Chapter 3 – Interpretations
3.1–20: This chapter, which completes the battle narrative begun previously, falls into two halves, consisting of verses 1 through 20 and 21 through 44. The underlying theme of the first half is the ease with which Durgā and Her Lion Counter the strenuous efforts of Mahiṣāsura’s generals, whom They defeat one by one. This allegory tells us that the Dharma which The Devī Upholds is the natural state of affairs and that the asuras—the negative impulses arising from the ego—are in a sense swimming against the current.
Durgā is said to be as Immune to attack as Mount Meru, A Mythological Mountain made of gold and gems that stands at the center of the world. The planets revolve around it, Brahmā Dwells on its summit, and its slopes are home to the paradises of Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa. Gaṇgā is Said in Her Heavenly Descent to Fall upon Its Peak and then Flow Downward to the earth. Durgā’s unassailability is such that Cikṣura’s swift, sharp arrows raining upon Her pose no more of a threat than the gentle rain falling on the summit of the Holy Mountain (3.3).
Cikṣura is not so invulnerable, though. With lightning speed, Ma Durgā’s Counterattack Destroys his bow, chariot, horses, and driver. When the wounded asura strikes the Devī on the arm, the violent blow only shatters his sword, for She Is Indestructible. Cikṣura’s eyes, red with rage, and his blazing lance, which he flings with great effort, “as though he were hurling the very sun from the sky,” remind us of the rajasic quality of the struggle. But his heroic exertion is no match for the Devī, Who With a Single Throw of Her Lance Destroys him and his weapon (3.10). The battle with Cāmara (3.11–16) likewise confirms Her Effortlessness in combat.
In the next four verses (3.17–20) Mahiṣāsura’s other mighty generals meet their destruction. Like those previously defeated (→ 2.40–49), these also have names that describe their repulsiveness: Karāla (“gaping-mouthed”), Uddhata (“arrogant, rude”), Tāmra (“oppressing”), Andhaka (morally “blind”), Ugrāsya (“fierce-faced”), Ugravlrya (“brutally strong”), Durdhara (“bearing evil”), and Durmukha (“foul- mouthed, abusive”).
As for Durgā’s characterization, twice this episode emphasizes Her Maternal Nature by calling Her Ambikā. Verse 3.9 introduces the name Bhadrakālī (“The Auspicious Dark One”). Although This Goddess’s historical background is sketchy, in the Kāṭhakagrhyasūtra, Bhadrakālī Appears as the Benign or Propitious Aspect of Kālī invoked in household worship. Today in the South Indian state of Kerala, Bhadrakālī is a simultaneously Fierce and Beautiful Goddess—a Wrathful Warrior and A Loving Mother Who Blesses Her Children With Fertility And Prosperity. Her modem Portrayal with Three Eyes still conforms to the epithet “Three-Eyed” (Trinetrā) in verse 3.19.
3.21–44: The chapter’s second half contains Ma Durgā’s defining moment—Her Defeat of Mahiṣāsura, who is described here as a wrathful beast with formidable power (3.21–27). That description serves as An Eloquent, Cautionary Metaphor, because Mahiṣa’s anger jolts heaven and earth, and ruins everything in its path; not even the gentle clouds are immune to his pernicious fury. Such fury is a purely negative expression of rajas. To meet its challenge The Devī Heightens Her Own Rajas (3.24, 3.28), but while Mahiṣa’s rage controls him, the Devī’s Is Completely Under Her Control. Now consider human anger, individually and collectively. Depending on the choices we make, it can manifest either as destructive rage or as the righteous indignation that counters evil.
In the combat, Mahiṣāsura undergoes a series of metamorphoses (3.29–33), and as long as he continues to mutate from buffalo to lion to man to elephant and back to buffalo, Ma Durgā Does Not Slay him. While this play goes on, Her Weapons Appear Ineffectual. Each time She Delivers What should be a Fatal Blow, Mahiṣa eludes destruction by changing form. The buffalo demon becomes intoxicated by his own might, no doubt bolstered by his evasive ability, and in Response Durgā Drinks A Potion That Reddens Her Eyes And Flushes Her Face With Inebriation (3.34–36). Note again the rajasic symbolism.
When She Declares Her Intention To Slay him (3.38), the final struggle begins in earnest. The text mirrors this change of attitude by three times employing the name Caṇḍikā (3.28, 3.34, 3.35) in connection with Her Wrathful Determination To Slay Her adversary.
Ma Durgā Triumphs over Mahiṣa only when he is forced to reveal his true form. Her Act of Pinning Down his neck Underfoot is a Potent Metaphor, because even today in English to “pin down” means to find out, to ascertain or to determine. From this point on, there will be no more evasion.
It is a psychological truth that an unidentified, underlying state of mental dis-ease can manifest within a range of dysfunctional behavior or even as physical symptoms without an apparent organic cause. In drastic cases of psychosomatic illness, there are accounts of blindness being “cured” by a cathartic experience such as faith healing, only to be replaced later by another impairment such as deafness or paralysis. Until the underlying cause is ascertained, the problem evades proper treatment.
That principle applies as much to behavioral and psychosomatic pathologies as to the normal, existential uneasiness that underlies and sometimes pollutes the conduct of our daily lives. Even though our ordinary conduct may be far from crossing over the line into pathology, as individuals we react irrationally to certain situations, repeating the same nonproductive patterns of behavior time and again. Until the true cause is pinned down, we remain subject to unsettling influences. Our mental states may mirror Suratha’s and Samādhi’s confusion and despair or Mahiṣāsura’s overwhelming rage.
The symbology of the slaying (3.40–4) casts more light on the process of spiritual awakening. Ma Durgā’s Piercing of Mahiṣa’s side with Her Spear Represents The Penetrating Light Of Understanding; It Forces the demon to Emerge in his Real Form.
Hindu teaching identifies “six passions” which are universal to human experience—
- jealousy, and
along with other forms of ignorance, such as
- prejudice, and
Like the protean Mahiṣāsura and his attendant demons, these present themselves in an interacting array and are exceedingly difficult to deal with until recognized for what they really are.
Desire (kāma) is in the broadest sense any kind of longing for sensory gratification, material wealth, or power. Inherent in it is the sense of deficiency, limitation, or separation. Any desire is ultimately the desire for wholeness. When thwarted, it may turn to anger (krodha); paradoxically, when gratified it may become inflamed into greed (lobha)—excessive, insatiable want. Because the ego, by its very nature, remains deficient, no amount of gratification can fill the void. Additionally, fixation on the ego manifests as pride (mada), a sense of superiority that in turn can engender feelings of jealousy (mātsarya)—apprehensive resentment of the prestige, possessions, or good fortune of others. All these entangled passions thrive in the atmosphere of delusion (moha), which keeps us in denial of our true motivations, prevents us from seeing things as they really are, and keeps our awareness beclouded by a false and finite sense of self.
Ma Durgā’s Decapitating Sword Of Knowledge Allows us to discern between what appears as finite and fleeting and what is infinite and abiding. In practical terms, It Distinguishes Between Selfish, Harmful Impulses And The Noble Selflessness That Promotes Harmony And Points Toward Unity.
This allegory, directed at Suratha’s concerns, hints at the theme of good and evil, which will be dealt with in the next chapter.