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Durga - Narrative Art of a Warrior Goddess
Article of the Month - April 2001 by Nitin Kumar Email the author

Goddess Durga

 

 

 

 

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'.

 

 

 

 

Hindu Goddess PaintingsThe 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.

Hindu Jewelry 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.

Hindu Paintings

 

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 fighting.

 

 

Hindu Demon Mahisasura

 

 

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. Goddess Durga Slaying Demon MahisasuraThe 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 feet.

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 paste:

Thou Ambika [a name of Durga] dost overspread the universe with thy power.
The power of all divine beings is drawn into Thy from.
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 erupt.

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.

Durga Puja : Hindu Religion FestivalDurga 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.

We hope you have enjoyed reading the article. Any comments or feedback that you may have will be greatly appreciated. Please send your feedback to feedback@exoticindiaart.com.


This article by Nitin Kumar
Editor
http://www.exoticindia.com


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Article Reviews

  • Dreamt the names Durga and Vasudeva. Accessed this site with the hope of interpreting my dream.
    - Gail
    30th Jun 2014
  • I have no knowledge of hindu gods/goddesses. I'm not a particularly religious person, and I have never looked into any religion whole hardheartedly. So when I had a dream about a woman with a red silk clothes a trident and a some sort of sword on the other was strange. I knew it was a asian lady but couldn't tell if it was indian or japanese or something....

    In my dream though she was in a river. I can't remember exactly but I remember walking down a path saw an ox and a tiger. She was looking for something. Then out of nowhere this huge snake with 10 or more heads popped out of the water and the lady cut off their heads with a single strike. I even remember the splash of water how cold it was. The splash of water sparkled and the sun shone through behind her head she was shining.... after looking for answer's online there is no doubt it was durga I had a dream about.

    Strange. Before this I've had no knowledge of what a Hindu goddess was or how they looked like.
    - luna
    10th Jun 2013
  • very good, wish to explore what was said in greater detail, totally enlightment
    - Mark
    4th Jun 2012
  • hello what i need is money can u tell me what i we do to make money..thanks
    - isinchi (isinchi1@hotmail.com)
    26th May 2012
  • What is the origin of this belief as it relates to the Kemetic/Egyption begining, and is its begining related to the outward migration of what we now call Africa or was it in reaction to a new anti-female mind set taken on by encounters with outsiders?
    - Eric Reddy (eric.reddy93@yahoo.com)
    10th Nov 2010
  • Thank you so much for your insights into the great Durga story. I have been researching Durga extensively and your article is the first I’ve found to illuminate the role of the subconscious in this story. The articulation of the depth of this story in unveiling our own animal nature and the necessity to acknowledge it’s role in our own evolution is a key piece for me in understanding why Durga’s battle is so profound for us today.

    A deep bow of gratitude!
    - Gioconda
    16th Oct 2009
  • i need information about Shiva Nataraja & Sarnth buddna
    - Genese Dez (gdezilme@hotmail.com)
    14th Sep 2009
  • its very interesting
    - kellyna
    7th Apr 2009
  • Durga came to me in a dream. It happened when men of authority from work told me that I should hand out letters to family of a deceased loved one. I was skeptical and distrustful of them. When I turned around to walk away, they said it is for Durga!! I woke saying her name again and again. I did not know about her much except peripherally at some yoga classes I've taken. Your article was extremely helpful since it has helped me clarify that at this point in time in my life..the warrior goddess' energy is just what I need to make through this very trying time.
    - irene
    5th Jul 2008
  • Gorgeous article. I begin to unerstand a Goddess I knew little about, both in literal and symbolic forms. Thank You.
    - Maria
    25th Jan 2008
  • Excellent article. I had most of this information but not in such a coherent form. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.
    - Ana Sachs
    13th Oct 2007
  • really inspiring article that answered my restless. thank you :-)
    - Eny Setyaningsih
    14th Mar 2007
  • beautiful,matriarchal,splendid.as im reading this in todays current evil male-dominant world.i feel this article can empower women.
    - christine
    22nd Nov 2006
  • What a fabulous article--informative, narrative and philosophical.

    Thank you.
    - Betsy Hamilton
    1st Feb 2006
  • I was most impressed by your interpretation of the popular Durga myth. Being a Bengali myself, obviously, the Durga puja and the myth of Durga as a strong female embodiment has influenced me. I think in the present day, there are few other festivals or ceremonies that celebrate the idea of the Mother as a Fierce Protector and Compassionate Feminine entity in such a grand way as Durga puja does.
    Thanks to your article, I have began to re-evaluate my understanding of this myth and how it still can be relevant to human nature in the present day.
    - Tejdipto Bose
    12th Oct 2005
  • This website is very helpful for projets. It is hard to find a good source on the goddess Durgha. MOst of the others are about the festival, and this webiste gave me exactly what I needed. :D

    - Ashley P.
    7th Apr 2005
  • Thanks for posting the article to my group, Lady of the Bay! Your lesson was greatly appreciated!
    - Jennifer B.
    18th May 2001
  • It was an interesting article in content. Reading other mythological books certian content seems different and may or may not be true.<br>However the feed back will become very interesting if you invite readers' experiences in believing in one of the godesses and thencomparing with the articles' contents.<br>I for one have believed in Saraswati all my life and is my Ishta Devi. I have had great bliss from the godess and she has bestowed many boons and near miracle experiences. Becoause of her my life has been very peaceful, happy and full. I would llike to hear other experiences.<br>Needless to say whomsoever one believes it appears that God is one, choose whatever name and form
    - S.Shah
    3rd May 2001
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