An archetype, according to CG Jung is ‘’an irrepresentable, unconscious, pre-existent form that seems to be part of the inherited structure of the psyche and can therefore manifest itself spontaneously anywhere, at any time'.
Durga is a major form of Shakti. As an archetype, she is a ‘demon-slayer’, a force to be invoked when dramatic, all-changing breakthroughs within the psyche are required. Though she is a Warrior Goddess par excellence, she always retains her serenity and compassion. Her face remains peaceful and smiling, even mid-battle.
According to legend, Durga was formed from part of the Divine Radiance of all the Gods and Goddesses brought together, in order to purify an environment over-run by devilish forces. Because she is formed from this blistering light – that of a supernova, it is said - she is especially beautiful, powerful and luminous.
In particular she had to come into being to deal with the buffalo-demon, Maheesh-asura, who through austerities had received a boon that he could never be conquered by any of the male Gods. Because Durga was formed from all the Gods and Goddesses she partakes of both male and female energies in balance, and is considered the most powerful symbol of deity. She will not be controlled by the male Gods who are said to have summoned her, but she will act in their defence and for their benefit. By pouring out their fire and light in a time of great need they have returned their energies to the primal source – the Great Shakti – and thus recreated the Mother of Them All, who is not subservient to them.
While she is defeating Maheesh, he persistently shape shifts, eluding her in ever more tricky ways (symbolical of the ego that twists and weasels out of our grasp when we try to deal with it), but Durga is never dejected. Instead she laughs madly on the field of battle, red-eyed and intoxicated by ‘’wine’’ or drafts of ‘’life-force’’, and finally she slays the many-faceted demon just as he morphs from a buffalo into a warrior.
Afterwards she promises all the Gods and Goddesses that henceforth she will nourish the earth with vegetation produced for her own form. This is significant – she left the field of battle quietly, she did not require trophies or adulation or a throne. She just did her job and went on her way.
The buffalo demon - morphing constantly into various creatures – represents the animal nature within, and in dealing with it, we (just as the Mother Goddess did) have to become as fierce as the challenger. This shape-shifting monster will not be slain by placating it, nor by appeasement, nor by some subdued, so-called ‘’feminine’’ response. It takes full out, full on battle.
‘’Durga, astride her lion, attacks the monster Mahisha, first with a noose, then with arrows, then with a sword, and each time Mahisha changes shape, from water buffalo, to lion, to elephant, and finally back to buffalo. Durga laughs scornfully, takes a drink from a bowl filled with the liquid of life force, and leaps in the air to attack Mahisha in the neck with her trident (given to her by Shiva). Mahisha tries to leave the buffalo body again, crawling from its mouth in the shape of a hero with a sword. But he has only half emerged when he is grabbed by his hair and beheaded by Durga, the invincible goddess.’’
(Heinrich Zimmer 1942)
Durga is sometimes represented as the comrade in arms of Shiva in battle, his partner, though non-sexual – she is his sister Goddess. More often however she breathes out her own team of female warriors, and does not require additional back-up. On a metaphysical level, she attacks first the inner demons – fears and illusions – knowing that we can never function to slay the outer demons in the manifest world if we are at the mercy of inner wounds and follies that may erupt at any time. Such inner demons, if repressed and unacknowledged, may lurk secretly and thus overpower us at any time.
Durga has been classed in some circles as a man-hater – the ‘’Durga Identity’’ is a form of insult – but this is because she will not take shitake from anyone. She is not however a man-hater – she is loving and serene, benevolently protecting all the creatures who are part of her Maya, her creation; and will only be roused to a battle-fury in the face of improper behaviour. And then she is powerful enough to deal with the consequences, to be serene on a battle field strewn with the corpses of the enemy. She cares not for approval from anyone. She symbolises, in fact, courage and self-confidence and self –love, total self- reliance, in the face of disapproval or annoyance or irritation, or worse.
The name Durga translates as ‘’she who is difficult to approach’’, and yet her many busy arms are symbolical of how she protects her devotees like a fierce Mother from all directions. Durga also means unconquerable or invincible. Her familiar animal is the Lion (or Tiger), which represents bravery, courage and fierce strength. The demons that Durga slays – inner and outer – must be removed so that the land – inner and outer – is cleared for the growth of Self Knowledge and righteousness.
She carries many symbolic weapons in her many hands in artistic representations, but she also has one hand raised in the simple ‘’Abhaya’’ mudra – open palm facing forward – the sign that says ‘’Have no fear!’’ She wears red – the colour of action. In her more domesticated form, she is known as Parvati, and when truly maddened on the field of battle, she is Kali.
Durga’s roots are pre-aryan, and her worship is associated with activities normally frowned upon by orthodox Hindus, such as drinking intoxicants, eating meat and blood sacrifice. She is the antithesis of the traditional Hindu female, being especially independent – she is not associated with any male God in particular, and derives her power from herself alone. She is not surrendered. Indeed Maheesh – asura refuses to fight her initially because, being beautiful and alone, she is only suitable in his mind for ‘’love –play’’ and certainly not to be taken seriously as a warrior. But Durga’s allure is her own possession, and not to be taken lightly, as she soon proves.
She is also associated with agricultural rituals, and bountiful crops. In this matter she is worshipped in hidden places with sex magic and bawdy licentious behaviour, which is practised to encourage fecundity of the earth.
Durga is said to return again and again to the world when demons are needed to be routed. Surely this age is a time in need of Durga. The Indian women marching in the streets against the vile and endemic rape culture of India are Durga’s foot-soldiers. Environmental degradation and political corruption, economic slavery and social injustice are the ‘’asuras’’ or ‘’non-gods’’ who stalk our time and that need the Durga energy to overpower them in battle. The Devi- Mahatmya says... ‘’Though she is eternal (Shakti), the goddess becomes manifest over and over again to protect the world.’’
In this Devi Mahatmya, Durga says (after the heat of the cosmic battle) that she is also quick to respond to the distress of those who come to her individually – thus she is not only the Queen of Cosmic Interventions, but she is also amenable to personal requests. She is said to never turn down the request for victory over demons and obstacles of a devotee in sincere need.
Durga as an archetypal energy is said to invoke protection and the removal of all obstacles that hinder joy. She is the intuitive wisdom of the heart, which will not be restrained by artificial social and gender conditioning.
Durga is often referred to as Mahamaya – the great delusion, but Maya is also equivalent to Shakti. It is both delusion and a creative force. Durga is therefore associated both with the actual creation itself – she IS the world – but also with the concept of ‘’lila’’ or the Gods playing. Even in battle her mind and face are serene – she knows that this battle is a game, a play, an illusion, a temporary now.
The 32 names of Durga (chant)
Durga Tishamani Durga Padvini Varini
Durga Machedini Durga Sadhini
Durga Nashini Durga-tod Dharini
Durga Nihantri Durga Mapaha
Durgama Gyanada Durga DaityaLoka Davanala
Durgam Asura Samhantri
Durgam Ayudha Dharini