“Just as the Vedas have no beginning, so is Saptasati (The Devi Mahatmya) considered”
— Bhuvaneswari samhita
Though The Devi Mahatmyam constitutes chapters 81-93 in the Markandeya Purana, it is not merely treated as a part of a purana. It has an intrinsic independent status by itself. It does not derive its significance from its Puranic background. It is a full-fledged scripture by itself.
Part narrative and part hymn, The Devi Mahatmyam combines the strengths of both the oral and written traditions. On one hand it is like a synthesis of many myths from many sources, skillfully integrated into a single narrative and thus incorporates the best of the puranic approach. On the other hand it also displays the bardic style of the vedic approach that combines the best of preliterate and literate strengths of expression, in so far as the hymns are concerned.
The four hymns are integral to the narrative, they are markedly different in quality. Sri Bhaskararaya the most famous of all commentators affirms the hymns as being drsta (seen), rather than as being krta (made), thus awarding them the exalted status of revealed knowledge (sruti) generally accorded only to the Veda.
Unlike the Purana that has the status of being an auxiliary limb (upanga) of the Veda, The Devi Mahatmyam has attained the status of sruti, the very status accorded to the Veda. The Devi Mahatmyam or Saptasati is treated just like a vedic hymn with rsi, metre, devata, and viniyoga.
The Katyayani tantra considers each verse of The Devi Mahatmyam as a mantra. In fact there are some who affirm that every word of the text is a mantra. Besides the whole text is treated like one maha mantra.
Though three-fourths of the scripture deals with description of battles and their associated narratives even these contents are considered to be mantras. There are 537 sloka mantras (full slokas), 38 ardha-sloka mantras (half slokas), 66 khanda mantras (part of a sloka), 57 uvacha mantras and 2 punarukta mantras, thus totalling 700 altogether.
The actual number of verses in the text is only 518, not 700 as stated by some modern writers. The number 700 is thus not related to the number of verses, but indicates the total number of mantras in The Devi Mahatmyam. Though the details of the break up of the mantras are not important for simple recitation, these details are important for Chandi Homa, Japa and Archana. Apart from these 700 mantras, there are other covert mantras within the text. At times mantras are encoded into the narrative.
As already stated earlier The Devi Mahatmyam interweaves four elegant hymns in between the ghastly narratives of bloodshed and slaughter. Whilst the majority of the verses in the text are in the simpler anushtup metre, the hymns bring into play more elegant metres such as vasantatilaka and upajati also, thus creating an elegant, complex, rhythmic sinuousity when sung. The hymns are not only devotional and poetic, but also philosophical and sublime. These four hymns are so sweet, powerful and uplifting that if possible, they should be chanted in the original, even if one cannot chant the whole text. Moreover, as mantras their power works through their vibration.