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 Devi Stuti
When the most valiant and wicked Asura, Mahishasura, was destroyed along with his ferocious army by the Goddess, the joy of the Gods knew no bounds! The hosts of gods headed by Indra lauded her, bowed down to the Devi and sang the ‘Devi Stuti’, in her praise and astound jubilation!
The ‘Devi Stuti’ is the longest and most eloquent of the Devi Mahatmyam’s four hymns. It throws light on the concepts of good and evil, fate, free will, karma and divine grace. The hymn praises Durga as good fortune in the dwellings of the virtuous and misfortune in the abodes of the wicked. The ‘Devi Stuti’ implicitly points to an impersonal balancing principle at work in the universe – the law of karma.
The hymn also says that the Mother’s intentions are most gracious even toward evildoers. Through her inconceivable rage, even wrongdoers who have committed great evils get purified simply by being slain by the hands of the Devi. Destroying the demons symbolizes the Goddess destroys the evil samskaras within us.
The Devi, the care-taker and supporter of the three worlds is praised and worshipped with celestial flowers, perfumes, unguents and heavenly incense by the devas. The Devi is pleased and she grants the Gods a boon. The Gods, who were overwhelmed with gratitude after the defeat of Mahishasura, needed nothing for themselves and only asked for the Devi to appear again to protect them from direct calamities whenever they called upon her in the future. They also prayed to the Devi to be gracious towards any mortal who sings the divine ‘Devi Stuti’ in her praise, and bless him to be fortunate. Goddess Bhadrakali who was thus propitiated by the Gods for their own sake and that of the world, said, “So Be It”, and disappeared from their sight.
Since time immemorial ‘The Devi Stuti’- of the Devi Mahatmya in Markandeya Purana is recited during the nine days of Navratri, as a reminder of the Devi’s boon to the Gods. The Devi Stuti is also known as ‘Shakaradi Stuti’ (praise by Indra and the host of gods). Praising the Devi and seeking her blessings with this rendition is an essential part of the Navratri Puja.