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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. It is part of the Markandeya Purana, and estimated to have been composed in Sanskrit between 400-600 CE.
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Devi Mahatmyam is also known as the Durgā Saptashatī (दुर्गासप्तशती) or Caṇḍī Pāṭha (चण्डीपाठः). The text contains 700 verses arranged into 13 chapters. 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.
The Devi Mahatmyam describes a storied battle between good and evil, where Parvati manifests 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. The verses of this story also outline a philosophical foundation wherein the ultimate reality (Brahman in Hinduism) is female. 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. The Devi Mahatmya is often ranked in some Hindu traditions to be as important as the Bhagavad Gita.
The Devi Mahatmya has been particularly popular in eastern states of India, such as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Assam, as well as Nepal. It is recited during Navratri celebrations, the Durga Puja festival, and in Durga temples across India.
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 "seven hundred"), as it contains 700 shlokas (verses).
Caṇḍī or Caṇḍika is the name by which the Supreme Goddess is referred to in Devī Māhātmya. According to Coburn, "Caṇḍikā is "the violent and impetuous one," from the adjective caṇḍa, "fierce, violent, cruel." 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."
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.
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.
One of the earliest evidence of reverence for the feminine aspect of God appears in chapter 10.125 of the Rig Veda, also called the Devi Suktam hymn.
Hymns to goddesses are in the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, particularly in the later (100 to 300 CE) added Harivamsa section of it. 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.
Devi Mahatmya is a text extracted from Markandeya Purana, and constitutes the latter's chapters 81 through 93. The Purana is dated to the ~3rd century CE, and the Devi Mahatmya was added to the Markandeya Purana either in the 5th or 6th century.
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. It is generally dated between 400-600 CE. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty dates the Devi Mahatmya to c. 550 CE, and rest of the Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE.
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. 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. 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. She is consciousness of all living beings, she is intelligence, she is matter, and she is all that is form or emotion.
The text includes hymns to saguna (manifest, incarnated) form of the Goddess, as well as nirguna (unmanifest, abstract) form of her. 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), Mahalakshmi (sustainer, Rajasic) and Mahasaraswati (creator, Sattvic), which as a collective are called Tridevi. The nirguna concept (Avyakrita, transcendent) is also referred to as Maha-lakshmi. 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.
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. Tamasic is darkness and destructiveness (represented as Kali in Devi Mahatmya), Sattvic is light and creative pursuit (Sarasvati), and Rajasic is dynamic energy qua energy without any intent of being creative or destructive (Lakshmi). 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. 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.
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.
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").
The first story of the Devi Mahatmya depicts Devi in her universal form as Shakti. 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.
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 as it emerged from the buffalo's severed neck, thereby establishing order in the world.
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. 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".
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 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.
Symbolism of the three episodes
Devadatta Kali states that the three tales are "allegories of outer and inner experience". 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. The Goddess wages war against this. 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.
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". The hymnic portion of the text balances the verses that present the spiritual liberation power of the Goddess. These hymns describe the nature and character of the Goddess in spiritual terms:
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.
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
- Durga Saptasloki also known as "Amba Stuti" - They are introduced as one-verse query from Siva who asks about the means of achieving what is desired, and a one verse response from the Goddess who says she will proclaim the relevant discipline (sadhana) by revealing Amba Studi which consists of the seven verses indicated.
- Devi-kavacham - The Devi Kavacham consisting of 61 Slokas is in Markandeya Purana. This Kavacham (armour) protects the reader in all parts of his body, in all places and in all difficulties.
- Argala-stotram - Here Rishi Markandeya is telling his disciples in 27 inspiring couplets on the greatness of Devi. She has been described in all aspects and names and at the end of each Sloka, prayer is offered to Devi for material prosperity, physical fitness, fame and victory.
- Keelakam - Here also Rishi Markandeya tells his disciples in 16 Slokas, the ways and means of removing obstacles faced by devotees, while reading Devi Mahatmya.
- Ratri Suktam (Vedic) - Ratri Suktam (8 Slokas) has been taken from Rig Veda, 10th Mandala, 10th Anuvaka, 127th Sukta, which shows that Devi was worshipped from time immemorial. Devi is described as the all-pervading Supreme Lord of the Universe appearing in Omkara. Here Ratri is the Goddess who fulfills our prayers.
- Kunjika Stotram is also a beautiful hymn written in the saptashati which is said to be the mixture of the three hymns i.e., Kavacham, Argala stotram, Keelakam and also Rahasya parvam (Murthy Rahasyam and Vaikrutika Rahasyam).It is said that Lord Shiva had recited this shloka to Parvathi at her attainment of BramhaGyaan. This shloka plays an important role in Devi Saptashati. It is at the ending of the book.
- Ratri Suktam (Tantrik) - The hymn in the first chapter is the Tantrik Ratri Sukta.
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
- Pradhana Rahasyam - "Deals with the process of creation. It is the secret about mula Prakrti who is the cause of creation."
- Vaikritika Rahasyam - "Describes how the Godhead beyond change subjected itself to change, how the mula prakrti (productive), became vikriti (produced); hence the name Vaikritika Rahasyam."
- Murti Rahasyam - "The incarnations, the Avatar murtis of the Goddess are mentioned."
- Devi Suktam (Rig Vedoktam) - (According to Rig Veda): "The 8 Slokas composed by Vak, the daughter of Maharshi Ambharin, are from the Rig Veda, 10th Mandala, 10th Anuvaka, 125th Sukta. These Slokas express the truth realised by Vak, who identifies herself as Brahma Sakti, and expresses herself as 11 Rudras, 8 Vasus, 12 Adityas and all the Devas,— Indra, Agni and Asvini Kumaras—who are sustained by Her and She is the source, substratum and support of the whole world. She is verily Brahmasvarupini (embodiment of Brahman)."
- Devi Suktam (Tantrik) - The hymn in chapter 5 is Tantrik Devi Suktam.
The number and order of these depend on the Sampradaya (tradition).
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
There are many commentaries on Devi Māhātmya.
- Guptavati by Bhaskararaya
- Nagesi by Nagoji Bhat
- Durgapradeepam are some of them.
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. A number of studies of Shaktism appreciate the seminal role of Devi Māhātmya in the development of the Shakta tradition.
In popular tradition
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. 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.
- Devi Suktam hymn (abridged):–Devi Sukta, Rigveda 10.125.3 – 10.125.8,
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.
- June McDaniel 2004, pp. 215-216.
- David Kinsley 1988, pp. 101-102.
- Cheever Mackenzie Brown 1998, p. 77 note 28.
- Coburn 1991, pp. 13.
- Coburn 2002, p. 1.
- Tracy Pintchman 2014, p. 86.
- Coburn 1991, pp. 27-31.
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- Coburn, Thomas B., Encountering the Goddess. p 100
- Kali, Davadatta, p. xvii
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- Thomas B. Coburn. "3. The Text in Translation". Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. State University of New York Press. pp. 29–86 (Complete translation). ISBN 978-0-7914-9931-3.
- Thomas B. Coburn. Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. State University of New York Press. pp. 114–116. ISBN 978-0-7914-9931-3.
- Kali 2003, p. xvii.
- Coburn 2002, p. 72.
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- Swami Sivananda, p 3
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