Navaratri extols the power of women

The killing of a demon by a Deity is not mere physical annihilation, but liberation, a manifestation of divine grace.

Rama liberated Ravana, and Krishna did the same with the vile Kansa.

This is however the maximum they could give to the villains.

These demons were rarely shown in any of the worshipped images.

It was only the supremely compassionate Goddess Durga who gives space in Her image to the principal demon she killed, thus ensuring that he too is worshipped along with Her.

If this is the grace that the Goddess showers on a villain, then, can there be a measure of the blessings She bestows on her loving devotees?

The on-going concluded Navaratri (nine nights) Festival is a celebration of this Great Goddess, in which the actual worship is divided into three parts, where She is worshipped in her three essential forms.

The two principal scriptures of the Goddess – The Devi Mahatmya and the Devi Bhagavad Purana, highlight these aspects with highly instructive and symbolic stories.

Before the Beginning

Before the creation of the world, Lord Vishnu lay in deep meditative sleep on his serpent coiled in the form of a couch. A lotus then sprang from his navel, on which was seated the Brahma, the God of Creation. Two demons named Madhu and Kaitabh sprang from the earwax of Vishnu, intending to kill Brahma.

Brahma tried to awaken Lord Vishnu by shaking the stalk of the lotus He was sitting on, but in vain. He then realised that the sleep that had settled on Vishnu’s eyes was the Great Goddess as Mahamaya, an expression of the Divine Mother’s power of delusion.

Brahma then worshipped Her with an inspiring hymn of praise, asking Her to release Vishnu from his slumber. The ever-compassionate Goddess obliged.

Vishnu engaged Madhu and Kaitabh in a combat, which went on for 5000 years.

The two demons were full of pride, thinking they were invincible.

It was at this moment that the great Goddess struck the duo with Her Maya, making them say to Lord Vishnu, “We are pleased with your power and strength. Go ahead and ask for a boon.”

Vishnu immediately seized the opportunity and asked that they be slain by Him.

Indeed, one should always watch out for those moments of pride, which are the opportune instances for Maya to delude us.

The duo was cornered and realised their folly; but seeing water everywhere, they asked that they be killed only in a dry place.

Vishnu then sat down on the water. However, like the auspicious lotus remains untouched by the water on which it grows, Vishnu’s lotus-like body remain untainted.

He then proceeded to place both of them on either thigh, and cut off their heads.

Compassionate and Ruthless

There are many tales of the compassionate and ruthless nature of Goddess Shakti.

According to the Purnanas, there was a time when Mahishasura, a demon was harassing the Gods, in the form of a buffalo. He considered himself invincible because of a boon granted by Brahma that only a woman could kill him.

The male Gods then assembled and projected their collective energies to create a fiery Goddess with 18 arms, each pair (on either side) representing Navaratri.

Mahishasura was tempted to possess the beautiful Goddess and ordered his army to conquer her but soon lost his generals and soldiers.

He then faced the Goddess.

The dialogue between the Goddess and some of the demon’s generals and finally Mahishasura form one of the most interesting portions of the Devi Bhagavata Purana, shedding light on the essential nature of the Goddess, as no dry philosophical treatise can manage to do.

Demon killed

The demon told the Goddess that as a woman, it was time she thought of marriage and settling down in life.

The Goddess smiled at this naivety and said, “Did you think before addressing my feminine nature? Am I not a ‘Purusha?’ Actually, I am the Purusha in women.”

The word Purusha is generally translated as male, but that meaning is incomplete.

The Upanishads say that Purusha is a city (Pura) where the Supreme Reality rests (Shayan), meaning that the divine element is manifest in the world.

The Goddess said, “I am not an ordinary woman looking for a husband. My husband is ever present. He is the One and only Nirguna Shiva, who is always near me. I do not ever become anybody’s wife.”

She then vanquished him.

The Deity of Durga at the annual festival organised by Auckland’s Bengali community

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