Devi Mahatmya

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Artwork depicting the "Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo demon Mahishasura" scene of Devi Mahatmya, is found all over India, Nepal and southeast Asia. Clockwise from top: 9th-century Kashmir, 13th-century Karnataka, 9th century Prambanan Indonesia, 2nd-century Uttar Pradesh. Durga slaying buffalo composite, 2nd-century to 13th-century Devi Mahatmya.png
Artwork depicting the "Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo demon Mahishasura" scene of Devi Mahatmya, is found all over India, Nepal and southeast Asia. Clockwise from top: 9th-century Kashmir, 13th-century Karnataka, 9th century Prambanan Indonesia, 2nd-century Uttar Pradesh.

The Devi Mahatmya or Devi Mahatmyam (Sanskrit: devīmāhātmyam, देवीमाहात्म्यम्), or "Glory of the Goddess") is a Hindu religious text describing the Goddess as the supreme power and creator of the universe. [1] [2] It is part of the Markandeya Purana, and estimated to have been composed in Sanskrit between 400-600 CE. [3] [4] [5]

Contents

Devi Mahatmyam is also known as the Durgā Saptashatī (दुर्गासप्तशती) or Caṇḍī Pāṭha (चण्डीपाठः). [6] The text contains 700 verses arranged into 13 chapters. [7] [6] Along with Devi-Bhagavata Purana and Shakta Upanishads such as the Devi Upanishad, it is one of the most important texts of Shaktism (goddess) tradition within Hinduism. [8]

The Devi Mahatmyam describes a storied battle between good and evil, where the Devi manifesting as goddess Durga leads the forces of good against the demon Mahishasura—the goddess is very angry and ruthless, and the forces of good win. [9] [10] [11] In peaceful prosperous times, states the text, the Devi manifests as Lakshmi, empowering wealth creation and happiness. [12] The verses of this story also outline a philosophical foundation wherein the ultimate reality (Brahman in Hinduism) is female. [13] [14] [15] The text is one of the earliest extant complete manuscripts from the Hindu traditions which describes reverence and worship of the feminine aspect of God. [5] The Devi Mahatmya is often ranked in some Hindu traditions to be as important as the Bhagavad Gita. [16]

The Devi Mahatmya has been particularly popular in eastern states of India, such as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Goa [17] as well as Nepal. [18] It is recited during Navratri celebrations, the Durga Puja festival, [19] [20] and in Durga temples across India. [19] [21]

Etymology

The oldest surviving manuscript of the Devi Mahatmya, on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century. Devimahatmya Sanskrit MS Nepal 11c.jpg
The oldest surviving manuscript of the Devi Māhātmya, on palm-leaf, in an early Bhujimol script, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.

Sanskrit māhātmya-, "magnanimity, highmindedness, majesty" is a neuter abstract noun of māha-ātman-, or "great soul." The title devīmāhātmyam is a tatpurusha compound, literally translating to "the magnanimity of the goddess."

The text is called Saptaśati (literally a collection of seven hundred" or something that contains seven hundreds in number), as it contains 700 shlokas (verses). [7]

Caṇḍī or Caṇḍika is the name by which the Supreme Goddess is referred to in Devī Māhātmya. According to Hindu Scriptures, "Caṇḍikā is "the Goddess of Truth and Justice who came to Earth for the establishment of Dharma ," from the adjective caṇḍa, "fierce, violent, cruel for evil forces not for good forces ." The epithet has no precedent in Vedic literature and is first found in a late insertion to the Mahabharata, where Chaṇḍa and Chaṇḍī appear as epithets." [22]

History

Durga temple depicting scenes from Devi Mahatmya, in Aihole temple, is part of a UNESCO world heritage site candidate. Aihole.jpg
Durga temple depicting scenes from Devi Mahatmya, in Aihole temple, is part of a UNESCO world heritage site candidate.

The Devi Mahatmya, states C. Mackenzie Brown, is both a culmination of centuries of Indian ideas about the divine feminine, as well as a foundation for the literature and spirituality focussed on the feminine transcendence in centuries that followed. [24]

One of the earliest evidence of reverence for the feminine aspect of God appears in chapter 10.125 of the Rig Veda, also called Devīsūkta . [25] [26] [note 1]

Hymns to goddesses are in the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, particularly in the later (100 to 300 CE) added Harivamsa section of it. [24] The archaeological and textual evidence implies, states Thomas Coburn, that the Goddess had become as much a part of the Hindu tradition, as God, by about the third or fourth century. [28]

Date

Devi Mahatmya is a text extracted from Markandeya Purana , and constitutes the latter's chapters 81 through 93. [29] The Purana is dated to the ~3rd century CE, [9] and the Devi Mahatmya was added to the Markandeya Purana either in the 5th or 6th century. [3] [4] [5]

The Dadhimati Mata inscription (608 CE) quotes a portion from the Devi Mahatmya. Thus, it can be concluded that the text was composed before the 7th century CE. [30] It is generally dated between 400-600 CE. [31] Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty dates the Devi Mahatmya to c. 550 CE, and rest of the Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE. [32]

Philosophy

The Devi Mahatmya text is a devotional text, and its aim, states Thomas Coburn, is not to analyze divine forms or abstract ideas, but to praise. [33] This it accomplishes with a philosophical foundation, wherein the female is the primordial creator; she is also the Tridevi as the secondary creator, the sustainer, and destroyer. [33] She is presented, through a language of praise, as the one who dwells in all creatures, as the soul, as the power to know, the power to will and the power to act. [33] She is consciousness of all living beings, she is intelligence, she is matter, and she is all that is form or emotion. [33]

The text includes hymns to saguna (manifest, incarnated) form of the Goddess, as well as nirguna (unmanifest, abstract) form of her. [34] The saguna hymns appear in chapters 1, 4 and 11 of the Devi Mahatmya, while chapter 5 praises the nirguna concept of Goddess. The saguna forms of her, asserts the text, are Mahakali (destroyer, Tamasic, Desire principle of mother), Mahalakshmi (sustainer, evolution principle of mother ,Sattvic) and Mahasaraswati (creator, Action principle of mother , Rajasvic ), [34] which as a collective are called Tridevi . The nirguna concept (Avyakrita, transcendent) is also referred to as Maha-lakshmi. [34] This structure is not accidental, but embeds the Samkhya philosophy idea of three Gunas that is central in Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita . [34]

The Samkhya philosophical premise asserts that all life and matter has all three co-existent innate tendencies or attributes (Guṇa), whose equilibrium or disequilibrium drives the nature of a living being or thing. [35] [36] Tamasic is darkness and destructiveness (represented as Kali in Devi Mahatmya), Sattvic is light and creative pursuit (Mahalakshmi), and Rajasic is dynamic energy qua energy without any intent of being creative or destructive (Mahasaraswati). [34] The unmanifest, in this philosophy, has all these three innate attributes and qualities, as potent principle within, as unrealized power, and this unrealized Goddess dwells in every individual, according to Devi Mahatmya. [33] This acknowledgment of Samkhya dualistic foundation is then integrated into a monistic (non-dualistic, Advaita) spirituality in Devi Mahatmya, just like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana and other important texts of Hinduism. [37] [38]

Contents

The Goddess in Indian traditions

The Devi-Mahatmya is not the earliest literary fragment attesting to the existence of devotion to a goddess figure, but it is surely the earliest in which the object of worship is conceptualized as Goddess, with a capital G.

Thomas Coburn [39]

The Devī Māhātmya consists of chapters 81-93 of the Mārkandeya Purana, one of the early Sanskrit Puranas, which is a set of stories being related by the sage Markandeya to Jaimini and his students (who are in the form of birds). The thirteen chapters of Devi Māhātmya are divided into three charitas or episodes. At the beginning of each episode a different presiding goddess is invoked, none of whom is mentioned in the text itself. [40]

The framing narrative of Devi Mahatmya presents a dispossessed king, a merchant betrayed by his family, and a sage whose teachings lead them both beyond existential suffering. The sage instructs by recounting three different epic battles between the Devi and various demonic adversaries (the three tales being governed by the three Tridevi, respectively, Mahakali (Chapter 1), Mahalakshmi (Chapters 2-4), and Mahasaraswati (Chapters 5-13). Most famous is the story of Mahishasura Mardini – Devi as "Slayer of the Buffalo Demon" – one of the most ubiquitous images in Hindu art and sculpture, and a tale known almost universally in India. Among the important goddess forms the Devi Mahatmyam introduced into the Sanskritic mainstream are Kali and the Sapta-Matrika ("Seven Mothers"). [41]

First episode

Vishnu vanishes Madhu-Kaitabha, with Devi in the background. Vishnu Vanquishing the Demons Madhu and Kaitabha (recto), Text (verso), Folio from a Devimahatmya (Glory of the Goddess) LACMA M.84.229.5.jpg
Vishnu vanishes Madhu-Kaitabha, with Devi in the background.


The first story of the Devi Mahatmya depicts Devi in her form as Mahakali. Here Devi is central and key to the creation; she is the power that induces Narayana's deep slumber on the waters of the cosmic ocean prior to the manifestation of the Universe which is a continuous cycle of manifestation, destruction and re-manifestation. Vishnu manifests from all pervading Narayan and goes into deep slumber on Adi Sesha. Two demons, Madhu-Kaitabh, arise as thoughtforms from Vishnu's sleeping body and endeavour to vanquish Brahma who is preparing to create the next cycle of the Universe. Brahma sings to the Great Goddess, asking her to withdraw from Vishnu so he may awaken and slay the demons. Devi agrees to withdraw and Vishnu awakens and vanquishes the demons. Here Devi serves as the agent who allows the cosmic order to be restored. [42]

Middle episode

The middle episode presents goddess Mahalakshmi in the avatar of Durga. She is a great Warrior Goddess, representing divine anger and the lethal energy against evil. The episode stages a world under attack by a form-shifting Mahishasura, an evil demon who uses deception to disarm his opponents, ultimately taking the form of a buffalo demon. He defeats the male gods individually, who fear total annihilation of the forces of good. They team up, combine their individual strengths and channel it into endowed Durga. Riding a lion into battle, Durga captures and slays the buffalo demon, by cutting off its head. She then destroys the inner essence of the demon when it emerges from the buffalo's severed neck, thereby establishing order in the world. [43] [44] [45]

In the theological practices of the goddess tradition of Hinduism, the middle episode is the most important. If a community or individual cannot recite the entire Devi Mahatmya composition, the middle episode alone is recited at a puja or festival. [46] Further, when the recital begins, the tradition is to complete the reading of the middle episode completely as a partial reading is considered to create a spiritual chidra or "chink in the armor". [46]

Final episode

The Goddess Ambika leading the Eight Matrikas in battle (top row, from the left) Narasinhmi, Vaishnavi, Kaumari, Maheshvari, Brahmani. (bottom row, from left) Varahi, Aindri and Chamunda or Kali against the demon Raktabija. A Folio from the Devi Mahatmya. Ashta-Matrika.jpg
The Goddess Ambika leading the Eight Matrikas in battle (top row, from the left) Narasinhmi, Vaishnavi, Kaumari, Maheshvari, Brahmani. (bottom row, from left) Varahi, Aindri and Chamunda or Kali against the demon Raktabija. A Folio from the Devi Mahatmya.

The final episode depicts Devi in her form of Mahasaraswati.She is portrayed as arising from the cells or koshas of Devi Saraswati and hence she is named as Devi Kaushiki. Kali may be understood to represent or "aspect" the darker, chthonic, transformative qualities of Devi's power or Shakti. Kali's emergence is chronicled in the third story of the Devi Mahatmya. Kali,in the form of Chamunda emerges from Devi's eyebrows as a burst of psychic energy. Kali overpowers and beheads Chanda and Munda, and when she delivers their severed heads to Devi, she is dubbed Chamunda.

During a fierce battle in which the Great Goddess demonstrates her omnipotence by defeating powerful demons who terrify the devas, she encounters the fierce Raktabija (chapter 8). Every drop of blood Raktabija sheds transforms into another demon as it touches the earth. A unique strategy has to be devised to vanquish him. A fiery burst of energy emerging from Devi's third eye takes the dark skeletal form of goddess Kali. With her huge mouth and enormous tongue she ferociously laps up Raktabija's blood, thus preventing the uprising of further demons.

The story continues in which Devi, Kali and a group of Matrikas destroy the demonic brothers Sumbha (chapter 10) and Nisumbha (chapter 9). In the final battle against Shumbha, Devi absorbs Kali and the matrikas and stands alone for the final battle. [43]

Symbolism of the three episodes

Who is this Goddess?

I resemble in form Brahman,
from me emanates the world,
which has the Spirit of Prakriti and Purusha,
I am empty and not empty,
I am delight and non-delight,
I am knowledge and ignorance,
I am Brahman and not Brahman.

Devi Mahatmya [24]

Devadatta Kali states that the three tales are "allegories of outer and inner experience". [47] The evil adversaries of the Goddess, states Kali, symbolize the all-too-human impulses, such as pursuit of power, or possessions, or delusions such as arrogance. [47] The Goddess wages war against this. [47] Like the philosophical and symbolic battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita , the Devi Mahatmya symbolic killing grounds target human frailties, according to Kali, and the Goddess targets the demons of ego and dispels our mistaken idea of who we are. [47]

Most hymns, states Thomas Coburn, present the Goddess's martial exploits, but these are "surpassed by verses of another genre, viz., the hymns to the Goddess". [48] The hymnic portion of the text balances the verses that present the spiritual liberation power of the Goddess. [49] These hymns describe the nature and character of the Goddess in spiritual terms:

  1. Brahma-stuti (part 1 start), [50]
  2. Sakradi-stuti (part 2 end), [51]
  3. The "Ya Devi" Hymn (part 3 start), [52]
  4. Narayani-stuti (part 3 end). [53]

Angas (Appendages)

A 17th-century Devimahatmya manuscript. Devimahatmya (Glory of the Goddess) manuscript LACMA M.88.134.7.jpg
A 17th-century Devimahatmya manuscript.

As an independent text, Devī Māhātmya has acquired a number of "limbs" or "subsidiary texts" or "appendages" (angas) over the years "fore and aft". According to Coburn "artistic evidence suggests that the angas have been associated with the text since the fourteenth century." The angas are chiefly concerned with the ritual use of Devī Māhātmya and based on the assumption that the text will be recited aloud in the presence of images. [54]

There are two different traditions in the Anga parayana. One is the trayanga parayana (Kavacha, Argala, Keelaka). The other is the Navanga parayana (Nyasam, Avahanam, Namani, Argalam, Keelakam, Hrudayam, Dhalam, Dhyanam, Kavacham). The navanga format is followed in kerala and some other parts in South India.

Preceding subsidiary texts

Either the Ratri Suktam (Vedic) or Ratri Suktam (Tantrik) is read depending upon whether the ritual is Vaidic or Tantrik.

One of the texts recited by some traditions is the Devī-Atharva-Śirṣa-Upaniṣad (Devi Upaniṣad).

Succeeding subsidiary texts

The number and order of these depend on the Sampradaya (tradition). [59] [60]

Either the Devi Suktam (Vedic) or Devi Suktam (Tantrik) is read depending upon whether the ritual is Vedic or Tantrik.

At the end of a traditional recitation of the text, a prayer craving pardon from the Goddess known as Aparadha Kshmapana Stotram is recited.

Significance

The Devi Mahatmya was considered significant among the Puranas by Indologists. This is indicated by the early dates when it was translated into European languages. It was translated into English in 1823, followed by an analysis with excerpts in French in 1824. It was translated into Latin in 1831 and Greek in 1853. [61]

Devi Mahatmya has been translated into most of the Indian languages. There are also a number of commentaries and ritual manuals. The commentaries and ritual manual followed vary from region to region depending on the tradition.

Place in the Hindu canon

Devi portrayed as Mahishasura Mardini, Slayer of the Buffalo Demon -- a central episode of the Devi Mahatmya Durga Mahisasuramardini.JPG
Devi portrayed as Mahishasura Mardini , Slayer of the Buffalo Demon — a central episode of the Devi Mahatmya

Devi Māhātmyam has been called the Testament of Shakta philosophy. [62] It is the base and root of Shakta doctrine. [63] It appears as the centre of the great Shakti tradition of Hinduism. [64]

It is in Devi Mahatmya, states C Mackenzie Brown, that "the various mythic, cultic and theological elements relating to diverse female divinities were brought together in what has been called the 'crystallization of the Goddess tradition." [65]

The unique feature of Devi Māhātmyam is the oral tradition. Though it is part of the devotional tradition, it is in the rites of the Hindus that it plays an important role. The entire text is considered as one single Mantra and a collection of 700 Mantras.

The Devi Māhātmyam is treated in the cultic context as if it were a Vedic hymn or verse with sage (ṛṣi), meter, pradhnadevata, and viniyoga (for japa). It has been approached, by Hindus and Western scholars, as scripture in and by itself, where its significance is intrinsic, not derived from its Puranic context. [66]

According to Damara Tantra "Like Aswamedha in Yagnas, Hari in Devas, Sapthsati is in hymns." "Like the Vedas; Saptasati is eternal" says Bhuvaneshwari Samhita. [67]

There are many commentaries on Devi Māhātmya.

The significance of Devi Māhātmya has been explained in many Tantric and Puranic texts like Katyayani Tantra, Gataka Tantra, Krodha Tantra, Meru Tantram, Marisa Kalpam, Rudra Yamala, and Chidambara Rahasya. [68] A number of studies of Shaktism appreciate the seminal role of Devi Māhātmya in the development of the Shakta tradition.

Recitation of Durga Mahatmya on Mahalaya marks the formal beginning of the Durga Puja festival 5438g sreebhumi-bhavanipur pratima.jpg
Recitation of Durga Mahatmya on Mahalaya marks the formal beginning of the Durga Puja festival

The recitation of Devi Mahatmya is done during the Sharad Navaratri (Oct. - Nov.) in India. It is recited during Navratri celebrations, the Durga Puja festival and in Durga temples of India. [19] The text is also recited during the Vasantha Navaratri (March - April) in Uttarakhand, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh and other states of north India. It is also chanted during special occasions like temple kumbabhishekam and as a general parihara.

See also

Notes

  1. Devi Suktam hymn (abridged): [27]

    I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures, most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.
      Thus gods have established me in many places with many homes to enter and abide in.
    Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them, – each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken.
      They know it not, yet I reside in the essence of the Universe. Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.
    I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that gods and men alike shall welcome.
      I make the man I love exceeding mighty, make him nourished, a sage, and one who knows Brahman.
    I bend the bow for Rudra [Shiva], that his arrow may strike, and slay the hater of devotion.
      I rouse and order battle for the people, I created Earth and Heaven and reside as their Inner Controller.
    On the world's summit I bring forth sky the Father: my home is in the waters, in the ocean as Mother.
      Thence I pervade all existing creatures, as their Inner Supreme Self, and manifest them with my body.
    I created all worlds at my will, without any higher being, and permeate and dwell within them.
      The eternal and infinite consciousness is I, it is my greatness dwelling in everything.

    Devīsūkta, Rigveda 10.125.3 – 10.125.8, [25] [26] [27]

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References

  1. June McDaniel 2004, pp. 215-216.
  2. David Kinsley 1988, pp. 101-102.
  3. 1 2 Cheever Mackenzie Brown 1998, p. 77 note 28.
  4. 1 2 Coburn 1991, pp. 13.
  5. 1 2 3 Coburn 2002, p. 1.
  6. 1 2 Tracy Pintchman 2014, p. 86.
  7. 1 2 Coburn 1991, pp. 27-31.
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