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.
Devi Ambika and Kalika
Two demons named Shumbha and Nishumbha, dispossessed the Gods, stripped them of their powers and appropriated their wealth and privilege. Deprived of their lordships and sovereignties, expelled by the two mighty demons, the Gods thought of the invincible Devi and her boon to save them from the worst. The Gods from all the three worlds gathered at the foot of Himalayas, eulogized the Devi with the ‘Aparajita Stuti’ and called upon her to save them once again.
Aparajita Stuti has are more than twenty shlokas beginning with ‘Ya devi sarva bhuteshu’, indicating that the Devi is all-pervading as consciousness, power, intellect, memory, sleep, delusion, desire, activity, prosperity, forgiveness, faith, beauty and so on. This beautiful hymn is a powerful combination of meditation, affirmation and chants in itself.
While the Gods where singing praises of the Divine Mother, Devi Parvati appeared and enquired, “Who is She that is being praised here?”
Soon, from her own body emerged the divinely beautiful and radiant Ambika Devi and said, “These troubled Gods are calling out to me to save them from the wrath of Shumbh and Nishumbha”.
When Ambika was born and took form, Parvati began to darken with anger towards the demons. This form was named Kalika, who began to reside in the jungles of Himalaya, while Ambika lived in the mountains.
One day, Chanda and Munda, messengers of Demons Shumbha and Nishumbha saw the charming form of Ambika and rushed to the kings to inform them about this beauty residing on the Himalayas, who was unlike any they had ever seen. Since, Shumbha and Nishumbha owned everything precious in the three worlds, this auspicious lady, a jewel amongst women, had to be possessed by them too.
Shumbha and Nishumbha were lured by the description of the lady and sent Sugriva, their messenger with a proposal to wed either of them. Sugriva went to the Devi and described the glamor, riches and power of the demons to her. The Devi refused to marry anyone who could not win over her in war and challenged the demons to fight her if they wanted to marry her.
Hearing the words of the Devi, the indignant messenger hastened back and related them in detail to the kings. The enraged demons called upon their chieftain, Dhumralochana and ordered him to fight the Devi and drag her to their courts. With the orders of his masters, Dhumralochana set forth with an army of sixty thousand demons to win the Devi in battle. But in no time the mighty demon was reduced to ashes by a mere heave of her breath. Seeing Dhumralochana turn to ashes, the enraged army of demons attacked the Devi, but very soon the entire army was destroyed by the enraged and noble lion that bore the Goddess as her vehicle.
Hearing that the demon Dhumralochana was slain by the Goddess and that the entire army was destroyed by the lion, Shumbha was furious and he commanded Chanda and Munda to go with large forces and drag the Devi by her hair and bring her to him. At the command of the demon king, Chanda and Munda marched with their armies to win over the Devi and slay her army. When Ambika saw the fourfold army approaching, she was furious, and from the fierce frown from her forehead, emerged Kalika, armed with a sword and a noose, holding a skull topped staff and a garland of skulls around her neck. Kalika devoured, crushed and pounded the army of the enemy within no time. The enraged Chanda attacked Devi Kali with arrows, and Munda hurled thousands of discuses at the Goddess, but all in vain. Devi Kali, in her fiercest form, mounted the great lion, rushed towards Chanda, seized him by his hair and severed his head with her sword. Munda met with the same fate.
The proud Kali presented the slain heads of Chanda and Munda to Ambika, after the battle of the great sacrifice. The auspicious Ambika, said to Kali, “As you have brought me both Chanda and Munda, O Devi, you shall now be famed in the world as Devi Chamunda!”
Death at the hands of Kali is symbolic of transformation. Once transformed by the fiery power of Kali, they cease to be demons.