According to legend, the Devi or the Divine Mother waged ravaging wars against horrifying demons who wrecked the peace of the universe now and then. At those times, when the devasprayed for an intervention from a higher power, the Goddess Durga appeared and fought for the welfare of the universe.
As She fought, She created tales of adventure and awe that continue to thrill Her devotees and invoke deep faith in them.
These tales went on to be called the Durga Saptshati in the North which is also known as the Devi Mahatmya in South India and Chandi in West Bengal. Compiled and penned by Ved Vyasa (the author of the Mahabharata) the Durga Saptashati is found in the Markandeya Purana. Consisting of 13 chapters, the book recounts the Devi’s tales of valor through 700 stanzas.
The Devi defeats and kills through different avatars. She kills some demons through the tamasicavatar of Goddess Vishnu Maya, some through the rajasic avatar of Goddess Lakshmi and some through the sattvik avatar of Goddess Saraswati.
All tales symbolize the power of good over evil. Maybe to remind oneself of this eternal truth, people recite the Durga Saptashati at their homes during the nine days of Navratri. Listening to the glories of the Goddess, the devotee revels in the realization of Her omnipotence.
Tamasi Devi – The Devi of Inertia
Once upon a time, when the universe lay dissolved in the single, primordial sea, Lord Vishnu lay asleep on his serpent-bed, upon the interminable coils of ‘Anantasesha’. While the Lord was in deep slumber, two Asuras (demons) were born from the wax in his ears, and they were dreadful to behold. Madhu and Kaitabha grew to manhood swiftly, and were soon as immense as they were powerful and hideous.
One day curiosity struck them and they wondered about their existence, the source, the end of the universe and the unfathomable sea, but they could find no answers.
Eventually, on inscrutable intuition, the presence and essence of the Devi dawned on Kaitabha and he said to Madhu, “Brother, the Devi is the cause of this sea and of us as well”. And soon they heard the celestial announcement of a ‘mantra’, which the demons began to chant. The Asuras chanted on, and were one in spirit with the Devi for a thousand years, till the Mother Divine was pleased with them and granted them a wish!
Devi: “I am pleased with you, Danavas, ask me for whatever you want”.
Madhu and Kaitabha: “Devi, grant that we will only die when we will it ourselves”.
Devi: “So be it!”
And thus the Devi granted them their boon!
Till one day, Madhu and Kaitabha saw an immense golden lotus in the sky, and sitting in it, steeped in dhyana, four-faced and white-bearded, lustrous Brahma, the Creator of everything. The excited demons challenged Brahma to either fight them or relinquish his palace and flee. When Brahma flickered all his eyes open and saw the asuras, he was taken aback and scared of their massive forms. He decided to rouse Narayana from His sleep and let Him kill them. Brahma plunged down the stalk of the golden lotus, and besought Vishnu anxiously, calling Him by many of His august names and begging him to quell the arrogant Demons. But nothing stirred Vishnu, who was plunged in the ‘Yoga Nidra’, the trance of the Devi. Brahma then prayed to the Adi Shakti, the Mother Divine and urged Her to withdraw Her inert form from Narayana and wake Him up. The Devi, in Her inert form of sleep, withdrew from Narayana, leaving in turn His eyes, mouth, nose, heart and finally His whole body. And thus, ‘Tamasi Devi’, the Devi of inertia took form.