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 End of Raktabeeja
As soon as Chanda and Munda were laid low, and many of the battalions of the demons where destroyed, mighty Shumbha, with intellect clouded by rage, commanded the mightiest of his warriors and the biggest of his armies to march forth ready for battle. When Devi Ambika saw the massive army advancing, She filled the space between the earth and the sky with twangs of Her bow-string. Her lion roared and even louder roared Kali, suffusing all other sounds in the universe.
The army of the enemy surrounded the lion, Devi Ambika and Kali from all four sides. Meanwhile, Devi Shaktis from the bodies of Brahma, Shiva, Guha, Vishnu and Indra, came forth, endowed with exceeding valour and strength, to join the battle. Whatever was the form of the Godhead, whatever his ornaments and vehicle, in that very form his Shakti advanced to fight the demons.
Lord Shiva, surrounded by the Shaktis, asked Devi Ambika to kill the demons for his gratification. On the command for the lord of the universe, the fiercest form of Shaki emerged from the goddess. She was called Chandika. The invincible Chandika, asked Shiva to go as her ambassador to Shumbha and Nishumbha, and ask them to either let Indra obtain the sovereignty of the three worlds or come forth and fight Her till death. Since the Devi appointed Shiva himself as Her ambassador, She came to be known as ‘Shiva-duti’.
The demons refused to surrender and the battle between the Shaktis and demons began. Kali tore the foes into pieces with her spear, mashing them with Her skull- topped staff. Brahmani left the enemies bereft of valour and prowess by sprinkling holy water on them from Her water-pot. Maheshwari slew the demons with Her trident, Vaisnavi with Her discus, Kaumari with Her lance, and Aindri with Her thunderbolt. Varahi wounded in their chests by the point of Her tusk and Narasimhi devoured the demons with Her claws. When the troops of the enemy saw their fellow warriors been killed so effortlessly, they took to their heels and vanished in no time. Noticing the fleeing demons, the great demon Raktabeeja came forth to fight.
Raktabeeja was attacked by all the Shaktis, but the army only grew. As soon as a drop of blood from Raktabeeja’s body fell on the ground, a great demon of his very stature would spring forth. As many drops of blood fell from his body, that many demons with his valour, strength and prowess came into being. Soon, the world was pervaded by thousands of demons born out of the blood of Raktabeeja. The gods were baffled and turned to Chandika for help.
Chandika was amused and asked Kali to open Her mouth wide open and savour the blood that drips from Her weapon that slays Raktabeeja. She told Kali to devour any demon that was born of the drops of blood of Raktabeeja. Chandika then struck Raktabeeja with Her spear and Kali drank every drop of blood that ran out of Raktabeeja’s body. She also devoured every new demon born out of his blood and those that lay dead on the battle field. Soon the profusely injured Raktabeeja lost all his blood in the fight with Chandika and fell on the ground lifeless.
Raktabeeja has this unique power that whenever a drop of his blood falls to earth, another demon of identical size and strength springs up. This is also the nature of incessant thoughts or desires. Each thought or desire leads to another. Though the gods are bewildered by the ever-multiplying desires, the Devi only laughs knowingly. Is it better to conquer one desire by nipping it in the bud or to satisfy a thousand desires? Desire makes us human but it is also the source of all suffering. Conquering the original desire will release us from this endless cycle of desire, gratification, disillusionment and frustration. The way in which Kali kills the demon symbolises how controlling thoughts and desires at their onset can liberate us.