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 Manifestation of Mahalakshmi and the end of the Mahishasura Army
Devi Mahatmyam describes how Mahishasura gained lordship over the devas after a great battle which lasted for 100 years. The devas headed by Brahma, then went to the abode of Shiva and Vishnu to plead for help. The Devas narrated the story of their defeat wrought by Mahishasura in detail to the lords.
Devas: “Mahishasura himself has assumed the jurisdictions of Surya, Indra, Agni, Vayu, Chandra, Yama and Varuna and of other gods too. Thrown out from heaven by that evil-natured Mahisha, the hosts of devas wander on the earth like mortals. All that has been done by the enemy of the Devas, has been related to you both, we seek shelter under you both. May both of you be pleased to think out the means of his destruction”
Having heard the plea of the Devas and the tyranny of Mahishasura, Shiva and Vishnu were greatly angered. Out of this fierce wrath, a very great light sprang forth from the bodies of Indra, Shiva and the other Devatas due to anger. From this heavenly light emerged the magnificent form – the Mahalakshami. The loud laughter of the Devi’s enormous form struck terror in the cosmos. This sight brought about great joy to the Devas and they presented the Devi with their choicest weapons and ornaments.
Shiva presented a trident of His own to Her while Vishnu brought forth a discus (chakra) out of His own discus and gave it to Her. Varuna presented Her a conch, Agni a spear, and Maruta gave a bow as well as two quivers full of arrows. Indra, lord of devas, brought a thunderbolt and a bell from that of his elephant Airavata, for the Devi. Yama gave a staff from his own staff of Death, and Brahma, the lord of beings, gave a string of beads and a water-pot.
While the earth quaked and all the mountains rocked, the Devas rejoiced and wished victory to the Devi! The Sages bowed to Her in devotion. When the Asuras saw the Devi in the three worlds they were wonder struck. Mahishasura got agitated and sent forth his massive army to fight the Devi. Then began a battle between Devi and the enemies of the Devas, in which the quarters of the sky were illumined by the weapons and arms hurled diversely. The mighty generals of Mahishasura’s army battled Her ferociously, but in vain. As fire consumes a huge heap of straw and wood, similarly the Devi destroyed that vast army of Asuras in no time.