Agni Mantra

Agni Mantra

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Durga Saptashati/Devi Mahatmyam

From: Narasimha P.V.R. Rao <pvr@charter.net>
Date: May 13, 2006 4:42 PM
Subject: [sohamsa] On Durga Saptashati/Devi Mahatmyam (long)
To: sohamsa@yahoogroups.com

Namaste friends,
> |om gurave namah |
> Respected Gurujis,
>
> I have heard a lot about Durga saprastuti; what is Durga saptastuti? What is its significance in vedic astrology?
>
> Any pointers or explanation in this regards are appreciated.
>
> Regards,
> Pranav
You asked a good question. I've been thinking of writing about Devi Mahatmyam for a while and have an occasion to do it now.
There is something known as Durga Saptashloki, which is 7 verses in the prayer of Divine Mother. This is a short form of a bigger treatise known as Durga Saptashati. I will focus on the latter in this mail.
Durga Saptashati (aka Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi saptashati or Chandipath) is a collection of 700 verses about Divine Mother. It is from Maarkandeya Puraanam.
The 700 verses are arranged in 13 chapters. Also, they are arranged in 3 parts (charitas). Some parts have more chapters and some parts have less. The three parts have MahaaKaali, MahaaLakshmi and MahaaSaraswati as the deities. They have Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda as the swarupas, i.e. each Veda is a different representation/form/essence of each part. The purposes of the three parts are dharma, artha and kaama respectively. They have aim, hreem and kleem as the beejas.
* * *
Some people mistakenly think that it is merely an account of the exploits of Durgaa and her slaying of demons Mahisha, Chanda, Munda, Raktabeeja, Shumbha, Nishumbha etc. They view it as a collection of stories. But, IMHO, that is a very limited view. Devi mahatmyam is much more than a collection of stories. Vedas are its swarupam!
Devi mahatmyam is the very definition of the nature of Divine Mother. When I say Divine Mother, I am not talking about limited forms. I am talking about unlimited Shakti (energy) behind all limited Shaktis. Some people call her Durgaa, some call her Chandi and some call her Mahaalakshmi. The name does not matter that much. Bottomline is that She is the Moola Prakriti, the root nature, of all that manifests. She is the force that drives everything in the universe.
Towards the end, the 11th chapter (titled "Naaraayani Stuti") describes gods praying to the Divine Mother after slaying all the demons. They address Her as "Naaraayani". This is consistent with the difference between Narayana and Vishnu that we maintain at SJC. Vishnu is one of the Trimurthis. He is of Sattva guna and sustains the creation. Narayana is gunaateeta (above gunas/attributes). He is the Sahasraseersha and Parama Purusha. Some people may describe the same as Samba Sada Shiva, but let us not get caught in names. When we are essentially speaking about an entity that is beyond attributes, it is foolish to argue about the name. After all, name too is an attribute. Though great people gave different names to the Parama Purusha, the names essentially capture the nature of the path those people took to experience the Parama Purusha rather than the nature of Parama Purusha, which is beyond names and attributes.
The bottomline is that there is a Parama Purusha above the Trimurthis (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). If we call him Narayana, then Narayani is his Shakti and She is the root cause of all creation. She is inseparable from Him. Don't imagine Narayani as a separate form. That is a mistake. She is simply the power of Narayana. Neither Narayana nor Narayani have a form. After all, Narayana is gunaateeta and formless. Though He CAN take forms, forms only "limit" Him. His highest nature is that He has no form or attributes. Similarly, Amba is not a separate person, but simply the power of Samba Shiva. They are inseparable (just as Sourav said in a separate discussion on "Samba Shiva and Adwaita").
Coming back to the point, the nine Shaktis who fought demons, i.e. Brahmaani, Maaheswari, Kaumaari, Vaishnavi/Lakshmi, Vaaraahi, Naarasimhi, Sivadooti and Chaamundaa/Kaali, are all described as different forms of Naaraayani. I am quoting the slokas below in ITrans format. If you have ITranslator, copy the text into it and see it in Sanskrit.
haMsayuktavimAnasthe brahmANIrUpadhAriNi |
kaushAmbhaHkSarike devi nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-13
trishUlachandrAhidhare mahAvR^iShabhavAhini |
mAheshvarIswarUpeNa nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-14
mayUrakukkuTavR^ite mahAshaktidhare.anaghe |
kaumArIrUpasaMsthAne nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-15
shaMkhachakragadAshAr~NgagR^ihItaparamAyudhe |
prasIda vaiShNavIrUpe nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-16
gR^ihItogramahAchakre daMShTroddhR^itavasundhare |
varAharUpiNIshive nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-17
nR^isiMharUpeNogreNa hantuM daityAn kR^itodyame |
trailokyatrANasahite nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-18
kirITini mahAvajre sahasranayanojjvale |
vR^itraprANahare devi nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-19
shivadUtIswarUpeNa hatadaityamahAbale |
ghorarUpe mahArAve nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-20
daMShTrAkarAlavadane shiromAlAvibhUShaNe |
chAmuNDe muNDamathane nArAyaNi namo.astu te || 11-21
The nine Shaktis that fought the demons are described as various forms/manifestations of Naaraayani here. Thus, Devi Mahatmyam is essentially about the Shakti of Gunaateeta Parama Purusha (Narayana). All devatas come from Him and hence the shaktis (energies) of all devatas come from His shakti (Narayani). Thus, Devi Mahatmyam is about the nature of the most supreme energy of this universe!
* * *
Though Devi Mahatmyam looks like stories, there are very valuable lessons on Her nature in it. The deeper you go, the more you can understand and appreciate the lessons in the stories. Let me give a couple of examples.
(1) When various Mothers are going to war with demons, this is how it is described (8-14): "Whatever form, decoration, weapons and vehicle each god has, his shakti (energy) came in the same form, decoration, weapons and vehicle." The next 9 verses describe how Brahmaani etc came. For example, Brahmaani came on a swan with aksha sutra and kamandalu (worn by Brahma), Maaheswari came on a great bull with a Trishoola and She wore a big snake and Moon. And so on.
What is the message hidden in the above description? The fact that these female deities are identical to the male counterparts in form, decoration, weapons and vehicles suggests, to me, that they are not really separate from the male counterparts. Brahma and Brahmaani are not separate. Maheswara and Maaheswari are not separate. Vishnu and Vaishnavi are not separate. And so on. Brahmaani is simply the shakti (vitality/energy) of Brahma. Maaheswari is simply the shakti (vitality/energy) of Maheswara. And so on.
Of course, if you imagine Vaishnavi (Lakshmi) as a separate person with certain attributes, She may manifest limited by your imagination and even give you a darshan in that form. However, that is a limited form and Her true nature is beyond that. Her true and highest nature is that She is an inseparable part of Vishnu and represents the energy of Vishnu. She is the part of Vishnu that makes Vishnu think, desire, act etc. Any other external form is a lower nature of Her.
Thus, contemplation on these verses will make you understand the true nature of male devatas and female devatas and their relationship better. It will enable you to appreciate the highest nature of Shakti.
(2) Take Raktabeeja's slaying. Raktabeeja is a demon with a special ability. If a drop of blood falls from his body on the ground, another demon will be born from it and will be of the same size, age and strength as the original Raktabeeja even at birth. As Vaishnavi, Maaheswari, Aindri etc were hurting Raktabeeja in the fight, more and more demons were being born and all the gods were scared. Then Chandikaa told Kaali to expand her face and eat all the demons as they are born. Chandika goes around the war ground eating all the demons as they are born and eventually Raktabeeja runs out of blood.
This looks like a nice story. But, is there is a deeper meaning in it? Why was Kaali the chosen one and not Vaishnavi or Naarasimhi or Aindri?
The word rakta means blood. Another meaning is "desire/passion". Actually, both the meanings are linked and the word comes from the root ranj/rang, which means "to color". Of course, in our astrology also, Moon shows rakta dhatu (blood) and he is also the karaka for desires.
Raktabeeja means "the seed of desire". Raktabeeja fighting with gods symbolizes desires taking the better of our good judgment and good qualities. Each human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm that the universe is. All devatas reside in us as various good qualities and all demons reside in us as various undesirable qualities. When we are overcome by desires and do bad deeds, the Raktabeeja within us is defeating the gods within us.
The thing is that desires are difficult to get rid of. You get rid of one desire and another desire is born. That is what Raktabeeja's special ability means. The "seed of desires" within us will keep producing more and more desires. It is very resourceful.
Then, why Kaali to destroy Him?
In astrology, we associate Mahaakaala and Mahaakaali with Saturn. Kaali shows detachment and vairaagyam. She wears a garland of skulls, symbolizing that there is an endless cycle (garland) of births a material form (skull) goes thru. The way Kaali shows to overcome the cycle is vairaagyam and detachment. She shows meaningful and highest level of vairaagyam that comes with a deep understanding of the cycle of material forms.
To fully cut off the "seed of desires" so that one does not get any more desires, one needs to develop vairaagyam and detachment and keep on destroying desires as they are born and persist like that. After persisting for a long time, the "seed of desires" will run out of desires and one will overcome desires.
Thus, simple stories have deep meanings. This particular story celebrates the value of detachment, vairaagyam and persistence - Saturnine qualities.
* * *
Durga Saptashati is what is used in Chandi homam. It is very auspicious to read everyday or on Ashtami/Navami/Chaturdasi days. It takes 1-2.5 hours. When I read it for the first time on March, it took me 2 hours. Now it takes me 50 min. If you don't have much time, you may want to read one chapter per day.
Merely chanting it without understanding the meaning is also excellent and produces results. Understanding the meaning and marvelling at the power of the Mother makes one fearless and energetic and also give material benefits. Understanding the deeper meanings and appreciating the True Nature of the Mother makes one realize one's own true nature. It has various benefits at various levels of sadhana. It is tough to exactly say what benefit it gives, as that depends on the evolution level of sadhaka and his attitude. But, there is something in Chandipath for everyone!
It is more effective if you read the moola mantra (the Navakshari mantra or, preferably, Dasakshari mantra with Om added) 108 times before AND after chanting 700 verses.
I will give one interesting personal anecdote. I started reading Durga Sapta Shati during Shata Chandi Homam at Chennai in March. I took a vow to read it for 108 consecutive days. After I finished exactly 40 days of reading it, a priest who came to our house gifted me a one foot tall panchaloha idol of Ashtadasa Bhuja Maha Lakshmi (Narayani with 9x2=18 hands).
* * *
There are no classical references, to my knowledge, on the mapping between the the nine planets and the nine forms of Narayani described in Saptashati, who fought with demons. But obviously there must be a link. Here is my first shot at it:
Brahmaani: Jupiter
Maaheswari: Moon
Kaumaari: Mars
Vaishnavi: Mercury
Vaaraahi: Rahu
Naarasimhi: Ketu
Aindri: Sun
Sivadooti: Venus
Chaamundaa/Kaali: Saturn
May the light of Brahman shine within,
Narasimha
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8 comments:

sumi said...

I was totally inspired by ur explanation..it was as though it was meant for me to understand...i havnt read the book yet..but ur writing gave me the satisfaction of reading...can u please qoute me some other examples..
sumithra

Sphurthy Ravindra said...

Very nice article, throws a lot of light.

One question -

Where do I get to listen the first chapter of Durga Saptasati.

Are there available online or are the CDs available

Shyam said...

Dear Narasimha,
Namaste- I think it matters whether or not you are a sanskrit scholar as to how long it takes. As a person without much knowledge of Sanskrit, it takes a long time due to the complex conjugations which need to be de-conjugated to be able to read.

However, with the grace of Her who is within and the Guru, I am able to persevere.

Happy Navaratri- Om Namaschandikayai.

Anonymous said...

Respected Narasimha,

that was a wonderful description of Devi. Thank you so much.

Umakanth.

Australia said...

Thanx for such a wonderful information.....
1 thing i wanted to ask u is that is there any specific time to read the adyas!!!!!
secondly if we have started reading the adhays should we finish all the adyas in one day???
I will be really thankful to u if u will answer my questions!!!
thanx
SYDNEY,Aus

shailendra said...

hi
very interesting article. i was wondering if you could advice me with regard to the reading of the Durga Saptashti. I had two questions. 1. Is it just as good if one were to recite this in hindi instead of sanskrit. 2. any idea on how one could learn how to recite it in sanskrit as in any video mp3 that teaches. thanks regards shailendra

Anonymous said...

For anyone interested in understanding the deeper meaning of Devi Mahatmyam, you may want to read the book titled above by Devadatta Kali (David Nelson)

Pam A said...

Great explanation, till now never knew what is Durga Saptashati?

Thanks alot
Pam