The Origins and Myths of Goddess Durga

In Hinduism, the feminine divine is revered and worshipped. The worship of  “Devi” or Goddess is an integral part of Hinduism. In fact, many of the Hindu Goddesses are considered more powerful than the Gods. Goddess Durga is one such deity worshipped in Hindu Dharma ( religion). 

In Hinduism, Durga is the manifestation of Shakti, the divine feminine energy that is the essence of the world. Shakti is the supreme feminine consciousness of the Universe and Durga is its divine manifestation. 

Also known as Maa(Mother) Durga, she is regarded by Hindus as the protective mother of the Universe. She is the protective manifestation of Shakti, banishing all ignorance and inspiring her devotees to shed the darkness of ignorance, turbulence, and attachment. She helps us both overcome the perils of this material world, and reach that transcendental state of meditative bliss. 

Durga is the supreme Goddess of Hinduism and during the Indian festival of Navratri, nine forms of Maa Durga are worshipped on the 9 days constituting the festival. (to be explained in detail in the upcoming sections). 

Origin & Symbolism of Name Durga 

The name Durga is derived from the Sanskrit word “Durga” that means an invincible fort. 

It’s a place of invincible strength and resilience that’s hard to conquer. Thus, it symbolically stands for the quality of overcoming all odds and difficulties. It’s this quality that Maa Durga signifies. She is like a formidable shield protecting her children from destruction and chaos, as well as violence. 

She is also called the warrior Goddess by some, protecting her children from all mishaps and combating demonic and evil forces that become a threat to prosperity and peace. 

That’s why she is also known as “ Durganitashini”, that is, the one who eliminates all suffering and hardships. At a symbolic level, Maa Durga helps us steer through the troubled water of this illusory world (maya) and helps us get one with the supreme consciousness of the universe. 

The war then is not so much with the external creatures as it is with our own soul. As mortal beings, we constantly battle the vikaars (distractions) of kaam(desire), krodh(anger), ahamkara(arrogance), lobha(greed) and lastly, eershya( jealousy). The devotion of Maa Durga helps us overcome these internal battles and reach a state of supreme bliss and ananda ( permanent happiness).  

Other Interesting Facts about Goddess Durga 

Maa Durga is also known as “Triyambake” because of her three eyes. These three eyes represent Fire (knowledge), the Sun (Transformative action), and the Moon (Divine Love).

Goddess Durga’s three eyes are considered the three aspects of universal light. 

Maa Durga is widely worshiped by the followers of a Goddess-centric sect called Shaktism. In the sacred texts of Shaktism, she is considered the primordial creator of the universe.

Followers of Shaktism apart, Maa Durga is worshipped by all Hindus, irrespective of the sect they adhere to. Indeed, in most Indian households, all Gods and Goddesses including Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Lakshmi, etc are worshipped. 

Durga Origins: Slayer of Demons

Various mythologies describe the origin of Goddess Durga. 

According to the most popular story, there was a half-buffalo demon, named Mahishasura, who did penance to please Brahma. After several years, Brahma appeared before him. The demon asked him for the blessing of immortality. But Brahma refused, stating that everyone has to die. Then, after some thinking, Mahishasura asked for a boon that only a woman would be able to kill him. Finally, Brahma granted the boon.

Durga Legend
The original uploader was Unmadindu at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Mahishasura then started to torture innocent people. He even captured Swarga (heaven). He was not afraid of anything, as he thought women were powerless and weak. The Gods were worried and went to Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). To help restore order, Trimurti combined their powers and gave a physical form to the sum of their divine energy. The form was that of the goddess Durga. She was a warrior woman with many arms. All the Gods gave their weapons to help her fight the demon. Her mount, the lion was given as a gift by Himavan (the personification of the Himalayas). The weapons were the conch (Varuna), Sudarshan Chakra(Lord Vishnu), sword (the Sun god), bow and arrow (the God of Wind), trident (Lord Shiva), mace (the God of Wealth), thunderbolt, snake, and flame, etc.

Durga appeared before Mahishasura. He took on different forms and attacked the Goddess. Each time he attacked, Durga would destroy his forms. At last, Durga slew him with her trident when he was transforming into a buffalo demon.

Other Myths about the Origin of Goddess Durga 

Some sects of Hinduism believe that Goddess Durga is among the various avatars of Yogamaya, the personification of the illusory power of Vishnu. According to one text, Shiva invoked Durga from his left side before the cosmic creations. He created Shivalok(abode of Shiva) with her help.

One of her forms, Goddess Shailaputri (daughter of the Himalayas), was born as Sati before becoming Shailaputri. Sati was King Prajapati’s daughter. She adored Shiva and wished to marry him. But as Lord Shiva was an ascetic, her father didn’t agree to this union. But she was adamant and married him. She started living on Mount Kailash with Lord Shiva. After a few years, her father planned a massive yajna to which all Gods and Goddesses were invited except Sati and Lord Shiva. She wanted to go to this event. Despite Shiva’s best efforts to persuade her against going, she went to see her parents.

But on arriving there, she was given a cold shoulder. She was humiliated for her choice of marriage and living conditions. After some time, she couldn’t take it anymore and jumped into the raging flames. Shiva was furious on hearing the news of her self-immolation. He dragged his wife’s half-burning body from the flames. As he was going over various mountains, Sati’s body parts dropped in various locations. It is believed that Sati’s body parts were dropped at 52 different places, known as Shakti Peethas. She was then born again as Shailaputri. She had two different names in this form, Parvati and Hemavati. According to various myths, Parvati then becomes Durga after killing the demon Durgamasura.

Representation of Goddess Durga 

Goddess Durga is often depicted as a warrior woman riding a lion or tiger. She is usually shown wearing a red sari and beautiful golden ornaments decorating her personage. Her hair is done up in a crown that flows out in luxuriant and long tresses soothing to the eye. 

The red color of her saree symbolizes action and indicates that she is destroying all evil. Goddess Durga is a warrior, hence, she is depicted to express her martial skills.

Maa Durga is depicted with eight hands carrying weapons of various kinds. Each weapon that she carries is a symbol of an essential characteristic and quality of humanity. 

Symbols of Maa Durga

  1.  The Sudarshan Chakra (discus) symbolizes Dharma or righteousness. Spinning around her index finger, it symbolizes that the entire cosmos revolves around the dynamic presence of this powerful Goddess. She uses the Sudarshan Chakra to both destroy evil, and create an environment conducive to the propagation of Dharma(righteousness). 
  2. The conch symbolizes happiness and peace. Embodying the dynamism of the primordial sound of Om, it is an auspicious symbol that represents universal vibration.
  3. The sword symbolizes the power and quality of Viveka, or discriminating knowledge. We must know how to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. Embracing knowledge that is free from all prejudice leading us on the path of Dharma. 
  4. The bow and arrow symbolize the power of kinetic energy and potential energy. The arrow signifies the ability to take prompt actions and the bow is symbolic of the inherent potential in all humans to focus and achieve the impossible. 
  5. The half-open lotus symbolizes an ongoing state of evolution. Just like the lotus is born in the mud but it still blooms, we must strive to evolve our consciousness amidst all chaos, confusion, and forces of negativity. 
  6. Vajra (Thunderbolt), symbolizes firmness of conviction and spirit. Like the thunderbolt pierces through everything with a lightning alacrity, devotees of Maa Durga must be firm in their resolve, battling uncertainty with the courage of conviction. 
  7. Axe – the axe was gifted to Maa Durga by Lord Vishvakarma. It signifies the fearless spirit of the warrior, showing no fear of consequences when battling evil forces. 
  8. The Trident (Trishul), given to her by Lord Shiva. The three sharp points signify the fundamental planes of existence for every human being – Sattva(Balance), Rajas(Energy), and Tamas(Inertia). Thus, the Trishul symbolizes a state of harmonious balance for the human soul. 

Legends of Goddess Durga

'Durga in Combat with the Bull, Mahishasura', 19th century painting
Detroit Institute of Arts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Goddess Durga’s legends center around combating evils that threaten peace, prosperity, and dharma. She is mostly associated with the legend of the killing of Mahishasura. 

According to yet another legend, there was an asura lord named Shumbha who proposed to the goddess Ambika. She challenged him to show that he was stronger than her. To show this, Shumbha dispatched an army, but she and the goddess Kali (a form of Durga) killed the entire army.

Shumbha, now infuriated, concluded that she needed to be humbled. So he himself marched out in front of his large army. He showed a magnificent demonstration of strength. To counter him and his army, goddess Ambika gave birth to a new goddess, Chandika. Shumbha retaliated by surrounding Chandika. However, at this moment, other Gods and Goddesses came to her rescue.

On seeing this, Shumbha released Rakt-Beej. Rakt-Beej was a boon given to him. According to this, if even a drop of blood from his body fell to the ground, another demon would emerge, fully formed and ready to battle. The clone’s blood also generated more clones.Thus, it made him unstoppable.

Chandika used a variety of weapons, but as blood streamed from his wounds,thousands of clones swarmed the battlefield. Chandika said to Kali that, to defeat him, not even a drop of blood should fall on the ground. So, Kali extended her tongue out and raced over the battleground. She captured every drop of blood that fell. Rakt-Beej and his clones, now unable to expand any further, charged towards Chandika but died at her hands.

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Shakti and Shiva – Eternal Love

Maa Durga is the manifestation of the feminine divine spirit Shakti, according to Hinduism. Shakti is the powerful feminine energy that engulfs the universe and lord Shiva is the master and Lord of all creation. He provides impetus to the forces of destruction, thus keeping the cycle of creation going. Shakti is the muse or the other half of Shiva. According to Hinduism, it’s the union of Shiva and Shakti that completes the universe. 

Goddess Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity. But she is often depicted alongside Lord Shiva. 

Shiva and Shakti’s eternal love story finds manifestation in many forms – first, Goddess Durga gets married to lord Shiva in the Sati avatar of Goddess Durga, and then later on, she takes the avatar of Parvati to become the wife of lord Shiva. 

The Penance of GOddess Durga

Lord Shiva likes to be by himself. He is a yogi who meditates. Legend has it that before she was reincarnated as Parvati, she was known as Brahmcharini. She was blessed to marry Shiva in this birth too, but after a terrible and difficult penance. She was determined to marry him and embarked on a strict penance. Her penances lasted for thousands of years. She ate only fruits and flowers for the first thousand years. For the next thousand years, she ate only vegetables. And for the following thousand years, she ate dry leaves. But after this, she gave up everything altogether. Lord Brahma was finally pleased, and he blessed her. With his blessing, they were both married.

 But according to folklore, he fell deeply in love with her. He is said to be obsessed with her and can’t stay away from her for too long. So, he follows her everywhere. This is the reason that is often cited to explain why Lord Shiva’s picture is present behind Durga idols.

According to one story, they once had a fight. She was cursed to go back to earth and live as a fisherwoman. Once she left, Lord Shiva started missing her badly. He was then born as a fisherman. He came to the village where she was living and tried to get her back.

It is said that without Shakti, Shiva has no expression. Furthermore, without Shiva, Shakti has no existence. She is the energy aspect of Lord Shiva and they together form one being. 

Goddess Durga Manifestations: Nine Avatars

The nine forms of goddess Durga aaccording to the Vedas :

  1. Shailaputri (Daughter of the Himalayas) – She holds a Trishul (Trident) in one hand and a lotus in the other. She rides a bull called Nandi. Believed to free her devotees from diseases and illness.
  2. Brahmacharini (following celibacy) – The celibate Goddess signifies affection, love, and fidelity. Depicted walking barefoot robed in a simple white saree with a rosary in one hand and kamandala(sacred water pot) in the other. 
  3. Chandraghanta (having the moon in her necklace) –  She is a fierce Goddess with a crescent moon on her forehead. She is known to take away all pain.
  4. Kushmanda (being the creator of the Universe). Kushmanda is a combination of Ku (little), Ushma (warmth or energy), and finally Amanda (egg). She is known to improve both the intellect and decision-making abilities of her devotees.
  5. Skanda-mata (the mother of Skanda or Kartikeya, born out of her powers) She has four arms and three eyes, holds the infant Skanda in her right upper arm and a lotus in her right hand which is slightly raised upwards.
  6. Katyayani (the daughter of sage Katyayana) – The sixth form of Maa Durga. She is the daughter of a sage called Kata who wished to have a daughter like Maa Durga. Katyayani was then born as an avatar of Goddess Durga. 
  7. Kalaratri (Destroyer of Kali) – Sacrificed her skin color and embraced a dark complexion to kill demons. Rides a donkey and has a third eye on her forehead. The eye is believed to contain the entire universe.
  8. Mahagauri (the wife of Lord Shiva) Four-armed deity who rides a bull or a white elephant. She is mostly depicted wearing white clothes. 
  9. Siddhidatri (Blessings Siddhis) – A form of Durga and signifies perfection. She is worshiped for the safety and security from unnatural events.

Goddess Durga Devotion

Maa Durga is considered by her devotees as someone who destroys all distress and all suffering. She is seen as liberating those who depend on her. Furthermore, she marks the beginning of the soul’s journey to creative freedom. Finally, she helps us to slay our inner demons. 

Durga devotion
Arghamallick5151, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Goddess is also revered by warriors, who ask her to bless their new weapons. Some intellectuals place their pen or other writing implements in her hands since they consider them to be their weapons.

Maa Durga is mostly worshiped after the spring and autumn harvests. She is celebrated especially during the festivals of Durga Puja, Durga Ashtami, Diwali, and Navratri. Dishes like halwa, puri, and chana are offered to the goddess.

She is sometimes, worshiped as a celibate goddess, but Shaktism traditions include the worship of Lord Shiva along with her. Some worship Durga’s symbolism and presence as Mother Nature.

The tantric traditions of Buddhism include Durga who sees her as a fierce guardian. In Jainism, she is presented as a peaceful deity.

Navaratri Festival 

The Hindu festival of Navaratri celebrates the divine feminine over 9 days. 

During this period, the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. 

In India, Navaratri is mainly celebrated twice. One is the Chaitra Navaratri which occurs during the spring season of the Western hemisphere and the other is the Sharad Navaratri which is celebrated around September/October. 

Each day is devoted to celebrating and worshipping one embodiment of Maa Durga. Each of the 9 forms of Goddess Durga represents a set of attributes. Thus, Navaratri celebrates the full range of feminine consciousness. 

Hindus usually observe fasting during the 9 days of Navaratri. Certain foods are allowed to be consumed during Navaratri fasting such as milk, fruits, ghee, dry fruits, potatoes, and vegetables like bottle gourd and chapatis( bread) made out of a special kind of flour known as kuttu ka atta. 

Some people observe the Navaratri fast on the first and the last day while others follow a stringent fasting schedule of complete 9 days. 

On the 8th day of Navaratri, a special havan ceremony ( ode to the fire) is conducted to worship Goddess Durga. During this ceremony, devotees chant various mantras to seek the blessings of the Goddess. Also, on the 8th or 9th day of Navaratri, little girls are worshipped as Goddesses and offered sumptuous meals and goodies in an auspicious feat. It is a belief in Hinduism that every woman is an image of the Goddess, and Navaratri celebrates this belief by celebrating the feminine divine in little girls. 


Nine forms of Durga are associated with nine colors :


The nine forms of Durga are associated with nine plants.


Tiger: Goddess Durga riding a tiger indicates that she possesses unlimited power and uses it to protect virtue.

Lion: The lion symbolizes uncontrolled animalistic tendencies such as anger and greed. Her sitting on the lion reminds us to control these qualities.


Jasmine: Goddess Durga is often associated with jasmine. It is said to be a symbol of the mother and to provide energy.

Frankincense: This is one of the key ingredients that are used in every prayer of hers.

Gems and Metals

The nine forms of Durga are associated with different gemstones.

  1. Shailaputri: Pearls, Emeralds, and White Sapphire
  2. Brahmacharini: Yellow sapphire, Emerald and Cats eye
  3. Chandraghanta: Ruby, Blue Sapphire, and Red Coral
  4. Kushmanda: Zircon, Opal, and Yellow Sapphire
  5. Skanda-mata: Blue Sapphire, Emerald, and Yellow Sapphire
  6. Katyayani: Ruby, Yellow Sapphire, and Red Coral
  7. Kalaratri: Hessonite, Red Coral, and Blue Sapphire
  8. Mahagauri: Pearl, Emerald, and White Sapphire
  9. Siddhidatri: Yellow Sapphire, Ruby, and Emerald


Durga represents the sun, the source of spiritual energy.

FAQs about Durga

What does Maa Durga symbolize?

Durga is considered the feminine epitome of strength. She symbolizes power and determination as well as punishment far beyond the material world.

What is the favorite flower of Goddess Durga?

Red hibiscus flowers are offered to Goddess Durga during her worship. According to various beliefs, these are her favorites.

What are  Goddess Durga’s weapons?

Goddess Durga holds a variety of weapons bestowed on her by male gods. These include the conch, discus, sword, bow with arrow, trident, mace, thunderbolt, snake, and finally, flame.

What is often offered to Goddess Durga?

Goddess Durga is offered with jaggery and milk. Also, coconut sweets are given after worshiping her.

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Rati Agnihotri

Rati Agnihotri is an independent journalist and writer currently based in Dehradun (Uttarakhand), India. Rati has extensive experience in broadcast journalism having worked as a Correspondent for Xinhua Media for 8 years. She was based at their New Delhi bureau. She has also worked across radio and digital media and was a Fellow with Radio Deutsche Welle in Bonn. She is now based in Dehradun and pursuing independent work. Rati regularly contributes articles and opinion pieces to various esteemed newspapers, journals, and magazines. Her articles have been recently published in "The Sunday Guardian", "Organizer", "Opindia", "Garhwal Post", and "Hindupost". Rati has a special interest in civilizational and cultural issues related to India and Hinduism. She has completed a MA (International Journalism) from the University of Leeds, U.K., and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Miranda House, Delhi University. Rati is also a bilingual poet ( writes poetry in English and Hindi ) with two collections of English poetry to her credit. Her first poetry collection "The Sunset Sonata" has been published by Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters. Her second poetry collection " I'd like a bit of the Moon" has been published by Red River. She also runs a youtube channel dedicated to books, writing, literature, poetry, art, and culture.