Devi Mahatmyam (part 3)

The final episode is dedicated to Maha-Saraswati and tells the origin and exploits of the dark goddess, Kali. Again, Indra and the devas lose their sovereignty to the asuras, this time led by the brothers, Shumbha and Nishumbha. The devas assembled and began to appeal and glorify Devi to aid them in their struggles. At the time, Parvati (wife of Lord Shiva) came to bathe in the Ganga and Devi jumped out of her body in response to the devas‘ supplications. Two asuras, name Chanda and Munda, chanced to see her there and reported to Shumbha that they had seen the greatest beauty in the universe. They told him that he already had all the greatest things of the universe and so he should also have this goddess found in the Himalayas. He sends a messenger to Devi who tells her that she could have the three worlds if she will come to either of the asura brothers. Devi calmly retorts that she will only marry the man who can vanquish her in battle and defeats her pride.

The enraged Shumbha sends his armies, led by Dhumralocana, to fetch her and drag her to him by her hair. She would not budge until Shumbha and Nishumbha came in person. The asura general tries to take Devi by force and is reduced to ashes when she makes the sound “hum”. She then sprang forth through their armies and her lion devastated their ranks. Upon hearing the news, Shumbha sends Chanda and Munda to bring her in chains. When Devi saw them approaching she became very angry. Her anger consumed her and she became as dark as ink and from her third eye leaped Kali: of dark skin, red eyes, gaping jaw, sharp teeth, clad in a tiger skin and garlanded with skulls. She fell upon the armies of the asuras with great fury. On seeing his armies being destroyed, Chanda rushed toward Kali. She mounted her lion and quickly beheaded Chanda. Seeing his brother laid low, Munda also charged and met the same fate and the remaining asuras fled in terror. Kali then presents the heads of the two asuras to Durga, saying that these two she has killed but that Durga herself must slay Shumbha and Nishumbha.

Finally Shumbha and Nishumbha head out with a great host of asuras. They surround Durga and Kali but all the emanations of female power (Shaktis or Matrikas) of the gods arrive to fight the Shumbha’s armies. Picture the scene: (all but Kali) a group of women of diving beauty, dressed in fine silk saris, covered with gold and jewels but armed to the teeth and surrounded by the vast asura armies in the Himalayan heights. Durga sends Lord Shiva as messenger to the asura brothers saying that if they return Indra’s kingdom they may live in the netherworld or if their pride does not allow it, they will become a feast for jackals. Naturally they refused and the great battle began. The Shaktis were effortlessly vanquishing the armies and the asuras became demoralized on hearing Durga’s great laughter. To save the asuras, Raktabija (literally “blood-seed”) came forth to fight Devi. His power was that from every drop of his blood that is spilled, another asura is born. As he fought the Shaktis, blood flowed from his wounds and innumerable asuras appeared, which threatened to turn the tide of the battle. Durga asked Kali to swallow up all his blood as she pierced him and drained of his blood, Raktabija fell dead.

Furious at seeing their armies defeated, as though they were storm clouds, Shumbha and Nishumbha showered arrows on the Shaktis. Devi first wounded Nishumbha with her battle-axe but he proved quite determined and attacked again but his heart was pierced by her dart and then dispatched by her sword, her lion feasted on his flesh. Durga then re-absorbed all the Shaktis into her body to face Shumbha alone. They fought fiercely and he grabbed her and flew off into the sky were they did battle. Durga seized him and threw him back down to earth with a devastating crash and then pierced his heart. The devas assembled, glorifying her and asking her blessing.

In the framing narrative, the sage finishes telling his audience of two and they commit themselves to Devi. After long tapasDevi appears to them and grants them each a boon. She grants the King to regain his kingdom and to become an immortal king (as a Manu) after his death. The merchant, knowing all too well the pain of attachment, asks for knowledge to that leads to liberation, which Devi mercifully grants.

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