The Devi Mahatmyam [A Group Conversation]

Sankarrukku writes: The occasion of Navaratri is a good time to learn about the Great Epic, the Devi Mahatmyam.

The Devi Mahatmyam (DM) is an Upapurana found in the Markandeya Purana.Composed some 1500 years ago, it is the first comprehensive account of the Goddess in Sanskrit. It has maintained its centrality in the Saktha tradition to the present day. The outstanding feature of DM is its vision that the ultimate reality is understood as female, as the Goddess. (Let us not talk about Nirguna Brahman. That is a tangent ad infinitum for most people.)

In DM , for the first time a new Goddess was created, MAA CHANDI [i.e. Durga]. She is the central figure in the entire epic. MAHAA KALI, MAHAA LAKSHMI and MAHAA SARASWATHI are the other main Deities in the epic.

One of the most interesting points to be noted is that the Epic acknowledges all the Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. MAA CHANDI is the combination of the sakthi or power of all the Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu religion. Thus the epic is unique in the sense that it is not against Saivism or Vaishnavism.

In the first chapter, Devi is called Vishnu Maya. In the epic it is Vishnu who slays Madhu and Kaitabha through his Sakthi or Power, which is Vishnu Maya. The four Sthudhis or Hymns in the DM are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful poetry in the Sanskrit language. The four Hymns are the devotional core of DM. The four Sthudhis are:

  1. The Brahma Studhi in the First chapter;

  2. The Sakrathi Studhi in the Fourth chapter;

  3. The Ya-Devi Studhi in the Fifth Chapter; and

  4. The Narayani Studhi in the Eleventh chapter.
The greatest thing about these hymns is that they beseech MAA to protect the world, and seek establishment of Peace in the world. The hymns will definitely become dear to you once you start reciting them, whether you are a Vaishnava, Saiva or practice within any other sect of Hinduism. They transcend the boundary of sects and religion. We appeal to the supreme power to bring peace to the world.

This is very pertinent -- especially now, when the world is going through troubled times. Most of the books give a Sloka called the Durga Saptha Sloki in the beginning. This is considered to be the saramsa of the DM. Daily recital of this Sloka is recommended. Bhakthas who are interested in how MAA is depicted as the sum total of all the Devathas can view copy of a painting at my homepage.

Also, I would recommend the following books to learn about this Great Epic:

  1. Devi Mahatmya by Thomas Coburn, Motilall Banarsidass Press. A great book that will make you realize the greatness of the Epic. A must read for all Devi Bhakthas.
  2. Sri Chandi by Swami Sathyananda Saraswathi of SHREE MAA Ashram. A philosophical interpretation of Devi Mahatmya. God Bless America for giving as such a Great Guru.
  3. Durga Sapthasathi. Geeta Press, Gorakhpur, India . An authoritative text with no printer's devils. Unfortunately the meaning is given in Hindi, which may not be understood by all. Gita Press, Gorakpur has been rendering great service to Hinduism with their innumerable publications on Hinduism.<
  4. Glory of the Divine Mother. By S.Sankaranarayanan, Prabha Publishers, Chennai. A scholarly work by a Devi Bhaktha. This is the interpretation according to Sage Arbindo's teachings.
Of course the Bengalis are blessed that they have a Bengali translation of the Epic for a long time. I remember my days in Calcutta, when I used to be woken up by the Hymn YA DEVI SARVABHOODESH. Wish I could be in Cal. now. The whole city will be welcoming MAA.

So take out your credit card and log on to or Barnes and Noble. (I could give you a link here. You know about Associates. But that would be too much. Please send a mail if you are not able to locate these books).

Let us pray:

Soolene pahi no Devi, pahi gadgena Chambike,
Gandaswanena na pahi chapaajyani swanena cha!

Sowmyani yani roopani thrilokye vicharanthithe,
Yani chathyantha gorani thai rakshasmam sthadha bhuvam!

With your spear protect us, O Goddess!
And with your sword protect us, O Ambika!
Protect us with the sound of your bell,
And with the twang of your bow-string!
With your gentle forms, which roam about in the triple world,
And with the exceedingly terrible ones,
Protect us, and also the earth.

Thanks, Sankarrukku, for an important and timely discussion of the Devi Mahatmyam. A while back someone asked which scripture might be considered the "Hindu Bible," and I wondered ... the Vedas? the Upanishads? the Gita? the Mahabharata or Ramayana? the Puranas? etc, etc! There are countless scriptural sources, and the "Bible" of any one Hindu group could be any one or combination of them.

But for Shaktas, for those who worship Devi as Supreme, the DM is definitely the "Bible" -- that is to say, it's the single most ancient, elemental and universal exposition of our beliefs. It is as fundamental and beautiful for Shaktas as the Bhagavad Gita is for Vaishnavites, the New Testament for Christians, the Quran for Muslims, or the Torah for the Jews.

It is also, as you suggest, a masterpiece of world literature in its own right, both structurally and linguistically brilliant -- a scripture that becomes more amazingly beautiful and inspiring with each repeated reading.

Members who have a copy should definitely study it during the holy days of Navaratri -- ideally, it is said that a daily reading is recommended during these nine days. But even if you're NOT into scripture with that kind of intensity, do yourself a favor and find a copy -- especially if you love great literature and if you love Devi. Sankarrukku has listed some of the best editions available.

I'd only add that Thomas Coburn's Devi Mahatmya contains only discussion of the Epic and not a translation. His translation (and more excellent discussion) appears in his book, Encountering the Goddess, which appears on the Group Booklist. Happy reading!

Related topics:
The Devi Mahatmyam : The Constant Bloody Battling

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