Mythological incarnations of Durga :

The term ‘Durga’ reflects in our mind of ten armed lion-riding divine goddess that on one hand is possessed of rare beauty an, and on the other, carries in her hands various weapons of war. The Puranic tradition inclines to tell Durga as just one of the names of Devi, the cosmic Divine Female who created, sustained and destroyed. Despite such preference of the Puranas for the term ‘Devi’ for defining the overall vision of the cosmic Divine Female even initially Durga acquires among Devi’s other manifestations a distinction denotative of a class which is not the same as epithets like Jagad-mata, Jagadamba, Vishveshwari, or whatever. The term Durga brings to mind a specific image which these epithets do not, perhaps because they are used with some kind of commonness for Devi’s all forms.

The Skanda Purana indicates that the name of Durga is given to the goddess Parvati, consort of Siva, when she kills the Asura Durga. A myth from the Devi Mahatmya, however, states that the Goddess acquires this name when she kills the demon Durgama. Her qualities as a goddess are denoted by her names as well. She is Universal Mother. As Uma, Lord Shiva’s wife, she is seen as a protector and a mother figure. Goddess Durga is the symbol of 3 states : Creative, Preservative and Destructive. Various forms Durga, Chandi, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Maha Saraswati are Her divine forms. Each form of the Devi has a distinctive role meant for a definite purpose.
The Devi, is depicted as one supreme Goddess and also the many goddesses.
Prakriti is a complete concept of the three gunas. Sattva is characterized by brilliance, knowledge, equanimity and lightness. Rajas is characterized by movement, dynamism, ambition, attachment and reactivity or raga. Tamas is characterized by ignorance, delusion and inertia, the power of resistance. The entire manifest world is subject to the influence of the three gunas.
Then began the battle between that Devi and the asuras, Goddess Durga, the Shakti and energy and anger turned against evil, set herself to destroy the armies of Mahishasura. Mahisasura’s general, named Chiksura and Chamara fought. A asura named Udagra, Mahahanu, Asiloman, and Baskala with huge army fought in that battle. Privarita with many thousands of elephants and horses, fought in that battle. Showering her own weapons and arms, Goddess Chandika too, quite playfully, cut into pieces all those weapons and arms. With gods and sages extolling her, showing no signs of fatigue on her face, the Goddess Iswari hurled her weapons and arms at the bodies of the asuras. The mount of the Goddess, the lion, shaking its mane in rage, stalked amidst the armies of the asuras like a fire. The Goddess Ambika, fighting in the battle created and devastated the army. Ciksura, the great asura general, proceeded in anger to fight with Ambika. He showered arrows on the Goddess in battle just as a cloud showers rain on the peak of Mount Meru. Camara also came agreesively towards devi Ambika…Devi’s Lioan injured Camara in the battle. Udagra was killed in the battle by the Devi. Karala was brought down. Devi pulverised Uddhata with the blows of her mace. She killed Baskala with a javelin and destroyed Tamra and Andhaka with arrows. The Supreme Iswari killed Ugrasya, Ugravirya and Mahahanu too with her trident. With her sword she struck down Bidala’s head from his body, and dispatched both Durdhara and Durmudha to the abode of Death with her arrows.

The Devi-Mahatmya in the Markandeya Purana, a fifth-sixth century text. Markandeya rishi tells the defination of cosmic energy as Mahamaya: Vishnu’s ‘shakti’ that the text defines as Devi manifesting in three aspects, viz., Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati, having different forms and appearances but a common objective of avenging the wrong-doer. This in the Mahabharata like early texts and sculptures of the early centuries of the Common Era is the Durga’s role. Quite significant as it is, the Devi-Mahatmya uses the term ‘Durga’, as it uses the term ‘Devi’, in its all sections devoted to either of Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati, which indicates that these are as much the Durga’s manifestations, as they are the Devi’s. The text perceives Devi primarily as the redeemer of ‘durgam’ – the most difficult, a situation, act, or objective, and hence, Devi is Durga – the redeemer of ‘durgam’, in her every aspect.

As regards her antiquity Durga is an entity beyond time. Even the Markandeya Purana that identifies Mahamaya – as Vishnu’s ‘shakti’ contends with specificity that it was her who gave to Vishnu, as also to Brahma and Shiva, their forms. This statement has two implications, one that she preceded not only Vishnu but the great Trinity, and the other, that she was Vishnu’s ‘shakti’ by invocation and by her favour, not by Vishnu’s authority. Thus, by whatever name, the Great Goddess preceded all forms, their creator, sustainer and destroyer, the time that spanned them and the space where they evolved. Ironically, sage Markandeya sought to subordinate her to Vishnu as his ‘shakti’ but overwhelming him, or rather the entire Trinity, the goddess bowed them to her subordination. In the tradition gods, even Trinity, are often seen bowing to her in devotion but Durga is never seen bowing to any, divine or demonic, justifying her name ‘Jaya’.

Obviously, the scale of time is not Durga’s scale. It is only the date of her earliest appearance in a medium, text, or iconography, by which her antiquity is determined. When in the eleventh Canto of the Devi-Mahatmya Devi declares that in the twenty-eighth eon of Vaivasvata Manvantara she would incarnate and kill the demon Durgam and assume Durga as her name, sage Markandeya does not suggest the period of Durga’s emergence as posterior to the period of his text. The concurrent age is Vaivasvata Manvantara but it is only by very complicated astronomical calculations that one can know when exactly its twenty-eighth eon passed, perhaps millions of years ago, and hence, it is not known when Devi assumed Durga as her name. Thus, mythically the Great Goddess manifested as Durga in the twenty-eighth eon of this Manvantara, but it is simply a period beyond human calculation.

Thus, Devi had in any medium or tradition her earliest manifestation as Durga. It seems that the Devi’s form as Durga, a goddess of battlefield always in action, as nurturing mother or as avenging warrior engaging in battle one demon or other, has been conceived in stark contrast to the passive non-operating votive image of the Mother Goddess of Indus settlements, and the nature-deities of the ‘Yajna’ of the Rig-Veda, perhaps around the same time when the other two cults were in greater prevalence. Excavations of Indus or Harappan sites reveal no signs of a warrior goddess, and barring a few contentions, such as makes S. K. Ramachandra Rao who contends in his Durga-Kosha that Durga is one of the goddesses that the Rig-Veda enumerates, broadly Durga is not considered a goddess from the Rig-Vedic pantheon. Whatever the merit of such claims and counter-claims in regard to Durga’s position in the Rig-Veda, there is absolute unanimity in regard to Durga’s presence in the Mahabharata, the great epic datable broadly to sixth-fifth century B.C.

The Rig-Veda talked of Vak, or Saraswati, and Shri, another name of Lakshmi, and excavations have revealed signs of a ferocious divinity being worshipped by Indus settlers. However, the Devi-Mahatmya’s models of Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati were different from both. Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati seem to have been modeled after Durga, and Mahakali, is textually too, a transform of the principal goddess of the battlefield, Devi or Durga.

Thus, Devi or her manifestations, Mahalakshmi, Mahakali or Mahasaraswati, are Durga’s forms, and Devi is merely her defining epithet as is Devata of the male divinities. The term ‘Devata’ does not denote a specific divinity because of such Devatas’ plurality. Devi’s singularity makes the term ‘Devi’ synonymous to Durga. Even in Puranic tradition the Devi’s Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati manifestations seem to have failed to long retain at least their Durga-like martial role. Mahalakshmi, as Lakshmi and Mahasaraswati, as Saraswati, shed finally their warlike bearing and join Lord Vishnu’s and Brahma’s households with roles completely different from what they had in their proto Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati forms.

In regard to the origin of Durga or Devi there prevail two traditions, one that venerates her as Adi-Shakti – primordial cosmic energy, suggestive of her presence when the Creation had yet to take effect and ever before and after, and the other, suggestive of her creation out of gods’ divine attributes for accomplishing an objective.

In South, she is usually lotus-seated and is worshipped by various other names. In folk traditions of Bengal, Orissa, Bihar – Mithila region in special, Uttar Pradesh and tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Durga is the most popularly worshipped deity. Her cow-dung images, symbolic of fertility and purity, those in colours or in ceramic medium, might be seen adorning the walls of any dwelling, a mud-house or a sophisticated mansion.