The Goddess Durga - माँ दुर्गा

Goddess Durga represents the power of the Supreme Being that preserves moral order and righteousness in the creation. The Sanskrit word Durga means a fort or a place that is protected and thus difficult to reach. Durga, also called Divine Mother, protects mankind from evil and misery by destroying evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger, and ego.

The worship of Goddess Durga is very popular among Hindus. She is also called by many other names, such as Parvati, Ambika, and Kali In the form of Parvati, She is known as the divine spouse of Lord Shiva and is the mother of Her two sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya, and daughter Jyoti. There are many temples dedicated to Durga's worship in India.

In Her images, Goddess Durga is shown in a female form, wearing red clothes. She has eighteen arms, carrying many objects in Her hands. The red color symbolizes action and the red clothes signify that She is always busy destroying evils and protecting mankind from pain and suffering caused by evil forces. Following is the symbolism associated with Goddess Durga:

A Tiger:

A tiger symbolizes unlimited power. Durga riding a tiger indicates that She possesses unlimited power and uses it to protect virtue and destroy evil.

The Eighteen Arms

The eighteen arms of Durga signify that She possesses combined power of the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu that have appeared on the earth at different times in the past. The tenth incarnation, the Kalkin (a man on a white horse), is still to come. Thus, Goddess Durga represents a united front of all Divine forces against the negative forces of evil and wickedness.

The sound that emanates from a conch is the sound of the sacred syllable AUM, which is said to be the sound of creation. A conch in one of the Goddess's hands signifies the ultimate victory of virtue over evil and righteousness over unrighteousness.

Other weapons in the hands of Durga such as a mace, sword, disc, arrow, and trident convey the idea that one weapon cannot destroy all different kinds of enemies. Different weapons must be used to fight enemies depending upon the circumstances. For example, selfishness must be destroyed by detachment, jealousy by desirelessness, prejudice by self-knowledge, and ego by discrimination.

Durga (Sanskrit: दुर्गा); meaning "the inaccessible" or "the invincible"; durga) is a popular fierce form of the Hindu Goddess or Devi. She is depicted with multiple (variously, from ten up to thousand) arms, carrying various weapons and riding a ferocious lion. She is often pictured as battling or slaying demons, particularly Mahishasura, the buffalo demon.

For the Goddess-worshipping Shaktas, Durga is sometimes equated with Mahadevi, the Supreme Goddess. Her triumph as Mahishasura Mardini, Slayer of the buffalo Demon is a central episode of the scripture Devi Mahatmya. Her victory is celebrated annually in the festivals of Navaratri and Durga Puja.

According to a narrative in the Devi Mahatmya story of the Markandeya Purana text, Durga was created as a warrior goddess to fight an asura (an inhuman force/demon) named Mahishasura. Brahma, the Supreme Creator had given Mahishāsura (an ambitious demon who had observed penance)the power not to be defeated by a male or any God. Mahishasura, thus misleading his powers, unleashed a reign of terror on earth, heaven and the nether worlds. He created cosmic disruption and defeated The Gods of Sun, Fire, Earth, Thunder and all other Nature Gods. The Gods were helpless and went to Brahma, the Creator for help and, with Brahma, then made their way to Vaikuntha—the place where Sri Bhagwaan Vishnu, the cosmic "Man" lay on Ananta Naag. They found Vishnu and Shiva, the Supreme destroyer and re-creator, discussing the reign of terror of Mahishāsur. Shiva, made a request to all Gods to combine their Divine Energies together.Thus, to save the 3 worlds, Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and all of the Gods (Indra, Varuna, Surya, Agni, Yama, Vishwakarma etc.) emitted beams of fierce Divine Energy from their Bodies. The blinding sea of light spread in all directions of the universe like a supernova and reached the Ashram of the priest Kātyāyan, where all the Energies combined together to create the omnipotent Goddess Durga. The Goddess Durga took the name Kaatyaayani from the priest, in whose ashram she appeared thus. She introduced herself in the language of the Rig-Veda, saying She was the Female aspect(swarup) that the Supreme Brahman (God) had assumed to create all the Gods and the universe. Now she had come from their combined energy to fight the demon to save the gods. They did not create her; it was her lila that she emerged thus. The gods were blessed with her compassion.

To combat the evil Mahishasura, she had appeared in a gigantic blinding light that pervaded the skies and covered all the worlds. When Mahishasura challenged Her, Durga, the supreme cosmic energy, roared with laughter, which caused an earthquake which made Mahishasura aware of her powers. The goons and accomplices of Mahishasura attacked Her from all directions, hurling weapons at Her. However, the all-powerful Goddess, armed with lethal weapons of death, proved to be too powerful and severed their weapons along with their heads with Her lethal cosmic weapons. The Goddess thus 'cut' Her way through the army, stunning them with Her fierce light, hurling weapons on the demons, thus severing their bodies. She breathed an army of Divine warriors, who severed the heads of the demons and danced in fury.

Despite that, the terrible Mahishasura rampaged against the Goddess, changing forms many times. At first, he was a buffalo demon, and She defeated him with Her sword. Then he changed forms and became an elephant that tied up the Goddess's vehicle, the mighty and gigantic lion, and began to pull it towards him. The Goddess cut off his trunk with her sword. The demon Mahishasur continued his terrorizing, taking the form of a lion, and then the form of a man, but both of them were gracefully slain by Durga. Then Mahishasur began attacking once more, starting to take the form of a buffalo again. The Omnipotent Goddess became very angry, and proclaimed to Mahishasur in a colorful tone—"Roar with delight while you still can, O illiterate demon, because when I will kill you, the Gods themselves will roar with delight." When Mahishasur had half-emerged into his buffalo form, he was paralyzed by the extreme light emitted from the Goddess's body. The Goddess overpowered him with Her mighty trident and then resounded with laughter before cutting Mahishasur's head down with her sword. Durga slew Mahishasur and his accomplices, but actually freed them of their karmic debts and cleansed them of their sins, so that their souls could attain peace- that is the power of Goddess Durga. Hence, Mata Durga is also known as Mahishasurmardini—the slayer of Mahishasur.

The goddess, as Mahishasuramardini, appears quite early in Indian art. The Archaeological Museum in Mathura has several statues on display including a 6-armed Kushana period Mahisasuramardhini that depicts her pressing down the buffalo with her lower hands. A Nagar plaque from the first century BC – first century AD depicts a four-armed Mahishamardhini accompanied by a lion. But it is in the Gupta period that we see the finest representations of Mahishasuramardhini (2-, 4-, 6-, and at Udayagiri, 12-armed). The spear and trident are her most common weapons. A Mamallapuram relief shows the goddess with eight arms riding her lion subduing a buffalo-faced demon (as contrasted with a buffalo demon); a variation also seen at Ellora. In later sculptures (post-seventh century), sculptures show the goddess having decapitated the buffalo demon.

The four-day-long (Saptami to Dashami) Durga Puja is the biggest annual festival in Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal, where it is known as Dashain. It is celebrated likewise with much fervour in various parts of India, especially the Himalayan region, but is celebrated in various forms throughout the Hindu universe.

The day of Durga's victory is celebrated as Vijayadashami (Bihar, Bengali), Dashain (Nepali) or Dussehra (Hindi) - these words literally mean "the Victory Tenth" (day).

The actual period of the worship however may be on the preceding nine days (Navaratri) followed by the last day called Vijayadashami in North India or five days in Bengal (from the sixth to tenth day of the waxing-moon fortnight). Nine aspects of Durga known as Navadurga are meditated upon, one by one during the nine-day festival by devout Shakti worshippers. In South India especially Andhra Pradesh Dussera Navaratri is also celebrated and the goddess is dressed each day as a different devi like Saraswati, Parvati, Laksmi etc. for the nine days.

In North India, the tenth day, is celebrated as Dussehra, the day Rama emerged victorious in his battle against the demon, Ravana - gigantic straw effigies of Ravana are burnt in designated open spaces, watched by thousands of families and little children.

In Mysore (which originated from Mahishasooru) in Karnataka, she is worshiped as Chamundeshwari, the patron goddess of the city during Dussehra (Dasara).

In Gujarat it is celebrated as the last day of Navaratri, during which the Garba dance is performed to celebrate the victory of Mahishasura-mardini, Durga.

The Goddess Durga is worshipped in her peaceful form as Maha Gauri, The Fair Lady, Shree Shantadurga also known as Santeri, is the patron Goddess of Goa. She is worshipped by all Goan Hindus.

In Maharashtra, Tulja Bhavani and Ambabai are worshipped as Mahishasur Mardini, who is the patron goddess of the land. Bhavani is known as Tulaja, Amba, Renuka, Yamai Saptshrungi and Jogai in different places of Maharashtra. She is the inspirational goddess of Raja Shivaji. As per legends, Bhavani appeared after Shivaji prayed to her and blessed him to be able to make Hindustan or the then India (ruled by the Mughals) independent - the kingdom he established eventually became the Maratha Empire, which comprised all the land ruled by the Mughals.

In Bangladesh also, the four-day long Sharadiya Durga Puja (autumnal Durga worship) is the biggest religious festivals for the Hindus and celebrated across the country with Vijayadashami being a national holiday.
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