The Durga Puja is a traditional religious festival observed by Bengalis all over the world. Throughout the nine day festivity, nine religiously symbolic forms of the Goddess Durga, deity of power, is worshipped. Each avatar of the Goddess has a different back story and to worship them during the Puja is a highly sought-after and auspicious endeavor. Devotees worship the nine forms of the Goddess and ask for her divine blessing of power, wisdom and courage. Read on to learn more on the rich backstories of each avatar of the Goddess of power.
The first embodiment of the Goddess is known asShailputri the daughter of Mountain, the Himalayas. In her past life she was known as Sati-Bhavani, the offspring of Daksha. She was betrothed to Lord Shiva without the concession of her sire. It came to pass that Sati’s father put together a Yagna, without inviting Lord Shiva. Being the stubborn daughter she was, Sati proceeded to attend the Yagna. During the Yagna her father belittled and insulted Lord Shiva. Ridiculed and outraged because of Daksha’sinsults, she threw herself into the fire of the Yagna.
The second avatar of the Goddess is addressed as Brahmacharini. Her name is drawn from the word Brahama which means Tapa or penance. Brahmacharini is known for her magnificent beauty and temperance. She is recognized for grasping a rosary in her right palm and a Kamandal on the left. Due to her jovial nature, Brahmacharini is honored during the second day of the Puja.
According to Hindu mythology, Brahmacharini was born to Himvan and was named ParvatiHemavati. One day as she was frolicking with her friends, the Sage Narada came to her and proclaimed that she would marry her husband from her past reincarnation so long as she observes penance. Without a second thought she determined that she would betroth herself to her previous life husband, Lord Shiva, (by then he was known as Shambu) and immediately observed penance. For her association with penance she was named Brahmacharini or Tapacaharini along with a new title Uma.
The third form of the Goddess Durga is the charming, beautiful, and intelligent Chadraghanta.She was so named because of the half-circular moon embroidering her forehead. She is known for her golden skin, three eyes and ten arms that bear different types of medieval armaments. Chadraghanta is an avatar of bravery and is characteristically associated with a lion, which she sits upon vigilantly, always ready for war. She is the epitome of bravery and the third day of Durga Puja reserved for her worship.
Kushmanda is the fourth representation of the Goddess Durga and is best known for her creation of Astral Anda. Hindu mythology states that she calls the cosmos her home and that she created the universe with a simple laugh. Like Chadagantra she too sits on a lion and has multiple arms. Seven of her eight arms bear weapons with the last limb clutching a string of beads. The fourth day of the DurgaPooja is appropriated for the worship of the cosmic Kushmanda.
The fifth day of Durga Puja is reserved for the worship of the fifth form of Goddess Durga, Skanda Mata. Hindu Legend has it that after observing penance invoked by the Sage Narada, ParvatiHemavati married Lord Shiva. The betrothal bore fruit in the form a son, Skanda, the chief of the celestial army. It was due to this reason that the fifth for of the Goddess is named Skanda Mata, or mother of Skanda. She is characterized by her pale white skin, four arms and three eyes. Like her predecessors she too is mounted on a lion with her namesake seated on her lap. She is worshipped as the deity of fire.
Katyayani, the sixth representation of the Goddess Durga is best known for her characteristic three eyes, four arms and lion steed. Hindu myth states that she was born to Rishi Katyayan of the Katya lineage. Rishi longed to have Paramba as his offspring and to achieve it he observed penance. Pleased by his devotion, the Goddess blessed him with the gift of herself, in the form of a daughter. Hence Katyayani the sixth form of the Goddess came into being.
The seventh avatar of the Goddess Durga is known to the Hindus as Kalrati. She is worshipped as the deity of power and is sometimes called Shubhamkari, because she breathes fire and blesses her devotees with undaunted spirits. She is described as having skin as black as a moonless night. She wears luminous necklaces that even her lavish and untied hair cannot hide. Unlike her preceding forms of the Goddess, Kalrati is characterized with having a pair of large eyes and having two pairs of arms, the left pair holding a sword and a torch while the right pair bears blessings.
The penultimate form of the Goddess Durga is quite unorthodox when compared to the other daunting forms of the deity of power. MahaGauri, as she is known, is described as a pale eight year old child. Like her skin, she is garbed in a pure white robe and adorned with accessories of the same purity. Another difference is MahaGauri has a bull for a steed instead of a lion. She has three eyes and four arms. Her upper left hand shows the Mudra while the lower left hand holds out a Trishul. Hindu mythology affirms that MahaGauri observed penance with utmost devotion to the extent that she gathered dust; it was then that Lord Shiva washed her off with the sacred water of the Ganges that flows from his head. For this reason MahaGauri is known for her tranquil observance of penance.
The ultimate form of the Goddess Durga is that of Siddhidatri because she is the embodiment of the eight Siddhis, Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Lishitya and Vashitva. She is worshipped by all the deities of the Hindu as well as Siddhas, Yogis, Rishis-Munis, and Sadhakas. According to Hindu mythology Lord Shiva offered petitions to Maha Shakti and with benevolence she granted Lord Shiva with half her body and that is how he came to be known as Ardhanarishwaran. It was also through this blessing that Siddhidatri came to be. The only distinct description of the Goddess is that she is seated on a lotus. It is believed the only by worshipping the Goddess can true religious enlightenment be achieved.