|Doctrines|| ||The Devimahatmya makes clear the theology of Durga. She pervades the cosmos and creates, maintains, and periodically destroys it in accord with the rhythm of Hindu cosmology. When cosmic balance is threatened, Durga manifests in different forms to protect the world. She is thus the upholder and guardian of dharma, cosmic order. In this she is like a female version of Vishnu, for the concept of a deity descending to the world when it is necessary to maintain dharma is central to Vaishnavism. Similarly, Durga creates, maintains, and destroys the world like Vishnu. The Devimahatmya tells of three cosmic interventions by Durga on behalf of the gods: the battle with Madhu and Kaitabha, the battle with Mahisa as a buffalo-demon, and the battle with Sumbha and Nisumbha. Durga's name means "Beyond Reach," and she rides a lion to defeat the armies of the antigods. To fulfil this role as a great cosmic warrior Durga is created by the gods to act for them.|
Durga is not only a powerful force for cosmic order. She also listens to her devotees and attends to their needs. The Devimahatmya describes her as a personal saviour who will save her devotees from forest fires, wild animals, robbers, imprisonment, execution, and battle.
Durga is identified with the important philosophical concepts of shakti, maya, and prakrti. Shakti is the power of the divine, personified as a goddess. Without this the male deity is ineffective. Durga personifies maya, meaning both delusion and creation, and both creates the world and bewitches the creatures she has created. There is an element of divine lila, play, as in the calmness with which she defeats the buffalo-demon. Prakrti is the physical world and its rhythms. The Devimahatmya states that Durga is the world. "As immanent in the world Durga is equated with the earth. As transcendent, she is the heavenly queen who descends from time to time to maintain harmony on earth" (Kinsley 1986, 105). As the earth, Durga is identified with creation and the growth of vegetation and crops.
|History|| ||Durga originated among the non-Aryan peoples of India. Early references place her in wild regions such as the Vindhya Mountains and with tribes such as the Sabaras and Pulindas. With this background she becomes associated with the non-Aryan habits of drinking alcohol and blood and eating meat. Durga's association with agriculture, especially in her major festival, the Durga Puja, may arise from her early origins. She is the power inherent in the growth of crops and in all vegetation.|
Durga becomes an important figure only in the early centuries CE, being praised in hymns in the Mahabharata, but these may be late interpolations. Around the fourth century CE images of Durga killing a buffalo become common throughout India. After the sixth century and into the medieval period Durga was well-known and popularly worshipped. In the classical texts, the Puranas, dating from the third to the fifteenth centuries, her mythological exploits are recounted. An entire Purana, the Devibhagavatam, is dedicated to Durga. The most important text is the section of the Markandeya Purana called the Devimahatmya, of possibly the seventh century, which is also known as the Durgasaptasati or Candimahatmya. This text is so venerated that every verse is considered a mantra, sacred utterance, of the Goddess.
The Devimahatmya tells of Durga's battle and defeat of the buffalo-demon Mahisa. A long war was going on between the gods led by Indra and the antigods. The genie Mahisa was king of the antigods. He won the war and installed himself in heaven, while the gods wandered homeless on earth. Shiva and Vishnu then guided the gods to concentrate their powers, which came from their mouths as jets of fire uniting into a blazing sphere. This took the shape of a goddess, whose head was formed from the power of Shiva, the hair from Yama, the arms from Vishnu, the breasts from the Moon, the waist from Indra, and the feet from Brahma. Riding a lion she went to defeat the armies of the antigods. She fought Mahisa, who took many forms. Finally he became a buffalo, symbol of death. Durga pierced the throat of the buffalo, and when Mahisa tried to escape from the animal, she cut off his head. The gods were then restored to heaven. The myth of Durga slaying the buffalo-demon may be a northern adaptation of Korravai, the Tamil goddess of the mountains, who was a goddess of war and victory and to whom buffaloes were sacrificed.
Durga has always been associated with military success. In the Mahabharata she helps the Pandava brothers and in the Ramayana assists Rama in defeating Ravana. In festivals associated with military success, Durga has been invoked to bless weapons and bestow victory. The tradition of sacred swords arose in more recent centuries; these are given to rulers by the Goddess.
|Symbols|| ||Images of Durga usually have three eyes. There can be four, eight, ten, eighteen, or twenty arms. The most common objects held in the hands are a conch, discus, trident, bow, arrow, sword, dagger, shield, rosary, wine cup, and bell. Her hair is in karandamukuta, a crown style. She wears gorgeous red clothes and several ornaments, and stands on a lotus or the head of a buffalo or rides a lion. There are endless aspects of Durga described in the Puranas and Agamas and the iconography is consequently very varied. In South Indian images she can sit in sukhasana posture on a double lotus throne and wear a garland of skulls.|
The most important form of Durga is as Mahisasuramardini. The image is of the Goddess cutting off the head of the buffalo-demon. The most common number of arms on this image are eight or ten, and the hands hold weapons and a lotus. Mahisa, the demon, may be shown half emerging in his human form from the carcass of his former buffalo form. At the Durga Puja, the most important festival of Durga, she is shown with four deities, Karttikeya, Ganesha, Sarasvati, and Lakshmi, who are identified as her children. During the festival the iconographical details of the images are faithful to Durga Mahisasuramardini, Durga slaying the buffalo-demon, as described in the Devimahatmya and other texts. Clay images of Durga are made and presented with offerings and on Vijayadasami, the "Victorious Tenth Day," the images are taken in a parade to a river or tank and immersed as they are now lifeless.
Durga's association with war has caused a tradition in which she is worshipped in the form of a sword.
During the Durga Puja, which is partly a harvest festival, a central object of worship is the navapattrika, a bundle of nine different plants which is identified with Durga. The Goddess is also identified with a ghata, pot, containing edible fruits and plants from the navapattrika together with Ganges water. The pot is set on moist dough scattered with the seeds of five grains. The priest recites a prayer identifying the pot with amrta, the immortal nectar of the gods. Durga as the pot symbolises the power of growth of the grains and the source of the power of life which gave the gods immortality.
|Adherents|| ||Durga is the most widely worshipped aspect of Shakti. She has devotees all over India and as a consort of Shiva can be found in all Shaiva temples, where women are among her main followers. The concentration of Durga Hinduism is in the main centre of Shakta religion, Bengal and Bihar, where her major festival, the Durga Puja or Durgotsava (also called Navaratra, takes place. The festival is on a large scale in Calcutta especially and communities and groups all over the city compete in making the clay images of Durga and her children. Images of Durga can be five metres high. In 1990 there were some 2,000 community tableaux. Pandals or shelters are set up along the streets to house the images. Huge crowds gather for the evening worship of the images and at the end when the images are taken to the Hooghly River there is a wild scene of drumming, music, and dancing. At the Durga Puja repetition of the Devimahatmya confers whatever boons the devotee prays for. This festival is also popular in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India where it is known as Dasahra.|
Village women are especially attracted to Durga and individually will take a daughter to worship the Goddess daily at a shrine in the outer wall of a temple.
Durga as the one Devi is one of the five great gods of the nonsectarian, orthodox brahmanic cult known as the Pancayatana.
Overall, many millions of Hindus worship Durga.
| ||Calcutta, Bengal, India.|