The nuances of myth-making are manifold. The tales of gods and goddesses, fascinating as they might be, are definitely not airy conjectures. Myths have tropes embedded in them, the most popular being the war between good and evil, where the former invariably has the last laugh. So, myths usually have a lesson to impart, a principle to highlight, a law to state. Our social beliefs, traditions and values draw inspiration from myths and are to a large extent coloured by the philosophy that they convey.
Listening to mythical tales is a staple with Indian households, narrating which is a responsibility that elders and especially our grandparents, at the behest of some unwritten command, take upon themselves. Hindu mythology is said to be home to 33 million gods and goddesses. They take various forms which can range from a fish to a boar, a half man half animal figure to a dwarf.
Incredulous as this might appear, the truth is that, we devotedly worship and revere them. For us, a god with 4 hands, the head of an elephant and a paunch, is at once endearing and awe-inspiring. That he rides a mice, takes nothing away from the glorious halo that besets him by virtue of his suprahuman intelligence and powers.
And so, it’s not surprising that the goddess with 10 hands, who rides a lion and has slain a demon which no other god could defeat, holds an important seat in Indian mythology and is worshiped by millions all over the country. We hail her as Devi Durga and her festival, Durga Puja is one of the biggest in the country, especially in West Bengal.
The inception of the goddess as described in the myths, say, that a demon named Mahishasura, through meditation and penance, pleased lord Bramha, who in turn, blessed him with a boon that no man or god shall be able to kill him. Armed with such superhuman powers, he and his demon brigade began terrorizing humans on earth and even ventured and succeeded in ousting Lord Indra and the other gods from their heavenly abode.
Disgraced, they turned to the supreme god-heads- Bramha, Vishnu & Shiva to save them from this plight. And goddess Durga was the answer to their prayers, formed from the coalesced energy emanating from the divine trinity, which fell within the premises of Rishi(sage) Kattayan’s house on Krishna Chaturdoshi( 14th day of the new moon)in the month of Ashwin (September-October). Devi Durga or Kattayani(as she was born at the sage’s home)appeared; a feminine form, a woman with ten hands, created with the sole purpose of defeating Mahishahur.
Armed with Vishnu’s discus, Shiva’s trident, Varuna’s conch-shell, Agni’s flaming dart, Vayu’s bow, Surya’s quiver and arrow, Yama’s iron rod, Indra’s thunderbolt, Kubera’s club,a garland of snakes from Shesha and with a lion as her vahan(vehicle), she headed out to meet her adversary. This divine warrior, radiant, omnipotent and invincible, finally vanquished Mahishasura after a terrible battle and restored peace and order in heaven and earth.
The myth of Devi Durga slaying the demon, once again, plays out the trope of dark forces succumbing to the divine. Durga puja essentially stands for the worship of Shakti, or the all-powerful feminine aspect of the Supreme Absolute. In her, we have the enigmatic combination of a mother and a protector, a life-giver and a warrior. And, so it’s not without reason that she is counted among our favourite gods and goddesses. She is a deity who is much loved, whose divine blessings we seek and to whom we pay our unconditional obeisance.