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.
The Wrath of Madhu Kaithabha and 5000 years long war
Once ‘Tamasi Devi’, withdrew from Vishnu’s consciousness, he stirred on his serpent-bed and in moments his form was again as splendid as a thousand suns. When Narayana opened his eyes and saw Brahma very worried, He inquired what was bothering Him and how He could help.
Vishnu: ‘Why have you abandoned your dhyana, Pitamaha?
Brahma: ‘The Asuras Madhu and Kaitabha want to kill me.’
Vishnu: ‘Fear them no more; I will kill them for you.’
And thus the Devi granted them their boon!
Lord Narayana saw Madhu – Kaitabha and roared like the thunder of the storm that could end the worlds. He challenged them for war to save Brahma from their wrath. The battle between Vishnu and the demons born from his ear wax was ferocious. Vishnu battled the sinister brothers without rest for five thousand years till He grew tired.
When He finally paused to rest and meditate, He learnt of the Devi’s boon to the Asuras. He learnt that Madhu-Kaithabh can die only when they themselves willed it. The Blue God was perturbed, for who wants to die, even in the direst circumstances? He realised how vain his battle with the wax-demons had been. Narayana folded his hands and called upon the Devi for help.
Vishnu: ‘Mother! The Asuras have your boon and I am unable to defeat them’.
Devi: ‘Fight again without fear, Hari. I will appear in the most feminine form in front of the Asuras and distract them, so you can kill them’.
Vishnu went back to fight and they began to strike one another again, with blows beyond description. Very soon, the Devi manifested amidst them. She was enticement personified! The enchanted Asuras had eyes only for the Devi now. They stood gazing at her, aroused past endurance, not knowing what to do. Taking advantage of the situation, Vishnu praised them for their bravery and granted them a wish.
The arrogant Asuras wanted to impress the Devi and so replied haughtily, “Who are you to grant us a boon? On the other hand, you ask us for a boon, Vishnu, and we shall grant it in our munificence.”
Until instantly, Vishnu expanded his own thighs, so they became a bright, dry island floating upon the unfathomable sea, and Madhu and Kaitabha had no choice but to lay their heads on Vishnu’s thighs as on an executioner’s block, and, with His Sudarshana Chakra, Narayana struck their heads off and saved Brahma.