The Origins and Myths of Goddess Durga

Durga is a major goddess of Hinduism. She is associated with protection, strength, motherhood, destruction, and wars. Durga unleashes her divine wrath against the wicked for the liberation of the oppressed. She brings out destruction to empower creation. So, in Hinduism, she is seen as a motherly figure.

The word Durga means “impassable” or “invincible.” So she is the one who cannot be accessed easily. According to Vedic texts, Durga is alone the Supreme and the absolute facet of Brahman(Ultimate truth and reality). Her other names include Kali and Shakti. She is also known as “Triyambake” because of her three eyes. These eyes represent fire (knowledge), the sun (action), and the moon (desire).

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.

Durga Origins: A Warrior

Various mythologies describe the origin of Durga. Accordingly, Mahishasura was a half-buffalo demon who did penance in order to please Brahma. After several years, Brahma appeared before him. The demon asked him for immortality. But Brahma refused, stating that everyone has to die. Then Mahishasura asked for a boon that only a woman would be able to kill him. Brahma granted the boon.

Mahishasura then started to torture innocent people. He even captured Svarga (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). The Trimurti combined their power and gave physical form to the sum of their divine energy. She was a warrior woman with many arms. Himavan (the personification of the Himalayas) gifted her a lion as her mount.

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

According to one text, before the cosmic creations, Shiva invoked Durga from His left side. He created Shivalok with her help.

Sati and Goddess Shailaputri

One of her forms, goddess Shailaputri (daughter of the Himalayas), was born 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. But Sati and Shiva were not invited. Despite Shiva’s best efforts to persuade her, she went to see her parents.

But on arriving, she was given the cold shoulder. She was humiliated. She couldn’t take anymore and jumped into the raging flames. Shiva was furious when he heard the news of her self-immolation. He dragged his wife’s half-burning body from the flames. Sati’s various body parts were dropped in various locations, which are known as Shakti Peethas. In India, there are 52 Shakti Peethas. She was then born again as Shailaputri. She had two different names in this form, Parvati and Hemavati. According to some myths, Parvati becomes Durga after killing the demon Durgamasura.

According to a sect of Hinduism, Durga is among the various avatars of Yogamaya, the personification of the illusory power of Vishnu.

Representation

Durga is a warrior, so she is depicted to express her martial skills. She is often depicted as a beautiful yellow woman riding a lion or tiger. She is usually shown wearing a red sari. The red color symbolizes action and indicates that she is destroying evil. She has ten arms carrying weapons. The conch (Varuna), discus (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 are among them. Her ten arms symbolize protection from all ten directions. pictured defeating demons. She is frequently depicted in the midst of her battle with Mahishasura when she triumphantly kills him.

Her weapons have different meanings that represent her teachings. For example, her discussion symbolizes duty and righteousness. It signifies that we must perform our duties in life. Her conch symbolizes that we must perform our duties happily and cheerfully. Her sword represents the eradication of vices. The bow and arrow tell us that we must face difficulties and should not lose our character.

Durga is often described as terrible yet swift as thought, with a very red and smoky-colored manifestation. She has a fire-like, flickering tongue. The goddess is shown in action, yet her face is calm and serene. This calm is believed to be because she is protective. She is violent not because of her hatred or ego but because she acts out of necessity.

Durga traditionally holds the weapons of various male gods, which they gave her to fight the demon. These weapons are considered symbolic, representing self-discipline, selfless service to others, and self-examination. Also, they symbolize prayer, devotion, and meditation.

Legends of Durga

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

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 another legend, Durga was the name of an asura who had become invincible to gods. And Durga is the goddess who intervenes and slays him.

One legend tells the story of how her tongue got red. There was an asura lord named Shumbha who proposed to the goddess Ambika. She baited 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. Goddess Ambika gave birth to a new goddess, Chandika, to counteract him. Shumbha retaliated by surrounding Chandika with his army. Other gods and goddesses came to her rescue.

Then Shumbha released Rakt-Beej. This was a boon given to him. It made him unstoppable. 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.

Chandika used a variety of weapons, but blood streamed from his wounds, and thousands of clones swarmed the battlefield. Chandika said to Kali that 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. Shumbha and his clones, now unable to expand any further, charged towards Chandika but died at her hands.

Durga and Lord Shiva

Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity. But she is often depicted alongside Lord Shiva. She is the energy aspect of Lord Shiva. It is said that without Durga, Shiva has no expression. And without Shiva, Durga has no existence.

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

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 penanced last 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.

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.

Manifestations: Nine Avatars

The goddess Durga, according to the Vedas, is a divine symbol of power who is worshiped in nine different forms. The nine forms are :

  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. She is believed to free her devotees from diseases and illness.
  2. Brahmacharini (following celibacy) – The goddess walks barefoot. She is offered sugar for the longevity of the family members.
  3. Chandraghanta (having the moon in her necklace) –  She is a fierce, ten-armed goddess with a crescent moon on her forehead. She is known to take away all pain.
  4. Kushmanda (being the creator of the Universe) – The word Kushmanda is a combination of Ku (little), Ushma (warmth or energy), and Amnda (egg). She is known to improve their intellect and decision-making abilities.
  5. Skanda-mata (the mother of Skanda or Kartikeya, born out of her powers) – She is a four-armed goddess. She carries a lotus in two of her arms and a bell in the other two. She carries little Kartikeya in her lap.
  6. Katyayani (the daughter of sage Katyayana) – She is considered one of the most violent forms. She is the daughter of the sage Katyayan and rides on a lion.
  7. Kalaratri (Destroyer of Kali) – As per legend, she sacrificed her skin color and embraced a dark complexion to kill demons. She 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) – She is a four-armed deity who rides a bull or a white elephant.
  9. Siddhidatri (Blessings Siddhis) – She is a form of Durga and signifies perfection. She is worshiped for the safety and security from unnatural events.

Devotion

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

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.

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. She marks the beginning of the soul’s journey to creative freedom.

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 hand since they consider them to be their weapons.

She is 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 included Durga and saw her as a fierce guardian. In Jainism, she is presented as a peaceful deity.

Colors 

Nine forms of Durga are associated with nine colors :

  1. White  – Symbolizes peace and serenity
  2. Red – Symbolizes love and is considered Durga’s favorite color.
  3. Blue – Symbolizes richness.
  4. Yellow – Symbolizes happiness.
  5. Green – Symbolizes growth and nature.
  6. Grey – Symbolizes balanced emotions.
  7. Orange – Symbolizes warmth and positivity.
  8. Peacock green – Symbolizes uniqueness
  9. Pink – Symbolizes kindness.

Plants 

The nine forms of Durga are associated with nine plants.

  1. Banana
  2. Colocasia
  3. Turmeric
  4. Sesbania sesban
  5. Wood apple
  6. Pomegranate
  7. Ashoka tree
  8. Arum plant
  9. Rice plant

Animals 

Tiger: 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.

Perfumes/Scents

Jasmine: 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

Celestial Elements

Goddess Durga represents the sun, the source of spiritual energy.

FAQs about Durga

What does Durga symbolize?

Durga is considered the feminine epitome of strength. She symbolizes power, determination, and 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 the beliefs, these are her favorites.

What are Durga’s weapons?

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

What is often offered to Goddess Durga?

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