Durga Ashtami – Celebration of the Warrior Goddess!
Durga Ashtami is a 5 day period of worship, of a 10 day long celebration, to the Hindu Warrior Goddess Durga. It is one of the most sacred periods of worship within the Hindu calendar as the Goddess is one of the most revered forms of the feminine divine power of being a creator, a protector, and a destroyer of evil.
So who is the Goddess Durga, what’s her significance, and how is she worshipped during this period?
Goddess Durga came about as a manifestation of the Goddess Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, in the form of the Goddess of War. This Goddess form is responsible for annihilating demons and evil forces that threatens Dharma(righteousness), and the peace and prosperity of beings on the planet. In a more philosophical sense, uphold righteousness within humans, and destroy the egotistical tendencies that can cause one to become demonic.
One of the most famous legends of Goddess Durga, entails her destroying the evil demon called Mahishasura.
Mahishasura who was a demon, was engaged in penance to Lord Brahma (creator of the universe). As traditions and legends tell, after years of penance and sacrifice, once the deity who is being worshipped is satisfied with the contribution of a devotee, they usually appear before the devotee to grant the devotee a gift in the form of a boon (blessing).
After being pleased with Mahishasura’s devotion, Lord Brahma appeared before him and asked him what he wanted for his boon. Mahishasura asked Brahma for immortality. Brahma refused and said that all beings must die so he could not grant him immortality. Upon further thought, Mahishasura then asked Brahma for the boon that he will only die via the hands of a woman/female because he thought the female power was weak and would never be able to defeat him, technically making him immortal. Brahma eventually agreed and granted this boon.
Mahishasura soon became filled with pride and not only did he make life hell for everyone but he also decided to capture the heavens without any fear, as he believed he could not be destroyed by any male power, and no woman/female could never be powerful enough to destroy him either.
The God’s had to come up with a plan to destroy Mahishasura, and decided to combine their powers. Through their divine energy being put together, they created the female Warrior Goddess Durga, complete with copies of their mightiest weapons, and a fiercely powerful lion as her celestial mount.
Goddess Durga and Mahishasura went into battle and with every different form he tried to change himself into, Goddess Durga was able to destroy that form. The final part of the battle came where Mahishasura was in mid form changing into the form of a buffalo, and it is at this point where Goddess Durga dealt him the final blow and slayed him for good.
How do we worship Goddess Durga
As per north Indian tradition, the traditional way of worshipping and honouring Goddess Durga during this special time, is by having a volunteer group of young unmarried girls in the family or the village, usually 5-7 girls which are called kanya kumaris (celibate/virgin goddesses).
Each girl is dressed up in new and sometimes elaborate Indian wear, they are welcomed into the home and given a special seat in the prayer area, they have their feet washed by the worshippers, fed sweets and special foods, and showered with small gifts and garlands, all the while the chanting of special mantras and performance of puja complete with offerings to the holy fire, are completed in the honouring of the divine Goddess Durga. These young girls are regarded and worshiped as the human form of the Goddess!
This symbolic way of worship is done by visualizing that these young women are actual manifestations of the Goddess herself. She is asked for her mercy and her blessings, and to always be protected from our ego, from selfishness, and from fear of evil. Knowing that the energy of the divine will always be graced upon us, and that truth and righteousness will always prevail, the worship is done with great devotion and sincerity, with the surrender of trust and faith.
If you are unable to attend or perform Durga puja during this auspicious time, the simplest way of worship for anyone wishing to offer their prayer to the divine mother, is simply to sit in a meditative position after having a bath, in a quiet place with a candle or an oil lamp lit in front of a picture of Goddess Durga. Visualize her as being someone who is real in front of you, bow to her, invite her in your own way into your heart and into your home, and chant “Om Dum Durgayei Namaha” 108 times with the help of a rosary.
This mantra means, ‘With the universal sound vibration of all of creation, I humbly bow in salutation to you Goddess Durga”.
Upon completion of the chanting of the mantra, wave the candle or oil lamp in a clockwise motion, usually 3 or more times, circulating the picture of the Goddess, then bow to her. Touch her feet, then touch your forehead, and touch your heart as though you are channeling her blessings onto and into your being. Clasps your hands once again, surrender all of your thoughts, gratitude, desires, and fears to her, and say thank you to her, in reverence of her infinite power and the protective energy she has given to you.
As my humble offering to you, this is just a brief synopsis of Goddess Durga which is just an introduction to the divine mother and some of what she is known for. For more precise information, please consult a pundit for direction on which scripture will provide you with information and details you may require if you choose to become more familiar with the topic.