DEVI MAHATMYA is a religious text glorifying the victory of Durga over the demon Mahisasura. It is Part of the Markandeya Purana. There are twenty nine mentions of Chandi or Chandika in this Purana alone. Chandi, Chandika, Ambika and Durga are also synonymously used. Traditionally, it is viewed that Mahatmyam attempts to unify the male pantheon Hindu gods with the pre-existing Mother Goddess Cult or Shaktam and define divinity as a female principle.
Mahatmyam is also known as Durga Saptashati or Chandi Path. ‘Saptashata’ means 700 verses arranged into 13 chapters. The ‘path’ here is not route, as is sometimes wrongly written but ‘patha’ which means reading. The Tamil word for this is ‘paadam’ which also takes another meaning of ‘at feet of.’
Durga is associated to the killing of several demons by taking the form of Chandi. As Singhavahini, Chandi rode on a lion, fought with Chanda and Munda. She has four arms. She drank the blood of the demon leaders and devoured a large part of their troops. Mahishamardini is the slayer of the demon Mahisha. She also slew demons as Shumbha and Nishumbha and attacked them in the frm of a buffalo. She had eight or according to some accounts, ten arms. There is little to distinguish the account of this form with that of Durga.
Chandi or Chamunda appear as black or red complexioned wearing ‘mundamala’ the garland of severed head skulls. She has up to twelve arms. She holds a damaru, trishula, sword, a snake, khatvanga- skull-mace, thunderbolt, a severed head, kapala-the skull cup and panapatra, the drinking vessel. She is shown standing on a ‘shava’ or corpse or seated on a ‘pretasana’ or defeated demon.
She is often portrayed in horror: Her skull cup is filled with blood. She has a skeletal body with three eyes. Her face is terrifying with protruding teeth, long nails. Her socket eyes are described as burning the world with flames. Her breasts are shown dropping with a sunken belly. Bones, skulls, serpents and scorpions, symbols of disease and death are her ornaments. Her headdress is the jata mukutta, the piled matted hair tied with snakes. She sdorns a crescent moon which she shares of Lord Shiva.
She keeps company with fiends and goblins surrounded by fearsome jackals eating corpse flesh. Her vahana ranges from lion, tiger or owl. Her banner shows a fierce eagle. By and large Chandi and Chamunda depict the coming of old age, death, decay and destruction, the wholesome attributes of Rudra and Shiva in his destructive roles. Indeed these are symbols of rebirth and creation also.
Durga is also known as Chamunda Mata or Chandi-Chamunda which is close to the South Indian version. This fierce mother goddess has big eyes dressed in red and green adorned with garlands of flowers and in front of her is vehicle the Lion She is one of the seven Matrikas or ‘Saptamatrikas’ or Seven Divine Mothers and one of the chief Yoginis. The Matrikas are Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi. The Matrikas are of paramount importance to Shaktam mother goddess worship and Tantrism. They are connected to Lord Skanda Kumara’s birth and later to the Shaivite sect itself. According to Brihat-Samhita, Mother Goddesses are to be made with cognizance of Hindu Gods corresponding to their names and associated as their Shaktis. In this sense Chamunda is taken to be the consort of Lord Shiva.
It is often quite wrongly written that Durga ‘is also known’ as Parvati. It is the other way around. Parvati is the benign form of Lord Siva’s consort; more in the domestic fold. The Vaivarta Purana relates to the circumstance which led to the reappearance on earth of Uma, who had sacrificed herself and became Sati. Sati soon takes rebirth as Himavat’s daughter and Mother Mena. Gauri is Her virgin form in which she undergoes severe penance to obtain the heart of Lord Shiva. She got a boon from Brahma to be golden complexioned. The marriage materializes and Siva-Parvati take Mount Kailasa as their abode.
In Shaktam, Parvati stands for Shakti, feminine power. Without Shakti, Shiva is shava, a mere corpse. It is Mother Parvati that manifests her divine powers to exhibit a very different spirit from which She appears as the domestic Parvati. This is when she appears as Durga and Kali. Hence the supposition that these were originally distinct deities, they are one and the same. The chief forms of Parvati as Durga are Durga, Dasabhuja, Singhavahini, Mahaishamardini, Jagaddhatri and Kali.
The Parvati > Durga > Chandi historical flow is confirmed by Markandeya Purana itself. Lord Brahma was pleased with Mahishasura’s penance so he gives him the power not to be defeated by a male. Mahisha terrorized the three lokhas. The devas and Gods were rendered helpless as the demon could not be defeated by any man or god, anywhere. They approach Lord Shiva in the Kailash Mountains. The Lord, realizing that no man or male god could defeat Mahishasura, made a request to his wife Prvati to the role of a female goddess warrior in order to slay the demon.
Mother Parvati acceded to Shiva’s request and proceeded to the Katyayan’s ashram to assume the role of a warrior. In the meantime, some of the gods also approached Lord Brahma. Brahma then made his way to Vaikunta to meet Mahavishnu. The two then head for Kailasha to save the three worlds from Mahishasura’s reign of terror. The Trinity then emitted beams of fierce light from their bodies. The blinding sea of light reached Parvati at the Katyayan’s ashram. Parvati then emerged as Durga from this pool of light and first took the name of Kaatyayani from the ashram priest.
Kaatyayani explained herself as the form of Supreme Female aspect of Brahman or Prakriti who had created all the gods. She said that she had appeared to slay the demon and that the Trinity had not created Her but the emerging from the pool of light as combined energy was Her lila. Learning of this manifestation, Mahishasura roared with laughter that a woman had emerged to kill him. His laughter led his to his destruction when Durga took the form of Chandi.
This is also popularly known as Chandi Mantra, is a Nine lettered Om Aim Hrim Klim Camundsayai Vitcae. It is also called Chandi Gayatri or Navavarna Mantra. ‘Om’ is the Pranava Mantra representing Nirguna Brahman; Aim is the Vakbeeja, the sound of Mahasaraswati. It is the knowledge that is consciousness- Chit. ‘Hreem’ is the Maya beeja, the sound of Mahalakshmi, the all pervasive existence – Sat. ‘Klim’ is the Kamabeeja, the sound of Mahakali, the all consuming delight, Ananda. The Chit, Sat and Ananda is involved in the creation in physical, vital and mental ways respectively, Anna – Prana and Manas. This knowledge of mysteries is represented by Chambunda Devi. The Navakshari Mantra is one of the principal mantras in Shakti Worship apart from the Sri Vidhya Mantras.
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi