda-mata – The mother of Skansa, Karttikeya who was born of Her powers
- Katyayani – The daughter of Katyayaya, a sage who incarnated to help the gods
- Kalaratri – Black as night and the enemy of darkness and ignorance
- Mahagauri – The wife of Lord Shiva, after the long penance
- Siddhidatri – The giver of Siddhi or the mystic powers, and is considered to be the most powerful of all the nine forms of Durga
However, Goddess Durga is known to have many more forms, some of which are mentioned below:
- Durga: The first beautiful form where the mesmerizing Goddess entices the demons.
- Dashabhooja: The fierce ten-armed warrior form of Durga.
- Tara: The slayer of Sambhu.
- Singha-Vahini: In this form She sat on Her lion and killed Raktabeeja, each drop of whose blood gave birth to another demon.
- Kali: In this form She drank Raktabeeja blood so it couldn’t fall on the ground to create more demons.
- Mahisha-Mardini: The form which slew the demon Shumbha, who had taken the form of a buffalo.
- Jagadhatri: In this form She defeated an army of demons.
- Muktakeshi: In this form Maa Durga has flowing hair and overcame yet another army of demons.
- Chinnamastika: The slayer of Nishumbha.
- Jagadguree: The form of Durga worshipped by all the gods on attaining salvation from the demons.
Goddess Durga is also intricately associated with three distinct aspects of the cosmos.
- Shakti – The underlying power of the divine
- Maya - The Delusion
- Prakriti – Cosmic stability of the physical world
Goddess Durga is also known to have the Dasha Mahavidyas or the ‘Ten Great Feminine Cosmic Powers’, which basically can be seen as the traditional sequence of the ten goddesses she represents:
- Kali : The Power of Time and The Night of Eternity
- Tara : The Power of Void and The Night of Anger
- Tripura Sundari : The Power of Absolute Splendor
- Bhuvaneshwari : The Power of Space and The Night of Perfect Realization
- Tripura Bhairavi : The Power of Death and The Night of Destiny
- Chhinnamasta : The Power of Sacrifice and The Night of Courage
- Dhumavati : The Power of Deprivation and The Night of Frustration
- Bagalamukhi : The Power of Instantaneous Stopping
- Matangi : The Power of Domination and The Night of Illusion
- Kamalatmika : The Power of Perfect Happiness and The Night of Paradise
Fruits or Food Offered To Durga:
In general, the food items that are believed to please Goddess Durga are: Gur, honey, ghee, milk, curd, Panchamrit, buttermilk, barley cake, fresh butter, Karkati (cucumber), Kushmanda, Modaka, jackfruit, Plantains, Jambu Fruit, Sesame seeds, amla, payasa, poha, gram pulses, coconut, singhada (or water chestnut).
The nine forms of Goddess Durga are associated with different food items, which are also offered as bhog or Prasad for that particular day during the Navratri. As Maa Shailputri, She is offered pure ghee. As Mata Brahmacharini, She is offered sugar. As Maa Chandraghanta, She is offered kheer or other sweets made with milk. As Maa Kushmansa, She is offered Malpua. Bananas are offered to Mata Skandmata, and honey to Mata Katyayani. Mata Kaalratri is pleased by offering jaggery, while Mata Mahagauri is offered coconut. On the final day, Til is offered to Goddess Siddhidatri.
Hindu mythology tells many interesting legends of Goddess Durga slaying the demons to save the gods and Earthlings. The fiercest of all the battles of was foguth between Goddess Durga with Mahishasura, post which she earned the name of Mahishasura Mardini, the slayer of Mahishasura.
After log penance, Mahishasura pleased Lord Shiva and earned the boon that no man, animal or deity could kill him. Drunk on his powers, his reign of terror shook the universe and threatened even the gods. Since the gods could not kill Mahishasura, they needed a woman to come to their aid. Hence, through the collective powers of all gods was born Goddess Durga. Lord Vishnu gave Her ten arms and Lord Brahma his feet, Yama formed her tresses and Somanath Her breasts, Indra formed Her waist and Bhoomdev her Hips. The toes were made by Surya and the nose by Kuber, the teeth by Prajapati and the eyes from Agni. The gods also gave Her their weapons. She got the Trishul from Lord Shiva, the Sudarshan Chakra from Vishnu, the spear from Agni, the thunderbolt from Lord Indra, the sword from Yama. She was dressed in divine jewels and rode into battle on Her tiger.
When Mahishasura saw Durga on the battlefield, He fell in love, enthralled by Her beauty. Durga told him that if he desired Her, he had to defeat Her in battle. Hence they started a long nine day battle, filled with destruction and gore. On the tenth day, the demon desperate to escape transformed into a wild buffalo. Durga pinned him to the ground and as he shape-shifted back to his human form, She cut off his head.
Another story of her divine victory tells the tale of the battle between Raktabeeja and Goddess Durga. Raktabeeja, the Demon King, was granted a boon by Lord Brahma which allowed his power to increase by a thousand every time a drop of his blood was spilled. The demon soldiers, led by Raktabeeja, challenged the gods. The great and beautiful goddess Durga stepped forward. She had protected them before and was obliged to do it again. She successfully defeated the army. But as She attacked the demon-general, thousand more demons sprang from every drop of his blood spilled and an entire army was resurrected. Enraged, Durga took the form of Kali – black as night, She was armed with a skull topped staff, a noose, and the sword of vengeance. Half the army felt lifeless from her deadly gaze, and the other half fell dead from Her petrifying shrieks. When She attacked Raktabeeja, She quickly put Her mouth to his wound and drank all his blood, so no new demons could be created. And hence, as Kali, She killed the demon general and saved the gods again.