The Second Battle – The Slaying of Mahisharura
The second episode of the Devi Mahatmyam recounts the most iconic of Goddess Tales – The Slaying of Mahishasura. It was an epic battle that raged for many days and nights. So make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and settle down to hear the story.
Having finished his first tale, the rishi paused for a moment and then continued his instruction to the King and the merchant. Hear now, he said, of another epic battle fought across three worlds. Of how the Goddess defeated the terrible Mahishasur and his armies and saved the gods.
Long, long ago when Mahishasura was the lord of asuras and Indra the lord of devas, a war raged between the devas and asuras for a full hundred years. A war in which the gods were vanquished by the mighty demons. Having conquered the devas, Mahishasura proclaimed himself the lord of the heavens.
Driven away from their homes the vanquished devas led by Brahma, the father of beings, went to Siva and Vishnu for help. To them, the devas narrated the story of their defeat wrought by Mahishasura in great detail. “He (Mahishasura) himself has assumed the jurisdictions of Surya, Indra, Agni, Vayu, Chandra, Yama and Varuna and of other gods too. We have nowhere to go and seek refuge with you,” they said.
Vishnu and Siva, hearing of the tyranny of Mahishasura were so enraged that their faces turned fierce and from their frowns there issued forth a great light. And then a light sprang forth from bodies of Brahma, Indra, and other devas too. All this light fused together assumed the form of a luminous female; Goddess Durga
Seeing her, the devas were overjoyed. Drawing forth a trident from his own trident Shiva presented it to her; Vishnu brought forth a discus out of his own discus and gave it to her. Varuna gave her a conch, Agni a spear; and Maruta gave a bow as well as two quivers full of arrows. Indra, lord of devas, bringing forth a thunderbolt out of his own thunderbolt and a bell from that of his elephant Airavata, gave them to her. Yama gave a staff from his own staff of death and Varuna, the lord of waters, gave her a noose. Brahma, the lord of beings, gave a string of beads and a water-pot. Surya placed his own rays on all the pores of her skin, while Kala gave her a sword and a spotless shield. The milky ocean gave her the best ornaments and garments, Vishwakarma gave her a brilliant axe, various missiles, and an unbreakable armour. The ocean gave her unfading lotus garlands to wear and a very beautiful lotus to be held in her hand. Himavan gave her various gems and the lion as her vehicle. Kubera the lord of wealth gave her a drinking cup always full of celestial wine.
Honoured with ornaments and weapons by the remaining gods too, the Goddess roared with laughter, her roars filling the entire sky. All the worlds were frenzied and the oceans raged. The earth quaked and the mountains rocked in the wake of the Warrior Goddess, the great union of shaktis of all the gods.
“Victory to you,” exclaimed the gods in joy to her, the lion-rider. The sages extolled her bowing their bodies in salutation.
Seeing the three worlds so agitated, the enemies of the gods, marshaled all their armies and rose up together with uplifted weapons. Crying out in fury, Mahishasura rushed towards that sound, accompanied by innumerable asuras. Then he saw the Goddess pervading the three worlds with her effulgence. Making the earth bend with her footstep, scraping the sky with her diadem, shaking the netherworlds with the twang of the bow-string, she stood there covering all the quarters with her thousand arms.
Thus a bloody battle ensued between that Devi and the asuras, in which the skies were illumined by arrows and missiles hurled at each other. She, the Goddess Durga, the embodiment of divine anger, turned against evil and set herself to destroy the armies of Mahishasura.
Mahisasura was encircled by many billions of chariots, horses, and elephants in that battle. The asuras fought with iron maces and javelins, with spears and clubs, with swords, battle-axes, and halberds. Some hurled spears and others nooses. They began to strike her with swords in order to kill her.
Showering her own weapons and arms, Goddess Chandika too, quite playfully, cut into pieces all those weapons and arms. With gods and sages extolling her and showing no signs of fatigue on her face, the Goddess Isvari hurled her weapons and arms at the bodies of the asuras. The mount of the Goddess, the lion, shaking its mane in rage, stalked amidst the armies of the asuras like a blazing forest fire.
The sighs which the Goddess Ambika, fighting in the battle, heaved became at once her battalions by hundreds and thousands. Energized by the power of the Devi, these battalions fought with battle-axes, javelins, swords, and halberds, destroying the asuras. Of these battalions, some beat drums, some blew conches and others played on tabors in that great martial festival. The Goddess killed hundreds of asuras with her trident, mace, showers of spears, swords and the like, and threw down others who were stupefied by the noise of her bell. Binding others with her noose, she dragged them on the ground. Some were split into two by the sharp fall of her sword, and others, smashed by the blows of her mace, lay down on the ground while some who were severely hammered by the pestle vomited blood. Pierced in the breast by her trident, some fell on the ground.
That part of the earth where the battle was fought became impassable with the asuras, elephants and horses and chariots that had been felled. Streams of blood from the asuras, elephants, and horses flowed immediately like large rivers amidst that army of the asuras. As fire consumes a huge heap of straw and wood, so did Ambika destroy that vast army of asuras in no time.
(Thus ends the second chapter – ‘Slaughter of the armies of Mahisasura’- of Devi-Mahatmya in Markandeya Purana.)
Seeing the army being slain, Ciksura, the great asura general, proceeded in anger to fight with Ambika. The asura rained showers of arrows on the Goddess in battle just as a cloud showers rain on the peak of Mount Meru. But the Goddess playfully cut asunder the volley of arrows, killed his horses and their driver with her arrows, broke his bow and banner flying aloft, and with swift arrows, she pierced the body of that asura whose bow had been broken.
His bow shattered, his chariot smashed, his horses killed and his charioteer slain, the asura armed with sword and shield jumped at the Goddess. Swiftly he struck the lion on the head with his sharp-edged sword and hit the Devi also on her left arm. His sword broke into pieces as soon as it touched her arm. Eyes reddened with anger he took the spear and hurled the resplendent weapon at Bhandrakali, as though he was hurling the very orb of the sun from the skies. Seeing the spear coming upon her, the Devi hurled her spear. It shattered his spear into a hundred pieces, as it did likewise the great asura.
When the valiant general of Mahisha was slain, Camara, the sworn enemy of gods, came forward mounted on an elephant. He too was killed by the Goddess riding on her lion. And so she proceeded in various ways to slay other might asuras, Udagra, Karala, Uddjata, Bhaskala, Tamra, Andhika, Ugrasya, Ugriva, Mahahanu, Bidala, Durdhara, and Durmudha.
Enraged at seeing his army being destroyed thus, Mahisasura charged at the troops of the Devi in his buffalo form, hitting some by the muzzle, trampling some by the hooves, lashing at some with his tail, and tearing others with his horns. Some he laid low on the face of the earth by sheer speed, some by his bellowing and wheeling movement, and others by the blast of his breath.
Having laid low her army, Mahisasura rushed to slay the lion of the great goddess. This enraged Ambika. He too, of great valour, pounded the terrain with his hooves in rage, tossed about the mountains with his horns, and bellowed terribly. Crushed by his whirling speed, the earth crumbled to pieces. Lashed by his tail, the ocean flooded everywhere. Pierced by his swaying horns, the clouds went into pieces. His heaving breath lifted the mountains up in the sky in hundreds and brought them down.
Seeing the great asura bloated with rage advancing towards her, Chandika flung her noose over the great asura and bound him. Thus bound the asura relinquished his buffalo form and transformed into a lion. As soon as Ambika cut the lion’s head off, he took the form of a man with a sword in hand. Immediately the Goddess cut asunder the man along with his sword and shield. Then he became a huge elephant and pulled her lion down with his trunk roaring loudly. As he was dragging her, the Devi cut off his trunk with her sword. The great asura then resumed his buffalo form and shook the three worlds with their movable and immovable objects.
An enraged Chandika jumped and landed herself on the great buffalo, crushing his neck under her foot and struck him with her spear. So caught under her foot, Mahishasura tried to leave his buffalo form. But being completely overcome by the valour of the Goddess only half of his self could emerge from the mouth of the buffalo. In a flash, the Goddess beheaded Mahisharura and battle came to an end.
(Thus ends the third chapter -‘The Slaying of Mahishasura’- of Devi-Mahatmya in Markandeya Purana.)
Now freed of the asuras, the hosts of gods headed by Indra sing praises to the mighty Goddess. This is the longest and most eloquent of the Devi Mahatmyam’s four hymns. Known as the Shakradistuti (praise by Indra and the host of gods), it illumines the themes of good and evil, fate and free will, karma and divine grace.
This hymn constitutes the fourth chapter of the Devi Mahatmyam. The hymn praises Durga as “good fortune in the dwellings of the virtuous and misfortune in the abodes of the wicked.” While this verse explicitly entails reward and punishment by a personal deity, implicitly it points to an impersonal balancing principle at work in the universe- the law of karma. Either way, the message is the same: our deeds have consequences.
Inner Meaning of the Mahisharura Myth
Some of you like me are probably shocked by how gory the battle was. Telling the story in such detail obviously emphasises the might of the Goddess but it also does something else. It makes the myth unforgettable. Because myths have a function to perform, to teach us some Truths and to make sure we do not forget them.
Here is what this tale seeks to teach.
The Devas in all myths represent righteousness and the demons unrighteousness.
The Devi Mahatmyam tells us that long back when Mahishasura was the lord of asuras and Indra the lord of devas, there was a war between the devas and asuras for a full hundred years.
Now that we know who the gods and demons are, it is not difficult to understand why the span of the war is for hundred years. This is the approximate upper limit of a human lifespan. Thus the conflict between the righteous and unrighteous samskaras goes on as long as we are alive.
And in that war, as the Devi Mahatmyam tells us, the army of the gods is vanquished by the mighty demons and Mahisasura becomes the lord of heaven. He himself assumes the jurisdictions of Surya, Indra, Agni, Vayu, Chandra, Yama and Varuna and of other gods too. Now, what does this mean?
As already stated these gods are the presiding deities for various (indriyas) senses and their functions- Surya over eyes, Indra hands, Agni over speech, Vayu over the skin, Chandra over the mind, Varuna over the tongue and so on. All these senses and their functions are hijacked by the selfish, materialistic demonic tendencies.
Mahishasura or the demonic tendencies wield great power over the psyche. They are the result of the impressions of innumerable lifetimes and choices made in those lives, choices that have become embedded in our psyche as stubborn psychological traits.
Compelled by our asuric tendencies we waste the best time of our lives pursuing purely material goals, wasting away our greatest potential, postponing it continually. It is only a few wise ones who awaken to the war between the gods and the demons within us.
Bringing this inner conflict into conscious awareness, the serious practitioner surrenders completely to the Supreme Goddess, the Supreme Consciousness, just as the gods did in the Devi Mahatmyam. Progressively the gods are reinstated in their rightful place by the replacement of asuric wealth with divine wealth.
The spiritual practitioner who is endowed with such divine wealth is now fit for attaining liberation. Even if one does not attain liberation in this birth, the samskaras and the merit acquired during this lifetime are carried in a potential form into the next lives when they shall bear fruit automatically.
( Adapted from Chandi- The Inner meaning by Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary www.karmicrhythms.com).