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37: Navadurga - The nine forms of Goddess Durga

Well, it is that time of the year – beginning Autumn – when festivities begin and the world seems alright. So the navaratri began, with Durga Puja, followed by Dussera. While I was visiting some of the Durga Pujas in Delhi and Gurgaon, I saw in one puja pandal, the nine manifestations of the Goddess.

Now for most of you who follow Navaratri or Durga Puja, this may be common knowledge, but since I don’t follow anything at all except my own free will, this was informative. And since I believe there are more such people out there, I thought of writing about it. I also found the imagery around the nine forms very interesting.

The nine names are:

Śhailaputrī, Brahmachāriṇī, Chandrakaṇṭā, Kuṣhmāṇḍā, Skandamātā, Kātyāyanī, Kālarātrī, Mahāgaurī and Siddhidātrī



These nine forms are actually based on the three major forms that mother Goddess Durga manifests herself into: Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali (Parvati). These three are consorts of the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra (Maheshwara).

In some traditions, Parvati is considered the Sagun form of Shakti or Adi Shakti to be precise – the original goddess – and Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali are considered partial expansions. In Bengali tradition, there are three separate Pujas meant to venerate these three major forms at different times of the year, but during Navratri all forms appear as it is the puja of Goddess Durga on the whole.

There is also a theory that Durga manifests into different Gunas (loosely, colors). Each form is associated with a color and a specific representation as below:



More about each of the forms in Goddess Durga Devi’s Life stage:

1. Śhailaputrī:
After the self immolation of Sati, the Goddess appeared as the daughter of Lord Himalaya – Devi – to ensure that Shiva becomes Shankara, and bears a child – Skanda – who will lead the devas’ armies into war against danavas. She is also called Parvati (daughter of Parvat or mountain). Her two hands display a trident and a lotus. Her mount is a bull.

2. Brahmachāriṇī:
This is during the Goddesses’ life as Sati, daughter of Daksha Prajapati – in the earlier life than Devi / Parvati. She was a great Sati and her unmarried form is worshipped here. This was the form that Lord Shiva fell in love in the beginning. Her one hand holds a "Kumbha" or water pot, and the other holds a rosary (garland).

3. Chandrakaṇṭā:
After Devi, the daughter of Himalaya, got married to Lord Shiva, she also liked to wear half chandra on her forehead like her husband Shiva. She is Golden in color, possesses ten hands and 3 eyes. Eight of her hands display weapons while the remaining two are respectively in the mudras of gestures of boon giving and stopping harm. She rides a tiger and is worshipped mainly in the South India (Tamil Nadu).

4. Kuṣhmāṇḍā:
This is one of the primordial forms of Durga, where she started living inside the center of the Sun , so that the Sun started liberating energy due to her, and because of which life creation was possible. So she is considered the creator of the universe. It is said that the universe was no more than a void full of darkness, until her light spreads in all directions like rays from the sun. She possessed of eight arms, holding a weapons and a mala (rosary), her mount is the tiger.

5. Skandamātā:
Devi became the mother of Lord Skanda or Lord Kartikeya Kumara, by marrying Lord Shankara. This is the form that is part of Kalidasa’s famous Kumara-sambhava. Riding a lion, she holds her son Skanda, with 6 heads, on her lap. She displays three eyes and four hands - two hands holds lotuses while the other two hand display defending and granting mudras, respectively.

6. Kātyāyanī:
Devi took the form of Goddess Katyani to destroy Demon Mahishasura. By doing this, she also fulfilled the wish of sage Kata, who wished to have a daughter in the form of a goddess. This is the form that is also called ‘Mahishasura-mardini’ (destroyer of demon Mahisha). She has three eyes and eight hands. These are eight types of weapons missiles in her seven hands. Her vehicle is the Lion.

7. Kālarātrī:
In Skanda-purana, Parvati removed Devi's outer golden skin to fight against demons Shumbha-Nishumbha, so Devi became very dark. Depicted usually with a black (or blue ) skin with bountiful hair and four hands - 2 clutching a cleaver and a torch, while the remaining two in the mudras of giving and protecting, she is considered to be the destroyer of darkness (and ignorance). Her vehicle is a faithful donkey. She is also called “Shubhamkari”.

8. Mahāgaurī: 
Due to her long austerities in the deep forests of the Himalayas in her life as Parvati or Devi, she developed a dark complexion even at the age of 16. When Lord Shiva cleaned her with the water of the Ganges, her body regained its beauty. This is one of the most important days out of Durga puja. Her clothes and ornaments are white and clean. She has three eyes. She rides on a bull and has four hands. Her right hand is in the pose of allaying fear and her right lower hand holds a trident. The left upper hand holds a ‘damaru’ (a small rattle drum) and the lower one is in the pose of granting boons to her devotees.

9. Siddhidātrī:
This is another primordial form of the Goddess. In ‘Devi Bhagvata Purana’ it is mentioned that Lord Shiva worshipped her and was blessed with all Siddhis (supernatural powers). By her blessings his half body became female and other half body male in the avatar of Ardhnarishvara. She has four arms and she is always in a blissful happy enchanting pose. She rides on the lion as her vehicle. It is believed that Siddhidatri has supernatural healing powers.

Note about timeline:

Interestingly, if you see, two primordial forms appear exactly halfway through – one at number 4 and the other at number 9. The forms in between usually have 2 forms from Durga’s life as Parvati / Devi – daughter of Himalaya and one form from her previous life as Sati – daughter of Daksha prajapati. What do you see about the timelines?

The timeline is not linear, but circular – and goes on to show the basic difference between how the Hindus perceive time as circular as against the currently accepted Western notion of time being linear.

Other forms of the Goddess:

The problem – or one of the problems, for there are several – one of the problems in dealing with subjects of Hindu mythology is that different sources sometimes give different information. 

For example, in some cases, the following forms are considered forms of Shakti: Parvati, Sati, Durga, Kali, Uma, Kamakshi, and Lakshmi. Now these were slightly different manifestations than are considered during Navratri. Anyway, I am going by what is popular and practiced during Navratris.


I have also come across the 12 main forms of Goddess Kali in my travels – one to be noted is the Shakti temple in Shimla, and would like to just list them here:

(1) Baglamukhi, (2) Bhuvaneshwari, (3) Chinnmasta, (4) Dhoomavati, (5) Kali, (6) Kamakhya, (7) Kamala, (8) Maatangi, (9) Shodashi (also called Tripur-sundari), (10) Tara, (11) Tripura-Bhairavi and (12) Durga Shakti

There are some very nice paintings of each of these forms in the temple at Shimla. Hopefully someday I will have time to write about these too.

- Best
Shreekant

17th October 2010

Comments

arun said…
Before I come to 'Dash Maha Vidya', let us try to understand the difference between God & Goddess.

Goddess is considered as the energy associated with the God or His 'Power' to carry out His designated work.

Let us take a simple example. It may sound funny, but will throw some light on the God - Goddess relationship.

If a traffic police catches a 'signal jumper', he will fine the culprit. But what empowers him to do so? The law. The traffic rules & regulations.

Thus if we consider the policeman as the God, the law or the laws, which empower him to discharge his duty, may be considered as the Goddess.

This will sound strange, since we are used to look at the God & the Goddess in human form only. But that is wrong, though, convenient.

If Fire is the God, heat is it's Goddess. Both are not in a human form.

So, the conclusion is that if we want to understand a God, rather His functions, we must study His Powers.

The policeman has first understood the traffic laws, the rules & regulations and only after that, he could act.

So, the study of 'Dash Maha Vidya' is nothing but the study of God's various 'Powers'. Ten such 'Powers' are considered, thus 'Dash Maha Vidya'.

The Gods are three. But their 'Powers' are ten. No surprise. The policeman is one but the laws, the rules & regulations are many; out of which, he uses the one, most appropriate for the concerned occasion.

Many sages such as Shri Vasishta, Parasuram, Bhargav etc deeply studied many of these 'Maha Vidyas'.

I will write about 'Dash Maha Vidya'. But may be tomorrow. It will take much more time.
arun said…
Before I come to 'Dash Maha Vidya', let us try to understand the difference between God & Goddess.

Goddess is considered as the energy associated with the God or His 'Power' to carry out His designated work.

Let us take a simple example. It may sound funny, but will throw some light on the God - Goddess relationship.

If a traffic police catches a 'signal jumper', he will fine the culprit. But what empowers him to do so? The law. The traffic rules & regulations.

Thus if we consider the policeman as the God, the law or the laws, which empower him to discharge his duty, may be considered as the Goddess.

This will sound strange, since we are used to look at the God & the Goddess in human form only. But that is wrong, though, convenient.

If Fire is the God, heat is it's Goddess. Both are not in a human form.

So, the conclusion is that if we want to understand a God, rather His functions, we must study His Powers.

The policeman has first understood the traffic laws, the rules & regulations and only after that, he could act.

So, the study of 'Dash Maha Vidya' is nothing but the study of God's various 'Powers'. Ten such 'Powers' are considered, thus 'Dash Maha Vidya'.

The Gods are three. But their 'Powers' are ten. No surprise. The policeman is one but the laws, the rules & regulations are many; out of which, he uses the one, most appropriate for the concerned occasion.

Many sages such as Shri Vasishta, Parasuram, Bhargav etc deeply studied many of these 'Maha Vidyas'.

I will write about 'Dash Maha Vidya'. But may be tomorrow. It will take much more time.