Umā is the name by which the consort of Siva is first known. In the sacred books she appears in many forms, and is known by many names; but as there are legends giving the circumstances connected with the names and forms more generally known, these will be given as far as possible in chronological order.
When Devi (the goddess) appears as Umā, she is said to be the daughter of Daksha, a son of Brahmā. Her father was at first very unwilling that his daughter should marry a mendicant, but his scruples were overcome by the persuasion of Brahmā. As Siva is styled Mahādeva, Umā is frequently called simply Devi. At this period of her existence she is also called Sati, in allusion to the fact that when her father slighted her husband by not inviting him to the great sacrifice he made, she voluntarily entered the sacrificial fire and was burned to death in the presence of the gods and Brāhmans; or, according to another account, was, under the same circumstances, consumed by her own glory. The name Sati means “the true, or virtuous woman,” and is given to those widows who ascend the funeral pile of their husbands, and undergo a voluntary death by being burned with his corpse. Ambikā, another name of Umā, in one of the earliest books, is said to be the sister of Rudra; and yet in the later ones she is declared to be his wife.
“The earliest work, so far as I am aware, in which the name of Umā appears, is the Talavakāra, or Kena Upanishad. In the third section of that treatise it is mentioned that on one occasion Brahmā gained a victory for the gods. As, however, they were disposed to ascribe the credit of their success to themselves, Brahmā appeared for the purpose of disabusing them of their mistake. The gods did not know him, and commissioned first Agni and then Vāyu, to ascertain what this apparition was. When, in answer to Brahmā’s inquiry, these two gods represented themselves, the one as having power to burn, and the other to blow away anything whatever, he desired them respectively to burn and blow away a blade of grass; but they were unable to do this, and returned without ascertaining who he was. Indra was then commissioned to ascertain who this apparition was. ‘So be it,’ he replied, and approached that being, who vanished from him. In the sky he came to a woman, who was very resplendent, Umā Haimavati. To her he said: ‘What is this apparition?’ She said, It is Brahmā; in this victory of Brahmā exult.’ By this he knew that it was Brahmā. The commentators on this passage declare that Umā means ‘knowledge,’ and speak of Umā as the impersonation of ‘divine knowledge.'”
Professor Weber says: “As in Siva, first of all two gods, Agni and Rudra are combined, so too his wife is to be regarded as a compound of several divine forms; and this becomes quite evident as we look over the mass of her epithets. While one set of these as Umā, Ambikā, Pārvati, Haimavati, belong to the wife of Rudra, others as Kāli carry us back to the wife of Agni; while Gauri and others perhaps refer to Nirriti the goddess of all evil.” And he adds: “The most remarkable instance of this is to be found in the Mahābhārata in the hymn of Yudhishthira to Durgā, where he calls her Yasodā Krishna, ‘born in the cowherd family of Nanda,’ ‘sister of Vasudeva,’ ‘enemy of Kansa,’ and as ‘having the same features as Sankarshana.’ Some such explanation is certainly necessary when we see that Kāli is said to be the same with Umā, the embodiment of ‘heavenly wisdom.'”
In the following passage from the Rāmāyana, Umā is said to be the daughter of Himavat and Mena; the two forms of lima and Pārvati being confounded in the writer’s mind. “To Himavat, the chief of mountains, the great mine of metal, two daughters were born in beauty unequalled upon earth. The daughter of Meru, Mend by name, the pleasing and beloved wife of Himavat, was their slender-waisted mother. Of her was born Gangā, the eldest daughter of Himavat, and his second daughter was Umā, who, rich in austere observances, having undertaken an arduous rite, fulfilled a course of severe austerity. This daughter lima, distinguished by severe austerity, adored by the worlds, the chief of the mountains gave to the matchless Rudra. These were the two daughters of the King of the Mountains: Gangā, the most eminent of rivers, and Umā the most excellent of goddesses.”
“The Harivansa † mentions three daughters of Himavat and Mena, but Gangā is not amongst them. “Their (the Pitris) mental daughter was Mena, the eminent wife of the great mountain Himavat. The King of the Mountains begat three daughters upon Menā, viz. Aparnā, Ekaparnā, and Ekapātalā. These three performing very great austerity, such as could not be performed by gods or Dānavas, distressed [with alarm] both the stationary and the moving worlds. Ekaparnā (one leaf) fed upon one leaf. Ekapātalā took only one pātala (Bignonia) for her food. One (Aparnā) took no sustenance; but her mother, distressed through maternal affection, forbade her, dissuading her with her words u mā (Oh, don’t). The beautiful goddess, performing arduous austerity, having been thus addressed by her mother, became known in the three worlds as Umā. In this manner the contemplative goddess became renowned under that name. All these three had mortified bodies, were distinguished by the force of contemplation, and were all chaste, and expounders of divine knowledge. Umā was the eldest and most excellent of the three. Distinguished by the force derived from deep contemplation, she obtained Mahādeva [for her husband].”
Several of the names under which Umā is now known and worshipped are to be found in the older writings of the Hindus, though at that time they did not refer to Siva’s wife. Umā, as we have already seen, was “Wisdom;” Ambikā was a sister of Rudra; Durgā “in a hymn of the Taittiriya Āranyaka is an epithet of the sacrificial flame; and Kāli, a word which occurs in the Mandaka Upanishad, is the name of one of the seven flickering tongues of Agni, the god of fire.”
Umā is called the mother of Kartikeya, and in a certain sense of Ganesa too; but it is not at all clear whether it was really as Umā or in her succeeding birth as Pārvati that she had these children. The “Kurmā Purāna” has an account of Umā’s creation which takes us back, a stage anterior to her birth as a daughter of Daksha. “When Brahmā was angry with his sons for adopting an ascetic life [and refusing to perpetuate the human race], a form half male and half female was produced from that anger, to whom Brahmā said, ‘Divide thyself,’ and then disappeared. The male half became Rudra, and the female, at the command of Brahmā, became the daughter of Daksha under the name of Sati, and was given in marriage to Rudra, and when she subsequently gave up her life on being treated with disrespect by her father, she was born a second time as the daughter of Himavat and Mena, and named Pārvati.”
It should be noticed that although Umā is called the wife of Siva, it is understood that she represents the energy or active power of that deity; she assumed a body in order that she might be united to him in due form; in like manner Vishnu’s energy became incarnate in Lakshmi, Sita, etc.
The goddess in this form is the constant companion of her husband, but few independent actions are ascribed to her. In the Purānas, Siva and Pārvati are generally represented as engaged in making love to each other, or (rather a singular change) as seated on Mount Kailāsa discussing the most abstruse questions of Hindu philosophy. Occasionally, however, quarrels arose between them, and on one occasion Siva reproached her for the blackness of her skin. This taunt so grieved her that she left him for a time, and, repairing to a deep forest, performed a most severe course of austerities, until Brahmā granted her as a boon that her complexion should be golden, and from this circumstance she is known as Gauri.
The following legend from the “Vāraha Purāna” † describes her origin. Brahmā when on a visit to Siva on Mount Kailāsa is thus addressed by him: “Say quickly, O Brahmā, what has induced you to come to me?” Brahmā replies, “There is a mighty asura named Andhakā (Darkness), by whom all the gods, having been distressed, came for protection, and I have hastened to inform you of their complaints.” Brahmā then looked intently at Siva, who by thought summoned Vishnu into their presence. As the three deities looked at each other, “from their three refulgent glances sprang into being a virgin of celestial loveliness, of hue cerulean, like the petals of a blue lotus, and adorned with gems, who bashfully bowed before Brahmā, Vishnu, and Siva. On their asking her who she was, and why she was distinguished by the three colours black, white, and red, she said, “From your glances was I produced; do you not know your own omnipotent energies? ” Brahmā then praising her, said, “Thou shalt be named the goddess of three times (past, present and future), the preserver of the universe, and under various appellations shalt thou be worshipped, as thou shalt be the cause of accomplishing the desires of thy votaries. But, O goddess, divide thyself into three forms, according to the colours by which thou art distinguished.” She then, as Brahmā had requested, divided herself into three parts; one white, one red, and one black. The white was ” Sarasvati, of a lovely, felicitous form, and the cooperator with Brahmā in creation; the red was Lakshmi, the beloved of Vishnu, who with him preserves the universe; the black was Pārvati, endowed with many qualities and the energy of Siva.” In the preceding legend it was narrated how Pārvati, originally black, became golden-coloured.
The “Vaivarta Purāna” relates the circumstance which led to the re-appearance on earth of Umā, who had sacrificed herself and became a Sati, under the form of Pārvati. Siva, hearing of the death of his wife, fainted from grief; on his recovery he hastened to the banks of the river of heaven, where he beheld “the body of his beloved Sati arrayed in white garments, holding a rosary in her hand, and glowing with splendour bright as burnished gold. No sooner did he see the lifeless form of his spouse, than, through grief for her loss, his senses forsook him.” When he revived, gazing on her beautiful countenance, with tears in his eyes and sorrow in his voice, he thus addressed her: “Arise, arise, O my beloved Sati! I am Sankara, thy lord; look therefore on me, who have approached thee. With thee I am almighty, the framer of all things, and the giver of every bliss; but without thee, my energy! I am like a corpse, powerless and incapable of action: how then, my beloved, canst thou forsake me? With smiles and glances of thine eyes, say something sweet as amrita, and with the rain of thy gentle words sprinkle my heart, which is scorched with grief. Formerly, when thou didst see me from a distance, thou wouldst greet me with the fondest accents; why then to-day art thou angry, and wilt not speak to me, thus sadly lamenting? O lord of my soul, arise! O mother of the universe, arise! Dost thou not see me here weeping? O beauteous one! thou .canst not have expired. Then, O my faithful spouse! why dost thou not honour me as usual? And why dost thou thus, disobedient to my voice, infringe thy marriage vow?”
“Siva, having thus spoken, raised the lifeless body, and in the anguish of separation pressed it to his bosom, and kissed it again and again. Lip to lip, and breast to breast, Sankara clasped the corpse of his beloved; and, after frequent Paintings, arose, and, pressing Sati closely to his bosom, rushed forward maddened with grief. Like a man deprived of his senses, the preceptor of the universe wandered over the seven dwipas, until, exhausted by fatigue and anguish, he fell down in a swoon at the foot of a banyan tree. The gods, seeing Siva in this state, were greatly astonished, and, accompanied by Brahmā and Vishnu, hastened to the spot where he lay. Vishnu placed the head of the fainting Siva on his bosom and wept aloud; after a little time he encouraged his friend by saying, ‘O Siva! recover thy senses, and listen to what I say. Thou wilt certainly regain Sati, since Siva and Sati are as inseparable as cold from water, heat from fire, smell from earth, or radiance from the sun!”
“Hearing these words, Siva faintly opened his eyes, bedewed with tears, and said: ‘O form of splendour! who art thou? Who are these that accompany thee? Who am I, and where are my attendants? Where art thou and these going? Where am I, and where proceeding?’ As Vishnu heard these words he wept, and his tears, uniting with those of Siva, formed a lake, which hence became a famous place of pilgrimage. Vishnu at length calmed Siva, who, delighted with his words, beheld Sati, seated before him in a gem-adorned car, accompanied by numerous attendants, arrayed in costly garments; resplendent with ornaments, her placid face being irradiated with a gentle smile. The anguish of separation ceased, and joy filled his soul as Sati thus addressed him: ‘Be firm, O Mahādeva! lord of my soul! In whatever state of my being I may exist, I shall never be separated from my lord; and now have I been born the daughter of Himavat in order to become again thy wife; therefore no longer grieve on account of our separation.’ Having thus consoled Siva, Sati disappeared.”
In another chapter of the same Purāna we have an account of their reunion. ” Sati soon obtained another birth in the womb of Himavat’s wife; and Siva, collecting the bones and ashes from her funeral pile, made a necklace of the bones and covered his body with the ashes, and thus preserved them as memorials of his
PĀRVATI WORSHIPPING THE LINGA.
beloved. Not long after this, Sati was born as the daughter of Menā, excelling in beauty and virtue all created beings, and she grew up in her mountain home like the young moon increasing to its full splendour. Whilst still a girl, she heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Perform a severe course of austerity, in order to obtain Siva for a husband, as he cannot otherwise be obtained.’ Pārvati, proud of her youth, smiling disdainfully at this
instruction, thought within herself, ‘Will he who, on account of the grief he felt for my having formerly consumed myself, not accept me as his spouse when redolent of life? And how can disjunction exist between those who have been predestined from their first being to be husband and wife?’ Confident in her youth, loveliness, and numerous attractions, and persuaded that on the first mention of her name Siva would be anxious to espouse her, Pārvati did not seek to gain him by the performance of austerity, but night and day gave herself to joyous sports with her companions.” Her hopes, however, were disappointed. She had to perform most severe penance before she was reunited to her husband; and it was only by the assistance of Kāmadeva, who, at the instigation of the gods, wounded him with his arrows as he was engaged in meditation, whilst Pārvati was seated in front of him, that her wish was gratified. Siva at first was anything but grateful for this interference; and as before narrated he rewarded Kāma by destroying him with a flame of glory that issued from his third eye.
In a Bengali account of Durgā, a legend is given from a later work than the Purāna from which the above extract was taken. It is to the following effect:—When Siva raised the dead body of Sati in his arms he began to dance in a frantic manner. The earth trembled beneath the weight of such a load; and Vishnu, fearing there would be an utter destruction of the universe if this were allowed to continue, let fly his wonder-working discus, and cut the body into fifty-one pieces. These fell in different places, a leg here, a hand there; but wherever a part touched the earth, the spot became sacred, an image of the goddess was set up, and a temple rose—in some places it is said they grew to her honour—which pilgrims still visit as shrines. The renowned temple at Kāli Ghat, near Calcutta, is said to possess the big toe of her left foot; and the other principal shrines of Pārvati profess to contain a relic of her body.
Pārvati is represented in pictures as a fair and beautiful woman, with no superfluity of limbs. Few miraculous deeds are claimed for her. It is when she appears as Durgā, Kāli, etc., that she manifests divine powers, and exhibits a very different spirit from that which appears in her as Pārvati. Hence the supposition that these were originally distinct deities, though now believed to be one and the same.
The consort of Siva now assumes a very different character from that in which she has so far been represented. In those incarnations, though the wife of Siva, she acted as an ordinary woman, and manifested womanly virtues; as Durgā she was a most powerful warrior, and appeared on earth, under many names, for the destruction of demons who were obnoxious to gods and men.
She obtained the name Durgā because she slew an asura named Durgā, the name of the goddess being the feminine form of the demon’s name. The ” Skanda Purāna” gives the following account of this occurrence. Kartikeya, being asked by Agastya, the sage, why his mother was called Durgā, says: “A giant named Durgā, the son of Ruru, having performed penance in favour of Brahmā, obtained his blessing, and grew so mighty that he conquered the three worlds, and dethroned Indra and the other gods. He compelled the wives of the Rishis to sing his praise, and sent the gods from heaven to dwell in the forests, and by a mere nod summoned them to reverence him. He abolished religious ceremonies; Brāhmans through fear of him gave up the reading of the Vedas; rivers changed their course; fire lost its energy, and the terrified stars retired from sight. He assumed the shape of the clouds, and gave rain whenever he pleased; the earth, through fear, yielded an abundant harvest, and the trees flowered and gave fruit out of the proper season.”
The gods in their distress appealed to Siva. Indra, their king, said, “He has dethroned me!” Surya said, “He has taken my kingdom!” Siva, pitying them, desired Pārvati to go and destroy this giant. She, accepting the commission willingly, calmed the fears of the gods, and first sent Kālarātri (Dark Night), a female whose beauty bewitched the inhabitants of the three worlds, to order the demon to restore things to their ancient order. He, however, full of fury, sent his soldiers to lay hold of Kālarātri; but by the breath of her mouth she reduced them to ashes. Durgā then sent 30,000 other giants, who were such monsters in size that they covered the surface of the earth. At the sight of these giants, Kālarātri fled to Pārvati, followed by the giants. Durgā, with 100,000,000 chariots, 120,000,000,000 elephants, 10,000,000 swift-footed horses, and innumerable soldiers, went to fight Pārvati, on the Vindhya mountain. As soon as he drew near, Pārvati assumed 1000 arms, called to her assistance different beings, and produced a number of weapons from her body (a long list of these is given in the Purāna). The troops of the giant poured their arrows on Pārvati as she sat on the mountain Vindhya, thick as the drops of rain in a storm; they even tore up trees, mountains, etc., and hurled them at her; in return she threw a weapon which carried away the arms of many of the giants. Durgā himself then hurled a flaming dart at the goddess, which she turned aside; another being sent, she stopped it by a hundred arrows. He next aimed an arrow at Pārvati’s breast; this too she repelled, and two other weapons, a club and a pike. At last coming to close quarters, Pārvati seized Durgā and set her left foot on his breast, but he, managing to disengage himself, renewed the fight.
Pārvati then caused a number of helpers to issue from her body, which destroyed the soldiers of the giants. In return, Durgā sent a dreadful shower of hail, the effect of which Pārvati counteracted by an instrument called Sosuna. The demon now assumed the shape of an elephant as large as a mountain, and approached the goddess; but she tied his legs, and, with her nails, which were like scimitars, tore him to pieces. He rose again in the form of a buffalo, and with his horns cast stones, trees, and mountains, tearing up the trees by the breath of his nostrils. Pārvati then pierced him with her trident; he reeled to and fro, and, renouncing the form of a buffalo, assumed his original body as a giant, with a thousand arms, having a weapon in each. Approaching Pārvati, she seized him by his arms, and carried him into the air, whence she threw him to the ground with fearful force. Seeing that the fall had not destroyed him, she pierced him in the breast with an arrow, whereupon blood issued from his mouth in streams, and he died. The gods were delighted at the result, and soon regained their former splendour.
Still another account of the origin of Durgā is found in the Chandi, a part of the “Mārkandeya Purāna.” Mahisha, king of the giants, at one time overcame the
gods in war, and reduced them to such a state of want that they wandered through the earth as beggars. Indra first conducted them to Brahmā, and then to Siva; but as these gods could render no assistance, they turned to Vishnu, who was so grieved at the sight of their wretchedness, that streams of glory issued from his face, whence came a female figure named Mahāmāya (another name of Durgā). Streams of glory issued from the faces of the other gods also, which in like manner entered Mahāmāya; in consequence of which she became a body of glory, like a mountain of fire. The gods then handed their weapons to this dreadful being, who with a frightful scream ascended into the air, slew the giant, and gave redress to the gods.
The account, as found in the “Vāmana Purāna,” * differs in some details. When the gods had sought Vishnu in their distress, he, and at his command Sankara (Siva), Brahmā, and the other gods, emitted such flames from their eyes and countenances that a mountain of effulgence was formed, from which became manifest Katyayini, refulgent as a thousand suns, having three eyes, black hair, and eighteen arms. Siva gave her his trident, Vishnu a discus, Varuna a conch-shell, Agni a dart, Vāyu a bow, Surya a quiver full of arrows, Indra a thunderbolt, Kuvera a mace, Brahmā a rosary and water-pot, Kala a shield and sword, Visvakarma a battle-axe and other weapons. Thus armed, and adored by the gods, Katyayini proceeded to the Vindhya hills. Whilst there, the asuras Chanda and Manda saw her, and being captivated by her beauty they so described her to Mahisha, their king, that he was anxious to obtain her. On asking for her hand, she told him she must be won in fight. He came, and fought; at length Durgā dismounted from her lion, and sprang upon the back of Mahisha, who was in the form of a buffalo, and with her tender feet so smote him on the head that he fell to the ground senseless, when she cut off his head with her sword.
In pictures and images Durgā is represented as a golden-coloured woman, with a gentle and beautiful countenance. She has ten arms; in one hand she holds a spear, with which she is piercing the giant Mahisha; with one of her left hands she holds the tail of a serpent, with another the hair of the giant whose breast the snake is biting; her other hands are filled with various weapons. Her lion leans against her right leg, and the giant against her left. The images of Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Kartikeya, and Ganesa are frequently made and worshipped with that of Durgā. The frontispiece is a representation of Durgā and the other goddesses and gods, as they are made in Bengal at the time of the great autumnal festival.
In Bengal the worship of this goddess forms the most popular of all the Hindu festivals; it continues for three days, and is the great holiday of the year. At this season, as at Christmas in England, the members of the family whom business detains from home during the year return; and with the worship of Durgā is associated all that is bright and cheerful. Sacrifices of buffaloes and goats are made to her; feasting, singing, and dancing are continued through the greater part of the night. Though her chief festival is in the autumn, she is also worshipped, though not so generally, in the spring. The reason of this as taught in a Bengali account is as follows:—Rāvana was a devout worshipper of Durgā, and had the Chandi (an extract from one of the Purānas) read daily. When, therefore, Rāma attacked him, the goddess assisted her servant. It was in the spring that Rāvana observed her festival. Rāma, seeing the help his enemy received from this goddess, began himself to worship her. This was in the autumn. Durgā was delighted with the devotion of Rāma, and at once transferred her aid to him.
Durgā is said to have assumed ten forms for the destruction of two giants, Sumbha and Nisumbha; the “Mārkandeya Purāna” describes these incarnations in the following order:—(1) As Durgā she received the message of the giants; (2) As Dasabhujā (the ten-armed) she slew part of their army; (3) As Singhavāhini (seated on a lion) she fought with Raktavija; (4) As Mahishāmardini (destroyer of a buffalo) she slew Sumbha in the form of a buffalo; (5) As Jagaddhātri (the mother of the world) she overcame the army of the giants; (6) As Kāli (the black woman) she slew Raktavija; (7) As Muktakesi (with flowing hair) she overcame another of the armies of the giants; (8) As Tāra (the saviour) she slew Sumbha in his own proper shape; (9) As Chinnamustaka (the headless) she killed Nisumbha; (10) As Jagadgauri (the golden-coloured lady renowned through the world) she received the praises and thanks of the gods.
The great conflict for success in which Durgā assumed so many forms is described as follows in the “Mārkandeya Purāna.” At the close of the Treta Age, two giants, named Sumbha and Nisumbha, performed religious austerities for 10,000 years, the merit of which brought Siva from heaven, who discovered that by this extraordinary devotion, they sought to obtain the blessing of immortality. He reasoned long with them, and vainly endeavoured to persuade them to ask for any other gift. Being denied what they specially wanted, they entered upon still more severe austerities, for another thousand years, when Siva again appeared, but still refused to grant what they asked. They now suspended themselves with their heads downwards over a slow fire, till the blood streamed from their necks: they continued thus for 800 years. The gods began to tremble, lest, by performing such rigid acts of holiness, these demons should supplant them on their thrones. The king of the gods thereupon called a council, and imparted to them his fears. They admitted that there was ground for anxiety, but asked what was the remedy.
“Acting upon the advice of Indra, Kandarpa (the god of love), with Rambhā and Tilatamā, the most beautiful of the celestial nymphs, were sent to fill the minds of the giants with sensual desires. Kandarpa with his arrow wounded both; upon which, awaking from their absorption, and seeing two beautiful women, they were taken in the snare, and abandoned their devotions. With these women they lived for 5000 years; after which they saw the folly of renouncing their hopes of immortality for the sake of sensual gratifications. They suspected this snare must have been a contrivance of Indra; so, driving back the nymphs to heaven, they renewed their devotions, cutting the flesh off their bones, and making burnt offerings of it to Siva. They continued in this way for 1000 years, till at last they became mere skeletons; Siva again appeared and bestowed upon them his blessing—that in riches and strength they should excel the gods.
“Being exalted above the gods, they began to make war upon them. After various successes on both sides, the giants became everywhere victorious; when Indra and the gods, reduced to a most deplorable state of wretchedness, solicited the interference of Brahmā and Vishnu. They referred them to Siva, who declared that he could do nothing for them. When, however, they reminded him that it was through his blessing they had been ruined, he advised them to perform religious austerities to Durgā. They did so; and after some time the goddess appeared, and gave them her blessing; then disguising herself as a common female carrying a pitcher of water, she passed through the assembly of the gods. She then assumed her proper form, and said, ‘They are celebrating my praise.’
“This new goddess now ascended Mount Himālaya, where Chanda and Manda, two of Sumbha and Nisumbha’s messengers, resided. As these demons wandered over the mountain, they saw the goddess; and being exceedingly struck with her charms, which they described to their masters, advised them to engage her affections, even if they gave her all the glorious things which they had obtained in plundering the heavens of the gods.
“Sumbha sent Sugriva as messenger to the goddess, to inform her that the riches of the three worlds were in his palace; that all the offerings which used to be presented to the gods were now offered to him, and that all these offerings, riches, etc., would be hers, if she would come to him. The goddess replied that the offer was very liberal, but that she had resolved that the person she married must first conquer her in war, and destroy her pride. Sugriva, unwilling to return unsuccessful, pressed for a favourable answer, promising that he would conquer her in war, and subdue her pride; and asked in an authoritative strain: ‘Did she know his master, before whom none of the inhabitants of the worlds had been able to stand, whether gods, demons, or men? How then could she, a female, think of resisting his offers? If his master had ordered him, he would have compelled her to go into his presence immediately.’ She agreed that this was very correct, but that she had taken her resolution, and exhorted him, therefore, to persuade his master to come and try his strength with her.
“The messenger went and related what he had heard. On hearing his account, Sumbha was filled with rage, and, without making any reply, called for Dhumlochana his commander-in-chief, and gave him orders to go to Himālaya and seize the goddess and bring her to him, and, if any attempted a rescue, utterly to destroy them.
“The commander went to Himālaya, and acquainted the goddess with his master’s orders. She, smiling,
invited him to execute them. On the approach of this hero, she set up a dreadful roar, by which he was reduced to ashes. After which she destroyed the army of the giant, leaving only a few fugitives to communicate the tidings. Sumbha and Nisumbha, infuriated, sent Chanda and Manda, who, on ascending the mountain, perceived a female sitting on an ass, laughing. On seeing them she became enraged, and drew to her ten, twenty, or thirty of their army at a time, devouring them like fruit. She next seized Manda by the hair, cut off his head, and holding it over her mouth, drank the blood. Chanda, on seeing the other commander slain in this manner, himself came to close quarters with the goddess. But she, mounted on a lion, sprang on him, and, despatching him as she had done Manda, devoured part of his army, and drank the blood of the slain.
“The giants no sooner heard this alarming news than they resolved to go themselves, and collecting their forces, an infinite number of giants, marched to Himālaya. The gods looked down with astonishment on this vast army, and the goddesses descended to help Mahāmāya (Durgā), who, however, soon destroyed her foes. Raktavija, the principal commander under Sumbha, and Nisumbha, seeing all his men destroyed, encountered the goddess in person. But though she covered him with wounds, from every drop of blood which fell to the ground a thousand giants arose equal in strength to Raktavija himself. Hence innumerable enemies surrounded Durgā, and the gods were filled with alarm at the amazing sight. At length Chandi, a goddess who had assisted Kāli (Durgā) in the engagement, promised that if she would drink the giant’s blood before it fell to the ground, she (Chandi) would engage him and destroy the whole of his strangely-formed offspring. Kāli consented, and the commander and his army were soon despatched.
“Sumbha and Nisumbha, in a state of desperation, next engaged the goddess in single combat, Sumbha making the first onset. The battle was inconceivably dreadful on both sides, till at last both the giants were slain, and Kāli sat down to feed on the carnage she had made. The gods and goddesses chanted the praises of the celestial heroine, who in return bestowed a blessing on each.”
It seems scarcely correct to speak of these forms of Durgā as incarnations; they are rather epithets descriptive of her appearance or method of fighting at different times during the great conflict. There is, however, so great a difference in appearance and character between Pārvati and Kāli that it is not easy to regard them as the same being; yet Durgā, whilst represented as a warrior fully armed, has the calm features and golden colour of the goddess in her earlier manifestation. It appears a reasonable hypothesis that Kāli was originally altogether distinct from Umā or Pārvati.
In the following hymn of Arjuna to Durgā in the Mahābhārata, * her many names are mentioned:—”Reverence be to thee, Siddha-Senāni (generaless of the Siddhas), the noble, the dweller on Mandara, Kumāri (Princess), Kāli, Kapāli, Kapilā, Krishnapingalā. Reverence to thee, Bhadrakāli; reverence to thee, Mahā Kāli, Chandi, Chandā, Tārini (deliveress), Varavarini (beautiful-coloured). O fortunate Kālyāyani, O Karāli, O Vijayā, O Jayā (victory), younger sister of the chief of cowherds (Krishna), delighting always in Mahisha’s blood! O Umā, Sakambhari, thou white one, thou black one! O destroyer of Kaitabha! Of sciences, thou art the science of Brahma (or of the Vedas), the great sleep of embodied beings. O mother of Skanda (Kartikeya), divine Durgā, dweller in wildernesses! Thou, great goddess, art praised with a pure heart. By thy favour let me ever be victorious in battle.” In another verse of this same book she is said to dwell perpetually in the Vindhya hills, and “to delight in spirituous liquors, flesh, and sacrificial victims.”
The statement that Durgā was the younger sister of Krishna refers to the fact that it was she who took Krishna’s place in Devaki’s womb after Vasudeva had carried the infant Krishna to Nanda, and whom Kansa attempted to destroy by dashing her against a stone immediately after her birth. Krishna promised, if she would take his place as Devaki’s child, “becoming assimilated to him in glory, she would obtain an eternal place in the sky, be installed by Indra amongst the gods, obtain a perpetual abode on the Vindhya mountains, where meditating upon him (Vishnu) she would kill two demons, Sumbha and Nisumbha, and would be worshipped with animal sacrifices.”
THE CHIEF FORMS OF DURGĀ
1. Durgā received Chanda and Manda, the messengers of the giants; they, struck with her beauty, spoke so rapturously of her to their lords that Sumbha sent her an offer of marriage by Sugriva.
2. Dasabhujā, the ten-handed, destroyed Sumbha’s army under the commander-in-chief Dhumlochana. Of these troops only a few fugitives escaped to carry the news of their defeat to their master.
3. Singhavāhini (riding on a lion) fought with Chanda and Manda, and has four arms only. She drank the blood of the leaders, and devoured a large part of their troops.
4. Mahishamārdini (the slayer of Mahisha) slew Sumbha as he attacked her in the form of a buffalo. She had eight or, according to other accounts, ten arms.
There is little to distinguish the account of this form from that of Durgā.
5. Jagaddhātri (the mother of the world) destroyed another army of the giants; is dressed in red garments, and is seated on a lion. She, too, has four arms only, and is very similar to Singhavāhini; the difference being in the weapons she wields, As Singhavāhini, she carries a sword and spear, and with two hands is encouraging her worshippers; as Jagaddhātri, she carries a conch-shell, discus, bow and arrow. In all the above forms she is represented as a fair, beautiful, gentle-looking lady.
6. Kāli (the black woman), or, as she is more commonly called, Kāli Mā, the black mother, with the aid of Chandi, slew Raktavija, the principal leader of the giant’s army. Seeing his men fall, he attacked the goddess in person; when from every drop of blood that fell from his body a thousand giants equal in power to himself arose. At this crisis another form of the goddess, named Chandi, came to the rescue. As Kāli drank the giant’s blood and prevented the formation of new giants, Chandi slew the monster herself.
Kāli is represented as a black woman with four arms; in one hand she has a sword, in another the head of the giant she has slain, with the other two she is encouraging her worshippers. For earrings she has two dead bodies; wears a necklace of skulls; her only clothing is a girdle made of dead men’s hands, and her tongue protrudes from her mouth. Her eyes are red as those of a drunkard, and her face and breasts are besmeared with blood. She stands with one foot on the thigh, and another on the breast of her husband. This position of Kāli is accounted for by the fact that, when her victory over the giants was won, she danced for joy so furiously that the earth trembled beneath her weight. At the request of the gods Siva asked her to desist, but as, owing to her excitement, she did not notice him, he lay down amongst the slain. She continued dancing until she caught sight of her husband under her feet; immediately she thrust out her tongue with shame at the disrespect she had shown him.
In the “Adhyatma Rāmāyana,” is a legend giving quite a different origin of Kāli; the object of the writer evidently being to enhance the glory of Sita, by showing that Kāli was but a form that she had assumed. On Rāma’s return from the destruction of Rāvana, he was boasting of his prowess, when Sita smiled and said, “You rejoice because you have slain Havana with ten heads, but what would you say to a Rāvana with a thousand?” “Destroy him too,” said Rāma. Sita advised him to remain at home; but he collected his army of monkeys, and with his wife and brothers set off for Satadwipa to meet this new Rāvana. Hanumān was despatched to discover the residence of the monster, and to gather all the information he could about him, and on his return Rāma went to the attack. The giant regarded the army of his assailant as so many children.
He shot three arrows. One of these sent all the monkeys to their home at Kiskindha; a second drove the giants and demons to Lanka; whilst the third despatched the soldiers to Ayodha, Rāma’s capital. Rāma was thunderstruck as he found himself alone, and, imagining that all his forces were destroyed, began to weep. Sita, laughing at her husband, assumed the terrific form of Kāli, and furiously attacked the thousand-headed Rāvana. The conflict lasted ten years, but at length she slew the giant, drank his blood, and began to dance and toss about the limbs of his lifeless body. Her dancing shook the earth to its centre; but not until Siva lay on the ground, and her attention was called to the disrespect she was showing him, could she be prevailed upon to desist. Thus Siva saved the universe; and Sita, assuming her proper form, went home with Rāma and his brothers.
The “Skanda Purāna” explains that Chandi, who came to the rescue and assisted Kāli in the destruction of Raktavija, was a form of Devi, assumed on another occasion for the destruction of Chanda. It is interesting to see that these leaders of Sumbha’s army reappear, although they were slain, and their blood was drunk by Singhavāhini. Two asuras, named Chanda and Manda, through a boon received from the divine mothers, became so powerful as to subdue the three worlds. The gods besought Devi, who appeared to them under the form of Chandi, to deliver them; she replied, “that she could do nothing for them until she had propitiated Siva.” To accomplish this she retired to a forest, and, whilst engaged in worship, Siva first appeared, under the form of a vast Linga, and then, in answer to Chandi’s prayer, revealed himself, and in answer to her praises thus addressed her: O goddess! Thou art celebrated in the three worlds as Parasakti (the energy of the supreme being). Wherever thou art, there am I; and wherever I am, there is Chandikā. There is no difference between us. What shall I do for you? ” Chandi replies: “Formerly I slew Chanda and Manda in battle; but they have been born again as mighty asuras, and have oppressed the three worlds. It is therefore to be enabled to destroy them that I seek thy protection.” Siva promises his help, and sends her in the guise of a messenger to challenge them to fight. They accept the challenge, and are slain by Siva.
The “Linga Purāna” seems to teach that Kāli, though produced by Durgā, was yet distinct from her. Formerly a female asura named Dārukā had through devotion obtained such power that she consumed like fire the gods and Brāhmans. But as she was attended by a host of female asuras, Vishnu and the gods feared to attack her, lest they should be guilty of the great sin of slaying a woman. Siva is then appealed to, who, addressing Devi, said, “Let me request, O lovely one! that thou wouldst effect the destruction of this Dārukā.” Pārvati, having heard these words, created from her own substance a maiden of black colour, with matted locks, having an eye in her forehead, bearing in her hand a trident and a skull; she was of aspect terrible to behold, was arrayed in celestial garments, and adorned with all kinds of ornaments. On beholding this terrific form of darkness, the gods retreated in alarm. Pārvati then created innumerable ghosts, goblins, and demons; attended by these, Kāli, in obedience to her order, attacked and destroyed Dārukā.
Maurice gives another account of Kāli: “The origin of this singular deity is perfectly in union with her life and history. Arrayed in complete armour, she sprang from the eye of the dreadful war-bred goddess Durgā, the vanquisher of demons and giants, at the very instant that she was sinking under their united assaults. Kāli joining her extraordinary powers to those of her parent, they renew the combat and rout their foes with great slaughter.”
The “Mārkandeya Purāna” * makes Kāli a production of Lakshmi. The origin of all things is Mahā Lakshmi, who visibly or invisibly pervades and dwells in all that is. Separating from herself the quality of darkness, she gave origin to a form black as night, with dreadful tusks and large eyes, and holding a sword, a goblet, a head and a shield, and adorned with a necklace of skulls. She is distinguished by the names of Mahākāli, Ekāvirā, Kālarātri, and other similar appellations. Then from the quality of purity she produced Sarasvati. As soon as they were formed, Mahā Lakshmi thus addressed Mahākāli and Sarasvati: “Let us from our own forms produce twin deities.” She then generated a male and female, named Brahmā and Lakshmi; in the same manner Mahākāli produced Siva and Sarasvati, and Sarasvati produced Gauri and Vishnu. Mahā Lakshmi then gave in marriage Sarasvati to Brahmā, Gauri to Siva, and Lakshmi to Vishnu.
In the accounts of the forms of Durgā, and also in those of the other deities, if the writer of the book is commending Lakshmi, as in the last quotation, she is declared to be the source of all: if the book is in praise of Durgā, she is equally declared to be the source. Unless this is borne in mind the varying origins of the deities become somewhat confusing. But when it is ascertained on whose special behalf a book was written, it may be expected that he or she will be described as the source, the greatest of all.
There can be no doubt that human sacrifices were formerly offered to Kāli, though now they are forbidden both by British law and the Hindu scriptures; the prohibition in Hindu books, however, is in a more recent class of books than those in which they were ordained. In the “Kālika Purāna,” * from which the following extracts are made, nothing could be clearer than the instruction regarding this cruel practice. Siva is addressing his sons the Bhairavas, initiating them in these terrible mysteries.
“The flesh of the antelope and the rhinoceros give my beloved (Kāli) delight for five hundred years. By a human sacrifice, attended by the forms laid down, Devi is pleased for a thousand years; and by the sacrifice of three men, a hundred thousand years. By human flesh Kāmākhyā, Chandikā, and Bhairavā, who assume my shape, are pleased a thousand years. An oblation of blood which has been rendered pure by holy texts, is equal to ambrosia; the head and flesh also afford much delight to Chandikā. Blood drawn from the offerer’s own body is looked upon as a proper oblation to the goddess Chandikā.
“Let the sacrificer repeat the word Kāli twice, and say, ‘Hail, Devi! goddess of thunder; hail, iron-sceptred goddess!’ Let him then take the axe in his hand, and again invoke the same by the Kālarātri text, as follows: Let the sacrificer say, Hrang, Hrang! Kāli, Kāli! O horrid-toothed goddess! Eat, cut, destroy all the malignant; cut with this axe; bind, bind; seize, seize; drink blood! Spheng, spheng! secure, secure. Salutation to Kāli.’ The axe being invoked by this text, called the Kālarātri Mantra, Kālarātri herself presides over the axe, uplifted for the destruction of the sacrificer’s enemies. “Different mantras (or forms) are used in reference to the description of the victim to be immolated. If a lion, this—
“‘O Hari! who in the shape of a lion bearest Chandika, bear my evils and avert my misfortunes. Thy shape, O lion! was assumed by Hari [in the Nrisingha incarnation of Vishnu] to punish the wicked part of the human race; and under that form, by truth, the tyrant Hiranyakasipu was slain!’
“Females are not to be immolated, except on very particular occasions; the human female never.
“Let princes, ministers of State, councillors, and vendors of spirituous liquors make human sacrifices, for the purpose of attaining prosperity and wealth. Let the victim offered to Devi, if a buffalo, be four years old; and if human, twenty-five. On these occasions this is the mantra to be used: ‘Hail! three-eyed goddess, of most terrifying appearance, around whose neck a string of human skulls is pendent; who art the destroyer of evil spirits; who art armed with an axe and a spear, salutation to thee with this blood.’
“An enemy may be immolated by proxy, substituting a buffalo or a goat, and Calling the victim by the name of the enemy through the whole ceremony, thereby infusing, by holy texts, the soul of the enemy into the body of the victim; which will when immolated deprive the foe of life also. On this occasion, let the sacrificer say: ‘O goddess of horrid forms! O Chandikā! Eat, devour such an one my enemy. Consort of fire! salutation to fire. This is the enemy who has done me mischief, now personated by an animal—destroy him, O Mahāmāri!'”
A great variety of regulations and invocations, rites, etc., are laid down for the performance of sanguinary offerings, whether the immolation of a victim, or an offering of the sacrificer’s own blood, or burning his flesh. Until very recent times commonly, and in some quiet places even now, at certain festivals, the worshippers cut their flesh and burn their bodies in order to please this cruel deity. Before the Thugs set out on their murderous projects they first sacrificed to Kāli to obtain her blessing; and, on their return, paid a portion of the spoils as an offering for her help.
7. Muktakesi (having flowing hair) destroyed another part of the giant’s forces. In appearance there is little to distinguish her from Kāli: she has four arms; holds a sword and a helmet in her left hands, and with her right she is bestowing a blessing and dispelling fear. She, too, is standing upon the body of her husband.
8. Tārā (the saviour) slew Sumbha, and holds his head in one hand and a sword in another. Her appearance, too, is similar to that of Kāli. She must not be confounded with Tārā, the wife of Vrihaspati; or Tārā, the wife of Bāli, the asura king.
9. Chinnamustaka (the beheaded) slew Nisumbha, the other giant. It is evident from her appearance that she found her task rather difficult, for her head is half-severed from her body. She is painted as a fair woman, naked, and wearing a garland of skulls, standing upon the body of her husband.
10. Jagadgauri (the yellow woman [renowned] through the world) received the thanks and praises of the gods and men for the deliverance she wrought; in her four hands she holds a conch-shell, a discus, a club, and a lotus.
Images are made of Durgā at different seasons of the year in nearly all of these forms, and various blessings are sought from her by her worshippers. In addition to these she is worshipped under other names; some of the more generally known will now be given. It should be noticed that the Hindus who worship Durgā in any of her forms, and the other female deities, when they represent the Sakti, or energy of their husbands, are called Saktas, and form a class distinct from the Hindus generally. An exception, however, must be made in respect to Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and the autumnal worship of Durgā; this particular form of worship being common to almost all Hindus.
11. Pratyangirā (the well-proportioned one). Of this form of Durgā no images are made, but at night the officiating priest, wearing red clothes, offers red flowers, liquors, and bloody sacrifices. The flesh of animals dipped in some intoxicating drink is burned; the worshipper believing that the flesh of the enemy for whose injury the ceremony is performed will swell, as the flesh of the sacrifice swells in the fire.
12. Annapurnā (she who fills with food) is represented as a fair woman, standing on a lotus, or as sitting on a throne. In one hand she holds a rice bowl, and in the other a spoon used for stirring rice when it is being boiled. Siva, as a mendicant, is receiving alms from her. She is the guardian deity of many Hindus, who have a proverb to the effect that a sincere disciple of this deity will never want rice. It is in connection with this form of Durgā that the “Linga Purāna” gives a legend explaining an image called Ardhanārishwara, which represents Siva and Durgā as together forming one body. Siva as a mendicant supported his wife and children by begging; but on one occasion,
owing to his use of intoxicating. herbs, he was unable to go his rounds. Durgā told him there was nothing in the house to eat; half the previous day’s contributions they had eaten; Ganesa’s rat and Kartikeya’s peacock having finished the rest. Siva then went out to beg, and Durgā started for her father’s house with the children, but was met by Nārada, who advised her, as Annapurnā, to lay an embargo on the food of the houses where Siva asked for alms. The result was no one would give him anything. Nārada meeting him advised him to go home; Annapurnā met him at the door, and so pleased him by giving him food, that he pressed her to his breast with such force that they became one body.
13. Ganesajanani (the mother of Ganesa) is worshipped with her infant in her arms.
14. Krishnakrora (she who holds Krishna on her breast). When Krishna fought with the serpent Kaliya in the river Yamuna, he was bitten, and in pain called upon Durgā for help. She heard his cry, and, by suckling him from her breast, restored him to health.
This list might be almost indefinitely enlarged. From the number of her names, it is evident she is largely worshipped in North India; and from the number of Hindus bearing one or other of her names, it is certain she is most popular. It is a common custom for the Hindus to give their children names indicating the god or goddess through whose favour they are believed to have been given, and Durgā seems to have had a part in the bestowal of a very large proportion of the children in Bengal. “By the favour of Kāli, or Durgā, or Tārā,” is expressed in the names of multitudes, and every day witnesses the payment of vows made to this goddess when some desired good is granted, or threatened evil averted.
Although a full account of the three chief goddesses, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and Pārvati, has already been given, there still remains something to be said in order to indicate the position they occupy in the Pantheon. By far the greater part of the Hindus in Bengal, and a
considerable number in other provinces, devote their chief, almost their exclusive worship to the wives of the gods rather than to their husbands; and by these people they are declared to be the source and support of all things. Of the three, Pārvati, chiefly in her more dreadful forms, is by far the most popular. Comparatively few assign to the other two a similarly exalted position.
All the Hindus acknowledge the consorts of the gods in a general way, and on the days commonly devoted to their worship are careful to present the customary offerings. But the sects now under consideration are not content with this. As the goddesses fill their field of vision, their husbands are almost entirely neglected. Originally the term Sakti signified the energy, or power of a deity. In process of time this energy was supposed to dwell in the wife, and as a result the devotion of the worshippers was transferred to her. And for many centuries a special name has been given to those who pay their supreme worship to the energy of the gods that are, so to speak, incarnated in their wives. These are known as Saktas, just as those who make Siva their chief object of adoration are Saivites; or those who regard Vishnu as the supreme are Vaishnavas.
There is a respectable and recognized cult of Sakti worship, known as the right-handed; and there is one that is quite the opposite, known as the left-handed. The rites and ceremonies in the one case are openly performed, and do not greatly differ from those in common with other Hindu sects. But amongst the left-handed sects the greatest care is taken to keep secret, from the uninitiated, the doctrines and practices that regulate and form their worship. But enough is known to make the members generally ashamed of their connection with the system. Meat, strictly prohibited by ordinary Hinduism, intoxicating drinks, also strictly forbidden by the same authority, and grossly obscene acts are performed as part of the worship that is offered to the deity. Of old, without doubt, human sacrifices were offered at such festivals. But as this forms part of Hindu worship, rather than of mythology, it does not call for further notice here. The goddesses, and especially Devi, or Durgā, the wife of Siva, are the supreme objects of worship amongst the Saktas; and they are worshipped as the incarnation of the energy or force of their divine husbands. The authority for this form of Hinduism are the Tantras, not the Purānas. As in the case of the more modern deities an attempt is made to identify them with the older, so expressions in the more ancient books are caught up and explained in such a way as to make it appear that the Tantric teaching is in harmony with, or a legitimate development of them (Excerpts from “Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic”).