Goddess Durga is the mother of the universe and is the power behind the work of creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Since time immemorial she has been worshipped as the supreme power of the Supreme Being and has been mentioned in many scriptures.
The Meaning of "Durga"
The word "Durga" in Sanskrit means a fort, or a place which is difficult to overrun. Another meaning of "Durga" is "Durgatinashini," which literally translates into "the one who eliminates sufferings." Thus, Hindus believe that goddess Durga protects her devotees from the evils of the world and at the same time removes their miseries.
Durga's Many Arms
Durga is depicted as having eight or ten hands. These represent eight quadrants or ten directions in Hinduism. This suggests that she protects the devotees from all directions.
Durga's Three Eyes
Like Shiva, Mother Durga is also referred to as "Triyambake" meaning the three eyed Goddess. The left eye represents desire (the moon), the right eye represents action (the sun), and the central eye knowledge (fire).
Durga's Vehicle - the Lion
The lion represents power, will and determination. Mother Durga riding the lion symbolises her mastery over all these qualities. This suggests to the devotee that one has to possess all these qualities to get over the demon of ego.
Durga's Many Weapons
• (Shankha): the conch shell in Durga's hand symbolizes the 'Pranava' or the mystic word 'Om', which indicates her holding on to God in the form of sound.
• (Dhanush / Baan): the bow and arrows represent energy. By holding both the bow and arrows in one hand "Mother Durga" is indicating her control over both aspects of energy - potential and kinetic.
• (Vajra / Gadaa): the thunderbolt signifies firmness. The devotee of Durga must be firm like thunderbolt in one's convictions. Like the thunderbolt that can break anything against which it strikes, without being affected itself, the devotee needs to attack a challenge without losing his confidence.
• (Kamal pushpa): the lotus in Durga's hand is not in fully bloomed, It symbolizing certainty of success but not finality. The lotus in Sanskrit is called "pankaja" which means born of mud. Thus, lotus stands for the continuous evolution of the spiritual quality of devotees amidst the worldly mud of lust and greed.
• (Sudarshan-Chakra): the beautiful discus, which spins around the index finger of the Goddess, while not touching it, signifies that the entire world is subservient to the will of Durga and is at her command. She uses this unfailing weapon to destroy evil and produce an environment conducive to the growth of righteousness.
• (Khadag / Talvaar): the sword that Durga holds in one of her hands symbolizes knowledge, which has the sharpness of a sword. Knowledge which is free from all doubts, is symbolized by the shine of the sword.
• (Trishul): the trident is a symbol of three qualities - Satwa (inactivity), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (non-activity) - and she is remover of all the three types of miseries - physical, mental and spiritual.
Devi Durga stands on a lion in a fearless pose of "Abhay Mudra", signifying assurance of freedom from fear. The universal mother seems to be saying to all her devotees: "Surrender all actions and duties onto me and I shall release thee from all fears".
The nine forms of Maa Durga that are worshipped during navratri are: Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghantaa, Kushmaanda, Skandamata, Kaatyaayini, Kaalratri, Maha Gauri, and Siddhidatri. The Sri Durga Saptashati glorifies these nice aspects of Maa Devi in the following prayer:
“Prathamam Shailaputri cha, dvitiiyam Brahmachaarini, tritiiyam Chandraghanteti, Kushmaandeti chaturtakam, panchamam Skandamaateti, shashtam Kaatyaayani cha, saptamam Kaalaraatriti, Maha-Gauriti chaastamam, navamam Siddhidaatri cha; Nava-Durgaaha prakirtitaaha."
These nine forms of the Devi are worshipped as to bring the aspirant to realize these nine qualities of him/herself:
1) Shailputri : The Goddess of faith, here two words combine to make one, shaila + putri = Shailaputri, daughter of the mountain king. Our faith should be solid as a rock, unflinching, unshakable and steady. Self confidence is of extreme importance in an aspirant’s life, here Maa Devi reminds of that.
2)Brahmacharini: The Goddess of purity, She reminds us of striving for purity of mind, body and speech (Man, Tan, Vachan), all of which leads to a healthy lifestyle, caring for one’s entire being and realizing it as being a vehicle for liberation. Maa Devi acquired this form when She performed penance to win the heart of Shiva, symbolically to realize shiva – bliss.
3)Chandraghanta: The Goddess of joy, inspiring my to keep steady his mind like the crescent mood that adorns Her crown. Let there be joy and satisfaction in every action we perform without hurting anyone. Peace of mind.
4)Kushmaanda: The Goddess of purifying austerity, the only way one can purify his mind is my entertaining good thoughts, his body by doing good and his speech by speaking the truth. All acts that we engage in should lead to self purification.
5)Skandamata: The Goddess, who nurtures divinity, it is of paramount importance for mothers to realize their role as a Guru in their children’s lives. From childhood they are to instill within the lives of their children god like qualities.
6)Kaatyaayini: The Goddess, who fulfills desires, let our thoughts be noble, pure, and selfless and may those desires be fulfilled. This form of the Devi was worshipped by the Gopis of Vrindaban. They worshipped the Devi as the means by which they can become Krishna conscious.
7)Kaalratri: The Goddess of the dark night, She reminds on the importance of becoming Time conscious. As day is dispelled by night, it’s a stark reminder that even happiness is transient.
8)Maha Gauri: The Goddess of beauty. It is our inner qualities that make us who we are. We are reminded that pride makes the beautiful ugly and humility makes the ugly beautiful. May we strive to attain that inner beauty.
9)Siddhidatri: The Goddess who grants perfection. A perfect existence is one where the mind has no regrets and is contented with the manner it existed and what it has contributed to itself, the family it was with and society at large. Perfection is seen through contentment and overall satisfaction of knowing one’s entire life was an offering to God. There are eight Siddhis , they are- Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Iishitva & Vashitva. Maha Shakti gives all these Siddhis