By Tim Kavi
Ma Durga, or the Durga mother, is the fierce form of the goddess Devi in the Hindu tradition. She is often associated with Mahadevi, the supreme goddess for her defeat of Mahishasura Mardini the buffalo demon. Ma Durga is frequently portrayed with multiple arms, which can be as many as eighteen in some interpretations. She is also frequently portrayed riding a tiger or lion or using weapons to slay demons as a show of her power. Many portraits relate the story of her victory over Mardini, showing her slaying him or holding off his forces as they attack.
The legend of Ma Durga first appears on the narrative of Devi Mahatmya within the text of the Markandeya Purana. According to legend, Ma Durga was created in the image of a warrior goddess to help fight the asura Mashishasura. The warrior gods were ineffective against this demon because Brahma had blessed Mashishasura with the power to be undefeatable at the hands of man or god. To counteract this magic, Shiva requested that his wife Parvati take on a role where she could take on this demon. While she called upon the priests at Vaikuntha, Shiva tried to hold off Mashishasura and his forces by combining the three lead gods and emitting a beam of light.
Though the gods were defeated, this light reached Parvati at Vaikuntha, alerting the gods here. To save the three worlds, they combined forces to create a new pool of light. From this light rose Ma Durga, the female aspect of Brahman, a lila that emerged from their combined energy and compassion.
As she moved forward to battle Mashishasur, he made the mistake of underestimating her power, thinking that a woman could not possibly defeat him after he had defeated a trinity of gods. To show his strength, he changed forms many times as he rampaged toward Ma Durga, appearing as a buffalo demon, an elephant, a lion and a man. Ma Durga is said to have gracefully defeated each of these forms. In his last charge, Mashishasur returned to his buffalo form, but became trapped between this and the form of a man. Laughing at his predicament, Ma Durga cut him down with her sword, ending the battle and cementing her compassion in the hearts of her followers.
According to some versions of the legend, Ma Durga raised an army to march against Mahishasur as he terrorized heaven and earth. This battle raged on for ten days before she took it upon herself to slay this demon king. As a reward for their good service, Ma Durga rewarded her troops with the knowledge for jewelry-making. Because of this gift, Ma Durga is frequently depicted in art pieces. She is often represented covered in stones and jewels, even in scenes which act out the tale of her decapitating the buffalo demon. This act of bravery and compassion is also worshiped widely in many parts of the Himalayan region and throughout India, especially during the ten day period when the battle was said to have commenced.
Poet's Afterword: The Hindu Goddess Ma Durga is in a number of my poems, and in a couple of blog entries here, she makes major appearances. A related blog entry on Parvati is here. In one of Ma Durga's manifestations she is quite the warrior goddess (Mahadevi), which seems pertinent to mention, as this is also a theme in other More About Goddess columns that have featured Artemis and Athena from the Greek tradition. ~~TK P.S.--I love this song about Ma Durga on my YouTube Page by Krishna Das (I've seen it performed live!). Hope you enjoy!!~~TK