Sacred Mysteries

Adapted from the Hindu twelfth-century text the Devi Mahatmyam

by Sharron Rose

kicking This is the story of the victory of good over evil.

Once Upon a Time, in the first great cycle of existence, there was a terrible war between the gods and the demons. This war raged continuously for hundreds of years. Led by the powerful Mahisha, the demons defeated the gods, expelling them from heaven and forcing them to wander on the earth like mortals.

Now this Mahisha had spent centuries performing ritual practices and austerities. Year after year, he stood on one leg in the snow, clad merely in a loincloth, with the raging winter winds chilling him to the bone. Then he sat for an eternity in a meditation box, never moving, never sleeping. He tied ropes around his arms and legs to keep him upright and placed twigs in the corners of his eyes to keep them ever open, never moving except to turn the pages of his precious text. Ever before him was his overwhelming desire to gain enough power to become king of the demons.

The Great Gods who watch over the earth, seeing his one-pointed devotion and determination rewarded him with extraordinary gifts of strength and power along with his request that he could not be killed by man or God. But as soon as he received these powers, rather than use them wisely and compassionately for the benefit of others, he and his followers began to seize control of both heaven and earth. Driven by an overwhelming desire for fame and fortune, fueled by his dark hunger for control and domination, Mahisha drove his armies to crush and subjugate the Gods. He then placed himself on the throne of Indra, King of Heaven.

durga Defeated, disillusioned, driven from heaven the Gods, led by Brahma, the great God of Creation, went to seek refuge at the lotus feet of Shiva, the great God of Destruction, and Vishnu, the great God of Preservation. Hearing their tale of Mahisha's uncontrollable greed and abuse of power they became so angry that a brilliant light shot forth from the depths of their hearts through their third eyes. The mystic energy of all the Gods united and a flaming radiance poured forth in every direction, enveloping the three worlds, growing into a blazing mountain that transformed itself into a female form of celestial beauty.

From Shiva's light came her luminous face, from Vishnu's light her exquisite arms. Her hair had the scintillating dark of Yama, the God of Death. Her breasts resplendent from the light of the Moon. From the light of Brahma came her dancing red feet and the light of the Fire God her three shining eyes. From all of the other gods, the glowing beauty of her golden body, shining with the rays of Surya, the sun.

Upon perceiving the luminosity of this Goddess, the Gods who had suffered at the hands of Mahisha rejoiced, for they knew that Mahisha, had never even thought for a moment that he could be defeated by a woman. Mahisha, in his monumental egotism had forgotten the great power of the feminine. Desiring to assist the Goddess even further, the Gods bestowed upon her their magical weapons and implements. Shiva gave her a trident materialized from his own trident, Vishnu, a discus whirling from his own, Vayu, the wind god, a bow and quivers filled with arrows, Indra, the king of heaven, a thunderbolt and Kala, god of time, his shining sword and shield.

Armed with these and other sacred weapons, the Goddess Durga roared with divine laughter. Again and again she roared and such was her mystic sound that the sky resounded, the seas trembled, and the earth quaked. The magnificent goddess of power and beauty mounted her valiant lion and descended to earth.

From his very first glance of Durga, Mahisha only had one desire and that was to have her as his lover. The cunning Goddess demurred, "I am sorry," she said, "a curse has been placed upon me so that I can only unite with a man who can defeat me in battle." Mahisha, feeling invincible, blinded by his excessive pride, thought that her conquest would be simple. So he sent his demon army to attack her. But each time easily, playfully, she defeated them. Soon, the battlefield reeked with bodies of the dead, and the rivers flowed with blood.

Seeing the utter destruction of his demon army, his commanders and attendants, Mahisha assumed his Asura form, half man, half buffalo and in a lone stampede, charged the Goddess Durga. But finding her unfurled noose closing upon him, he called upon his shape-shifting powers as he slipped into his lion disguise. This was to no avail, for her sword hovered over his mane. Slinking from underneath her sword, he assumed the role of the warrior and advanced toward her, sword in hand. But blinded by a shower of arrows he transformed himself into an elephant. Swiftly, the Great Goddess severed his trunk. Finally, he resumed his original buffalo form, horns lowered, hooves stamping, mouth foaming, shaking the three worlds in his rage.

Upon observing this display, Durga laughed with delight and cried, "Roar you fool, roar! Your hour has come!" Then, in one fell swoop, the great Goddess hacked off his head and his buffalo body sank to the ground, a lifeless hulk.

Suddenly there was light everywhere. Flowers fell spontaneously from heaven. The Gods and sages sang the praises to the Goddess Durga while the heavenly maidens, danced for joy.