- Durga (One who is hard to approach) is one of the major Indian goddesses, named perhaps for her ferocious nature. Her role is to intervene on behalf of the gods to defeat demons who threaten the cosmos.The Devimahatmya, the most famous text to extol Durga’s deeds, shows her intervening on three major occasions on behalf of the gods: against the demons Madhu and Kaitabha, against the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, and, most famously, against Mahishasura, the buffalo demon.In the first case, Durga fought on behalf of Lord BRAHMA and VISHNU. The story goes that Madhu and Kaitabha were born from Vishnu’s ear wax. They threatened to kill Lord Brahma. As Vishnu was sleeping at the time, Brahma calls on Durga to come forth out of Vishnu as the goddess of sleep, so that Vishnu can awaken and kill the demons. She does so and Vishnu kills them.In the case of Shumbha and Nishumbha, the two demons performed austerities that com-pelled SHIVA to give them riches and strength that would surpass that of the gods. Thereupon, they began a war against the divinities. Finally, the gods had to perform religious austerities to Durga to obtain her blessing. Hearing of Durga’s charms (though usually ferocious in aspect, she could change her form at will), Shumbha sent his deputies one after another to win her favor. After she easily destroyed the deputies Chanda and Munda she was forced to confront their com-mander, Raktabija, who had the power sprout up from his own blood whenever wounded. The angry Durga then sprouted KALI from her forehead; Kali went forward and systematically drank up the blood from Raktabija’s wounds until he was defeated. Finally Shumbha himself, along with Nishumbha, stepped forward, and they too were defeated.The DURGA PUJA fall festival celebrates par-ticularly Durga’s defeat of the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. The story of this ASURA (antigod) begins when he becomes lord of heaven after defeating all the other gods—he had won The goddess Durga slaying Mahesha, the buffalo demon (calendar print) the boon that he could not be defeated by any male god or demon. When the defeated gods approached Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma for help, the three divinities became so angry that the light of their anger combined, taking the powers of all the gods with it to create the most formidable power (Mahashakti)—the goddess Durga.Durga will be able to defeat the demon because she is female. Armed by the gods she begins a horrific battle with the buffalo-headed demon and eventually defeats him by driving her spear through him—a scene often depicted in her ico-nography. She is always represented in superior position over the demon, sometimes putting her foot on his neck.Durga is the goddess of the universe, oversee-ing every realm. Durga’s primary characteristics are that she dwells in inaccessible places and relishes meat, blood, and intoxicating drink. Durga is probably a form of the goddess from the tribal, non-Aryan realm of India, who came to be respected and adopted as the great goddess in the Brahminical tradition. Perhaps her early character is revealed in her association with the growth of plants and fertility.The Durga Puja is held from the first through the ninth days of the first half of the month of Ashvin (September and October), as part of the NAVARATRI ceremonies in most parts of India. A bundle of nine plants is worshipped as represen-tative of the goddess. The festival celebrates her battle against Mahishasura and her role as killer of that buffalo-headed demon. She is also cast as a married daughter, returning during the festival time from her home far away. She is particularly feted as the wife of Shiva and may be seen by some as an aspect of PARVATI. In the texts, as opposed to popular and local mythologies, her role as wife is not important.Durga is said to have been asleep for several months when she is awakened to be worshipped at Durga Puja. The ritual of the festival includes reci-tation of parts of the Devimahatmya, an important goddess text.Further reading: Robert T. Browne, The Golden Book of Mother Durga (New York: Hermetic Society for World Service, 2001); Sudeshana Banerjee, Durga Puja: Yes-terday, Today and Tomorrow (New Delhi: Rupa, 2004); David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.