Chapter 7 – Interpretations
7.1–8: As the bloodthirsty demon army approaches the Resplendent Devī Seated on the mountaintop, the epic magnificence of the scene signals a momentous event. We are not kept long in anticipation. Suddenly The Devī’s Gentle Smile Melts to ink- black wrath, and From Her Scowling Brow Springs Forth The Formidable Goddess Kālī. Previously, Durgā Emerged As A Great Radiance From The Scowling Faces Of Viṣṇu, Śiva, and The Other Gods (2.9–13). This time, in a complete reversal, Ma Kālī Emerges as Utter Blackness From The Radiant form of the sattvic Ambikā-Kauśikī, Who had only recently come forth From The Body Of Pārvatī, leaving Her Darkened and renamed Kālīkā, “The Black One” (5.85–88). We’ve been given a graphic vision of The Devī’s Power of inexhaustible metamorphosis.
Ma Kālī Is not merely a secondary emanation of The Devī, as this passage might lead us to think. According to the understanding that developed in later centuries, She Is The Supreme Devī Herself In Another Form, With Multiple Aspects Of Her Own.
Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa remarked that, in many household shrines, Ma Kālī Is worshiped as Śyāmā, The Tender Dispeller Of Fear And Granter Of Boons. In times of natural disasters, She Is Invoked As The Protective Rakṣākālī.
As ŚmaśānaKālī, The Embodiment Of Destructive Power, She Haunts the cremation grounds in the company of howling jackals and terrifying Female Spirits, and As Mahākālī She Is The Formless Śakti Who is not different from the Absolute. At the Daksiṇeśvar Temple, where Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa served as priest, Ma Kālī is revered As The beautiful Bhavatāriṇī (“Redeemer Of The Universe”).
7.9–22: In the violent and grisly battle that ends with the slaughter of Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa, Ma Kālī’s Favored method of destruction is to Pulverize Her enemies Between Her teeth, warranting mention three times in rapid succession (7.11, 7.13, 7.15). The image of grinding teeth brings to mind a turning millstone that crushes grain into flour, and from there it is not a large leap to the revolving wheel of time (Kālacakra), which metaphorically grinds all things to dust.
The name Kālī is the feminine form of the adjective Kāla, meaning “Dark” or “Blue-Black.” This is probably related to the masculine noun kāla (“time”), an epithet of Śiva. As His śakti, or Power, Ma Kālī Is Ever-Turning Time, The Relentless Devourer Who Brings all things to an end. Note also the cosmic imagery of the myriad discuses hurled by Muṇḍa that disappear into Her Mouth “as so many solar orbs vanishing into the denseness of a cloud” (7.17–18).
7.23–27: Viṣṇu’s slaying of Madhu and Kaiṭabha in the first chapter hinged on a pun (→ 1.88–1.103). There is word-play again in connection with the slaying of Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa When Ma Kālī, Delivering the heads of the demon pair to The Auspicious Caṇḍikā-Ambikā as trophies of battle, is given the nickname Cāmuṇḍā.
Historically, there seem to be records that Ma Cāmuṇḍā may have possibly been a non-Āryan Goddess Who Was Assimilated To Kālī, and this passage in the Devīmāhātmya Marks Her initial appearance in Sanskrit literature. Even today temple images Of Ma Cāmuṇḍā in Bhubaneśvar and Jajpur (Orissa) portray The Goddess As Emaciated, With Protruding Bones And Fierce, Round Eyes Bulging From Their Sunken Sockets. The Jajpur Cāmuṇḍā Bares Her teeth, and Her Four Hands Hold Cleaver, Spear, Skullcup, and Human Head (Muṇḍa).
Why does Ma Cāmuṇḍā leave the task of slaying Śumbha and Niśumbha to The Auspicious Caṇḍikā Herself? In the destruction of Caṇḍa and Muṇḍa we saw Her Violent, Horrific Aspect in action, just as in ordinary life drastic, heavy-handed means are sometimes necessary to defeat evil. But in the final battle for enlightenment, It Is The Devī’s sattvic power that Rends the veil of nescience and grants the liberating vision. What we have here is a scene of The Devī Talking To Herself, as it were, since All Her Forms are but Her Own Projections. She Will make that fact clear before Her final confrontation with Śumbha.
A deeper understanding of Mother Cāmuṇḍā emerges from the Navārṇamantra, a nine-syllable Tantric mantra, which the 18th-century commentator Bhāskararāya considered as important as the Devīmāhātmya itself in The Worship Of The Devī. This mantra, Aiṁ Hrīm Klīṁ Cāmuṇḍāyai Vicce, begins with the three Bījas that together identify The Devī As Pure Being (Sat), Consciousness (Cit), and Bliss (ānanda).
In the Navārṇamantra the customary salutation (namaḥ) is unspoken but understood, and the name Cāmuṇḍā in the dative case (Cāmuṇḍāyai, “To Cāmuṇḍā”) occupies a pivotal position. While interpretations of this mantra are highly esoteric and often contradict one another in detail, they all agree that It Is Cāmuṇḍā Who Severs the knot of ignorance, Cuts Through the illusion of duality, and Reveals the Absolute. Although the Navārṇamantra, like any other Tantric mantra, cannot be understood, let alone translated, in a strictly semantic sense, it is generally interpreted as A Prayer To The Immanent-Yet-Transcendent Devī for the highest knowledge, which grants release from all limitation.