Shakti Sadhana

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MAHISHASURA MARDINI
by Devi Bhakta

Although the Great Goddess Durga is honored elsewhere in these pages, Her most celebrated role -- as Mahishasura Mardini, the Slayer of Mahisha, the Buffalo Demon -- is so central to the Shakta religion that it merits separate consideration.

HER STORY

Her basic myth is simple, as the greatest stories tend to be: Mahisha, a great demon (asura), has undertaken extraordinary austerities, and thereby accrued such vast power that even the Gods can no longer defeat him. In successive battles, they lose the three worlds to Mahisha's superior might -- and the Cosmic Order in thrown into disarray.

Clearly, a hero and savior is needed -- but who can defeat an enemy that is mightier than the Gods? Answer: The Power (Shakti) that created both the Gods and the enemy in the first place. In order to access that Power, the Gods must reverse the downward unfolding of Divine manifestation, i.e. the cosmic tattvas. (Not coincidentally, this is also the goal of any sadhana undertaken by a human devotee. To help understand the lesson offered here, think of Mahisha as the individual human ego.)

Accordingly, all the Gods simultaneously offer Their own individual powers back to their common Source. And as They do so, They behold an extraordinary sight, as the Source begins to materialize before their eyes:

An exceedingly fiery mass like a flaming mountain
Did the Gods see, filling the firmament with flames.
That peerless splendor, born from the bodies of all the Gods,
Unifying and pervading the triple world with its lustre, became a Woman.

(Devi Mahatmyam, 2.11-12.<)

She is Maha Devi, the Great Goddess, the Mother of all beings, divine and mortal. Taking the warrior form of Her avatar, Goddess Durga, She departs on Her lion mount to meet the demon. A battle of nine days and nine nights ensues, during which Devi decimates Mahisha's armies using lesser Goddesses produced from Her own body.

At last, She and Mahisha alone remain standing on the corpse-strewn battlefield. Of course, Mahisha cannot win, but he takes the forms of many powerful beasts as he tries. While he is in mid-transformation from Buffalo back to Human form, Devi finally slays him, thus saving the Universe, restoring the Cosmic Order -- and earning the title, Mahishasura Mardini.


NAVRATRI, OR DURGA POOJA

Hindus commemorate this great battle each autumn during Durga Pooja, or Navratri -- the Festival of Nine Nights. This is the year's most important festival for Shaktas. Each night a different form of Goddess Durga is worshiped; collectively, these forms are known as the Nine Durgas, or Navdurga

During Navratri, the story of the slaying of Mahisha is told and retold in many forms; see for example this classical dance version, starring the Indian film actress Hema Malini:




Other Froms of Durga :
Shri Vana Durga Havan

Links to Durga Sites
Girlhood Memories of Durga Puja in Kolkata
Hymns to Sri Durga Devi
Durga - Narrative Art of an 'Independent' Warrior Goddess
Durgadvatrishannammala [32 Names of Durga]
Devi Sooktam
Durga Puja E-Greetings

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The most famous version is undoubtedly the one that appears in Chapters 2 and 3 of the magnificent scripture known as the Devi Mahatmyam, or "Glorification of the Goddess."

MAHISHASURA MARDINI STOTRAM





THE DEVI MAHATMYAM

If there is a Shakta "Bible", then this is it. First set down in writing around 500 CE (as a part of the Markandeya Purana), it is the earliest scripture in Sanskrit to celebrate the Goddess -- in both story and song -- as the Supreme Divinity. However, its composition and mythology are so complex and fully realized that a prior oral tradition in the vernacular languages doubtless reaches back into India's prehistory.

The entire scripture is usually chanted repeatedly by Devi devotees during Durga Pooja. One recitation scheme can be found in the introduction to this online version of the Devi Mahatmyam. The best English translation in print is probably the one contained in Devadatta Kali's In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning. It's a truly beautiful, poetic, and very user-friendly translation, containing comprehensive notes on meanings and context, plus original Sanskrit in both Devanagari and Roman script. Another option is this India-made version, inexpensive and reliably designed for use in the pooja room, offering parallel English and Sanskrit text.

Besides the DM, the tales appears in many other Hindu sources, most notably the tenth-century Devi Bhagavata Purana (DBP), which builds and expands upon the DM's core to create a complete and comprehensive Shakta theology. Where the brief DM simply assumes the Supremacy of the Goddess, the vast DBP goes to great lengths to prove it. Finally, another notable source is the great hymn known as the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram, here set out in its entirety. Suggested recordings of the hymn are noted at the bottom of the page:

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Needless to say, this is a powerful, inspiring and even hypnotic hymn, and there is no substitute for the experience of hearing it sung/chanted in the original Sanskrit. Many artists have recorded versions, but here are my two favorites -- both by renowned Carnatic (South Indian Classical) vocalists, along with links for reliably purchasing them online:




Sudha Ragunathan performs my absolute favorite version.
The disc also includes a few other Devi hymns.



Sowmya's more recent recording
is excellent as well, and all other tracks are Devi hymns.



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