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In the previous posts, Devi Mahatmyam- An Ode to the Goddess Part 1 and Part 2, I have been exploring this fascinating 5th Century text. If you’ve ever heard a hymn or a mantra dedicated to the Goddess or even a story of one of her epic battles with the asuras, they most likely came from this text. It is the definitive text on the Devi.

In the next few posts over Navratri I glimpse into the book, its stories and their inner meaning.

The framing narrative of Devi Mahatmyam presents a dispossessed king, a merchant betrayed by his family, and a sage whose teachings lead them both beyond existential suffering.

The sage instructs by recounting three different epic battles between the Devi and various demons.

Sage Medhas instructing King Suratha and the merchant Samadhi

Sage Medhas instructing King Suratha and the merchant Samadhi

Lost and beaten by a cruel twist of fate a king named Suratha and a merchant called Samadhi chance upon a sage named Medhas, the wise one. In despair and anguish they turn to him for solace and for answers.

Pray help us, pleads the king, we were betrayed by ones we love and have lost everything that once belonged to us. Hurt, we turned our backs on them but our minds still cling to all that we have left behind. How is it that we are so deluded? Why can we not find the strength to cut the bonds that tear into us.

The rishi moved by their plight replies, it is not your fault. Men, birds and beasts alike are hurled into a whirlpool of attachment by the great Goddess Mahamaya. It is she who pulls a veil of delusion on all that lives so the cycle of life and birth may continue.

Who is this devi you call Mahamaya? asks the merchant. We wish to know, O knowing one.

So listen then, says the wise sage. I will tell you…

But before we can hear what the sage has to say, a quick look at the three characters central to the narrative.

The characters and what they mean 

The King, the merchant and the sage represent the body, the mind and the intellect.

Suratha, is one who has a good chariot (su: good, ratha: chariot).”The Self is the rider, and the body the chariot; the intellect is the charioteer and the mind the reins.” (Katha Upanishad 1.3.3)

In this long cycle of innumerable births called samsara chakra, man journeys through countless lives with the chariot of his body. The cycle of samsara and its inevitable sufferings go on as long as man does not realise that it is the Self(Atman) that is the rider and not the body or the mind.

Born a warrior (Kshatriya), Suratha is endowed with a strong physique, a good body. By virtue of his strength, he is capable of protecting himself as well as others. However, without Self realisation he is not truly a “Su”ratha or a one with a good chariot.

Samadhi, on the other hand is a merchant (Vaishya). The word samadhi denotes a focused mind, a mind in meditation. As his name indicates, Samadhi, the merchant is single minded in his pursuits of material wealth. This too is not a true samadhi.

The king and merchant are good by nature. The king protects his subjects like his own children while the noble merchant shares his prosperity with his whole family. But power and riches are not permanent in this eve-changing world. As is often the case, both of them lose their hard earned and well deserved power and riches.

Having experienced deceit and heartbreak, the king and the merchant are deeply disappointed but not disillusioned. Their hearts and mind still cling to their old associations, to the very things and people that have abandoned them. They are unable to untangle themselves form the conditionings of the past.

The king and the merchant are archetypal characters. We are all a bit like the king and the merchant. We brood rather than reflect over our losses and hurts. This is our predicament.

Thus Suratha (a good body) and Samadhi( a focused mind) cannot find true happiness till they meet the guide Medhas (intellect or insight), who can lead them to the Goddess, the Supreme Self.

Eventually at the end of the narrative, under the guidance of the seer-sage, the king and the merchant are fully inspired to seek the Goddess. Retiring to the bank of the river, they mediate upon the Divine Mother. After three years she appears to them and offers each a boon.

Suratha, who has unfinished business, asks for the return of his earthly kingdom, followed by an imperishable kingdom in the next life.

The merchant Samadhi, on the other hand, has grown wise and dispassionate. He has become free from worldly attachment. His mind is now fixed only on the Goddess. So he asks for the Supreme Knowledge that will dissolve the bondage of worldly existence in true Samadhi.

(Edited from Chandi -The Inner Meaning by Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary. www.karmicrhythms.com )

-Next:   The Slaying of Madhu – Kaitabh  – The First Battle