Devi Mahatmyam (part 1) & Navaratri

Today begins the festival of Navaratri, literally “nine nights”, which is a celebration in honour of Durga, the universal Mother. It commemorates the legends of Durga’s victories found primarily in the Devi Mahatmyam (a section of the Markandeya Purana) and secondarily in the Devi Bhagavatam; the two most important texts in Shaktism. The nine days are either devoted to the nine forms of Durga or divided among the three main forms of Devi: Durga (protective mother), Lakshmi (wealth & abundance) and Saraswati (knowledge & the arts). I will follow the narrative contained in the Devi Mahatmyam. The story is framed by a sage telling the story to a deposed king and a betrayed merchant, which is a story itself being told by the sage Markandeya to his pupil Bhaguri. The sage tells the story in three episodes.

The first episode is dedicated to Maha-Kali and takes place during the period between universes, as Vishnu sleeps on his couch, Adi Sesha, who floats on the great ocean. When it was time for creation, Brahma appeared seated on a lotus that grew from Vishnu’s navel. However, from some dirt (sometimes earwax) in Vishnu’s ears were born two asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha. These asuras endeavoured to destroy Brahma and keep the universe from being created. Brahma noticed the presence and intention of these unwelcome visitors and prayed to Devi in the form of Mahamaya (the great illusion) in an effort to wake up Lord Vishnu. Devi’s essence withdrew from Vishnu’s body and this roused him from his great slumber. Upon waking and seeing the two asuras trying to devour Brahma, he immediately sprang into action. He fought the demons bare-fisted for 500 years. When they were subdued, Vishnu granted them a boon in salute of their effort in battle. Seeing the endless cosmic ocean, the asuras asked that the only be killed where it is not flooded with water. Vishnu promptly took the two onto his lap and cut off their heads with his disc (Sudarshana).


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lolayoga
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 16:23:46

    Interesting story, I know I should clean my ears more often, but I am guessing there is more of a moral to the story? What does it represent?


  2. Sri Satchmo
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 19:24:00

    The philosophy of the first episode shows Devi to be the per-existing and all-pervading spirit/power (Shakti) of the universe. Here, She is Vishnu’s power and the force behind creation. If you mean about Vishnu’s ears, it just shows that everything comes from the same source.


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