In the Hindu spiritual perception, “Shakti” stands for creative feminine force which appeared in various forms in different period of time. She showered kindness in the incarnation of Annapurna and exhibited fearlessness in the warrior form of Durga.
An Asura named Mahishasura performed severe penance and earned the blessings of Lord Shiva that nobody except a woman would be able to kill him. Equipped with this blessing, Mahishasura unleashed a reign of terror and established his supremacy. The humiliated gods prayed to Lord Brahma for his intervention. Lord Brahma, in consultation with Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, decided to create a woman with the pure divine energy possessed by them. They emitted beams of fierce light and Durga emerged from the vast sea of light.
Durga’s entire body was composed of the limbs and organs of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, several other revered gods. The fearsome weapons and the divine objects such as trident, disc, conch, noose, spear, arrows, thunderbolt, bell, axe, sword and shield with which she was to fight the fierce and cruel demon Mahishasura were also gifted by gods.
It is said that at the beginning of the battle, the invincible Mahishasura underestimated Durga but as Durga went on striking down the demons of his army with ease and sending them in total chaos and confusion, Mahishashura realized her real power and started changing his forms frequently to outwit her. First he took the form of a buffalo but got defeated by Durga. He then took the form of a lion and Durga beheaded him. He tried to escape in the form of a man but was again struck by Durga’s arrows. Then he assumed the form of a gigantic elephant and attacked Durga’s lion. Durga’s sword chopped its tusk off.
In the final phase, Mahishasura again took the form of a terrifying buffalo and Durga, after drinking the divine elixir gifted to her by Kuber, pounced on the demon and beheaded him with her Khargo.
The battle between Durga and Mahishasura was actually a battle against the demonic forces that sought to destroy the balance of the universe. By eliminating Mahishasura, she restored the balance and protected the universe.
Durga is also regarded as a protector of the humankind. In the Ramayana, Rama sought her blessings to be able to defeat Ravana. His devotion pleased Durga and with her blessing, Rama vanquished Ravana in the battle of Lanka. The good prevailed over the evil.
Goddess Durga is worshipped with great fervour all over India. Durga Puja is an annual festival in eastern India. In other parts of the country, the ceremonial worship of the Goddess is called by different names such as Dussehra and Shaarika. In north India, gigantic effigies of Ravana are burnt to celebrate Rama’s victory over Ravana. In Gujarat, the worship continues for nine days (Navaratri) and ends on the victorious tenth day (Vijaya Dashami). During the nine days, Garba dance is performed to celebrate the victory of Durga over Mahishasura.
Beside the festivals, Goddess Durga is worshipped in different names in different temples across India.