Worship of the Goddess goes back at least 4000 years in India, and further back to the Vedic times. Durga is the Goddess of the universe, and Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, is a form of Durga. She has up to 64 different forms,with different names for each form. Each form represents a different pastime, power, or aspect of the Goddess. Some of the names of these forms of Durga are Ambika, Bhadra, Bhadrakali, Aryadurga, Vedagarbha, Kshemakshemakari, Naikabahu, Bhagavati, Katyayani, and others, such as Sati, which means chastity. In her gentle aspects she is worshiped as Kanya, Kamakshi, or Mukamba. Uma (Parvati) is the maiden name for the consort of Lord Shiva. She represents matter (prakriti). Shiva is the god of destruction, which has no meaning without objects to destroy. Thus,he is paired with Uma.

Durga is often pictured as a beautiful woman in red cloth. She has either four, eight, ten, eighteen or twenty hands and three eyes. Items in her hands can include a conch, disc, trident, bow, arrow, sword, dagger, shield, rosary, wine cup, and bell. She may also be standing on a lotus or riding a lion. The lion represents power, but also the animal tendency of greed for food and other sensual objects. Her riding on the lion represents that she keeps all such tendencies under complete control.

The full details of Durga can be found in the Devibhagavat, or another text called the Durgasaptashati, whic can be found as part of the Markandeya Purana. The name “Durga” means one who is difficult to know. Yet, being the mother of the universe, she can be approached through love. Love is also natural for her to give to her children. Durga is the personification of the material energy, in which all materially conditioned living beings are absorbed in thoughts, actions and identity. She is also considered the power of sleep, or the Yoganidra in which Lord Vishnu rests between creative cycles. She is also the personification of wisdom and knowledge. Her energy permeates the universe. She also embodies sacrifice or penance and the highest knowledge. She is most beautiful,but at the same time fierce and terrible. She can dispel difficulties as well as kill the demons.

Another of her popular forms is Mahishasuramardini. In this form she is often pictured with eight arms, each with a weapon, and in the process of killing the demon Mahishasura in his form as a bull. She was generated out of the anger and powers of the gods, namely Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, and others. And their weapons became her weapons. Thus, riding on her fierce lion, she fought and killed Mahishasura and his army. This demon represents the egotistical propensity that brute strength is all that is needed to acquire selfish desires. While fighting amongst the gods, he was succeeding, until their combined powers and will to fight was manifest in the Devi as
Mahishasuramardini, who then killed the demon. Symbolically, Durga destroys the buffalo demon which represents tamo-guna, the dark quality of laziness, ignorance and inertia. So she destroys the tamo-guna within each of us, which can be very difficult to overcome. Another one of her qualities is her wrath, which sometimes manifests as war. Such war cleanses the world of the
many negative elements which accumulate from a sinful society.

Later, when the gods were challenged by the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, they went to petition the Goddess again. This time, from the side of Parvati, she manifested herself as Kaushika Durga, also called Ambika. Ambika’s beauty attracted the demons who then wanted to marry her. She vowed to marry the one who could defeat her in battle, but all such attempts were disastrous. Even with the assistance of giants like Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija, they were unsuccessful. From the forehead of Durga manifested the fierce, dark goddess Kali, who became known as Chamunda for beheading the demons Chanda and Munda. When she fought with Raktabija, it took a special endeavor because of his powers that caused each drop of his spilled blood to become another demon.

It was Kali who managed to drink all of his flowing blood and prevent any additional demons from manifesting. Thus, Durga was able to kill him. She then easily killed Nishumbha, but Shumbha accused her of accepting help. The Devi then withdrew all her emanations into her one form, and then proceeded to battle and kill Shumbha.

Durga is also called Vaishnavishakti, the creative power from Lord Vishnu, the original cause. She is also called Vindhyavasini (the one who lives in the Vindhya mountains), Raktadanta (the one with the red teeth), Shatakshi (who is liked to having one hundred eyes), Shakambhari (who gives the life-force of vegetables), Durgaa (the slayer of the demon Durga), Bhima (the ferocious), and Bhramaramba (one who is liked to having a form of bees). Devi is also manifested as Maheshvari, which, according to the three modes of material nature, also manifests as Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati.

These are different than the Goddesses Lakshmi and Sarasvati, which will be discussed later. In the aspect of Mahakali she is considered the personification of the tamo-guna, or mode of darkness and sleep or inertia. She is also maya, the illusory energy of Lord Vishnu. Thus, this maya must be removed for us to awaken to our real spiritual identity. It is within this maya in which the seeming powers of evil and divisiveness exist. She is often pictured as blue in color with ten hands, each holding a different weapon, including a sword, disc, mace, arrow, bow, iron club, lance, sling, a human head, and a conch. Mahalakshmi is the aspect of raja-guna, the passionate nature. In this aspect she is seen as red in color, signifying the will to fight evil forces. She has eighteen hands, holding a rosary, pot, club, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine cup, trident, noose, and disc. She is the one who killed Mahishasura.

Mahasarasvati represents the sattvic aspect, or that of goodness and purity. She is light in color and has eight hands that hold a bell, trident, plough, conch, pestle, disc, bow, and arrow. She is the manifestation of beauty, work, and organization. It is she, as Kaushika Durga, who manifested from Parvati. She is the one who destroyed the demons known as Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, Raktabija, Nishumbha, and Shumbha, all of which are certain aspects of the principle of ego.

Kali is another form of the Goddess which is often seen in temples and pictures. She is usually pictured as nude except for being covered by her scattered hair. She has a dark complexion. She wears an apron of human hands and a garland of human skulls, and sometimes carries a human head in one hand, freshly severed and dripping with blood, and a long chopper in another hand. The other two hands are giving blessings and offering protection. Her tongue is protruding, dripping with blood. She is also often seen in a cremation ground or in a battlefield amidst dead and mutilated bodies. Sometimes she is standing on the white body or bluish body of her spouse, Shiva.

He supplicates her in this way to keep her from destroying everything. The meaning of all this is that, first of all, Kali represents time, Kala, which devours everything in its terrifying ways. She is naked because she is free from the veil of ignorance that the universe represents, which hides our real spiritual identity. She is black because she represents tama-guna or the void which has swallowed everything, including space, time, and the ingredients of material nature. Her apron of hands indicates that she is pleased with the offerings of our work, so she wears them. It also represents the inward potential for outward manifestation waiting to take place. Her disheveled hair simply represents her freedom to do and go as she likes. The garland of 50 skulls represent the 50 letters of the alphabet, or sound from which the whole material manifestation has sprung, which is now in a state of destruction, indicated by her wearing them.

Though she is an awesome form, she is also offering freedom from fear by her hand gestures. A further explanation of why Goddess Kali stands on Shiva is that once Kali engaged in a battle in which she destroyed all the demons. She danced in victory to such an extent that the worlds started to shake in destruction.

Everyone became concerned and Shiva came to appease her from further dancing. Yet she was so worked up that she could not notice or listen to him. So Shiva lay like a corpse at her feet to absorb the shock of her movements, and when she finally noticed that she had stepped on her husband, she put her tongue out in shame.

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