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 Slaying of Mahishasura
When the Devi destroyed the army of Mahishasura – the King of Demons, Chakshura, the mighty general decided to fight the Devi himself. But very soon, after a fierce battle, the Devi slaughtered him into hundreds of pieces. As soon as the valiant general of Mahishasura was slain, Chamara, the afflicter of the gods came forward mounted on an elephant to try his luck in the great battle. The Devi’s lion pounced upon the elephant and the two battled fiercely till the end. The lion then struck Chamara with his paw and killed him.
Seeing his army being destroyed brutally by the Devi and her lion, Mahishasura took the form of a majestic and fierce Buffalo and terrified the troops of the Devi. Hitting some by muzzle, trampling some by his hooves, lashing at some with his tail, and tearing others with his horns. When he was done with the Devi’s army, Mahishasura rushed to slay the lion of the Devi. This enraged the Devi. Mahishasura, pounded the terrain with his hooves in rage, crushed the earth by his whirling speed and flooded the oceans.
When the Devi saw Mahishasura advancing towards her in such rage, she was angered and flung her noose over the great asura and bound him. But Mahishasura soon relinquished his buffalo form and became a lion. When the Devi cut the head of his Lion form, he took a human form. The Devi slayed the human form too immediately, and then the evil Mahishasura took the form of a huge Elephant. When the Devi cut off his trunk with her sword, the asura resumed his buffalo form and shook the three worlds. The enraged Goddess and Mahishasura continued to battle ferociously, till the Devi jumped in the air and landed herself on the buffalo form of Mahishasura. She crushed his neck under her feet and struck him with her spear. Caught helplessly under her foot, Mahishasura tried to take human form again but could only manage to reveal himself till his waist. Soon he was beheaded by the Devi. The battle thus ended and the entire army of Mahishasura perished.
The gods along with the divine seers lauded the Goddess. The Gandharvas sang and the bevies of apsaras danced in celebration of Mahishasura’s end.
Mahishaasura, who kept transforming from a buffalo, to a lion, to a man, to an elephant, and then back to a buffalo, represents the never ending chain of desires in us. When one desire is fulfilled another springs and takes its place. There is a never ending transformation and multiplication of multifarious desires. This is called Vikshepa Shakti and its rooted in Rajo Guna or Rajas. This conquest of Mahishasura is symbolic to winning over the rajasic tendencies in us.