« Back to articlePrint this article

Why Goddess Adi Shakti became Durga

October 17, 2020 11:28 IST

'Seeing Durgamasura ready for a war, the goddess appeared in her warrior form.'
Let’s celebrate the beginning of Navratri 2020 with this lovely excerpt from Nava Durga: The Nine Forms Of The Goddess by Nalini Ramachandran.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Goddess Durga 

Durga, as this powerful warrior-goddess is known,
Has nine special forms-each one unique, not just a clone.

Durga: The Warrior-Goddess Says Hello

EEEEYEAH! . . . Hahh! . . . Kapowww—Whoops! . . . Umm, hello! . . . I didn’t notice you. I was just practising some fight moves. 

I’m Durga, Adi Shakti’s warrior form. 

As a warrior-goddess, I’m always ready for a war. 

Why, you ask? Well, because the asuras keep scaring the devas, shoo them out of their own homes in Deva Lok, steal their stuff . . . Oof! The list just goes on. 

So my main job is to protect the devas and Prithvi Lok too, by fighting the asuras and other evil beings. 

No, no! I don’t fight all the time. 

I’m a lot like you, actually. I laugh and cry, I talk and sleep, I eat and drink, and I have secrets to keep. 

But I’m also unlike any human being. 

See these? I have 10 hands and three eyes (yes, I have a third eye on my forehead). 

Another cool thing about me is that I can live forever. I can be reborn again and again or create a new ‘me’, and have a new name and story in every life or form . . . like the Nava Durga, my nine special forms. 

And oh, I can live alongside another avatar of mine. For example, I can see and talk to Ambika, who is one of my many forms. It’s a little strange, but it’s fun too. 


That reminds me . . . I have the most fun during Navaratri, the festival where human beings worship my nine special forms, every year, during September and October. 

I enjoy coming to your homes, eating tasty foods, getting dressed in all the shiny clothes you gift me, singing and dancing with you, and fulfilling your wishes too. 

There’s so much I want to tell you about! 

All those interesting Navaratri celebrations, how I and the Nava Durga came into being, and also about how I live . . . I mean, Adi Shakti lives (It’s the same thing, actually!) inside you as shaktis or powers that each of the Nava Durga is known for. 

The story of Durga: The Protector of Good and the Destroyer of Evil

The asuras had not always been mean. But some of them desired to possess the same kind of superpowers that the devas had. So they would often pray to the three powerful gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and ask for clever boons. 

These gods granted them such powers, because they could not say no to someone who had prayed to them sincerely.

Once they got such powers and boons, the asuras would use their new powers to trouble the devas and even throw them out of their homes in Deva Lok.

Over time, these asuras became very cruel. So much so that, instead of being known as ‘mighty beings’, the asuras came to be called ‘demons’. 

Durgam was one such asura.

He wanted to be the king of all three worlds -- Deva Lok, Prithvi Lok and Patala Lok (the world where the asuras lived). So he prayed to Brahma.

‘I am pleased with your prayers,’ said Brahma, as he appeared in front of Durgam. ‘What do you wish for?’

Durgam was a smart asura and he knew exactly what to ask for.

‘I want to be a hundred times stronger than the devas. Also, I want all four Vedas ,’ he said.

‘Granted!’ Brahma declared.

Durgam was thrilled.

He had asked for the four Vedas -- Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva -- because he knew that the gods got the strength and power to go about their work only when the sages recited the Vedas. Now that he had the Vedas, the gods could do nothing!

The Vedas were not just sacred texts from which the sages read; they had great knowledge and their own set of powers. They realised what Durgam was up to. So they appeared before Brahma, in the form of humans, and made a request.

‘O all-knowing Brahma,’ Rig began.

‘Please don’t give us away to Durgam,’ Sama continued sadly.

‘Don’t you see, he’s an asura. He may have evil plans!’ cried Yajur.

‘Don’t grant this wish of his. Please!’ pleaded Atharva finally.

But Brahma only said, ‘I’m sorry, O sacred Vedas. I understand your fear, but Durgam’s prayers were sincere. So, for good or for worse, his wishes must be granted. That’s the law of the universe!’

The Vedas were disappointed. For, like they had expected, Durgam grew very proud of the new powers Brahma had blessed him with.

The Vedas warned him that his pride will lead to his fall.

But Durgam only laughed. ‘It’s my time to rule the three worlds,’ he said. ‘Of course, I am proud. And of what use is your knowledge and power, when by an asura you’ve been cowed?’ Saying so, Durgam chained the four Vedas and imprisoned them.

‘Mark our words,’ Rig began.

‘You’re no longer Durgam,’ Sama continued sadly.

‘You’ve turned into a demon. A proud demon!’ cried Yajur.

‘From now on, everyone will remember you as ‘Durgamasura’!’ declared Atharva finally.

But Durgamasura did not care.

He began disturbing all the sages as they sat to perform penance or important rituals. And because the Vedas were locked up in Durgamasura’s palace, they could not help the sages conduct their prayers.

Soon, the sages began to forget how to recite the Vedas.

They tried to remember on their own, and even asked each other for help, but none of them could recall a thing.

When the sages had completely forgotten who or what the Vedas were, the gods began to grow weaker and weaker, until, one day, they could no longer do their duties.

The situation became so bad that Varuna (the god of rain) and Indra (the god of thunder) could not create any rain and thunder.

With no rain, slowly, all the water on Prithvi Lok dried up. All plants, animals and humans were in a sad state.

When it looked like the drought would never end, the people of Prithvi Lok did the only thing they could do to help themselves. They prayed to the gods.

In turn, the gods in Deva Lok cried, ‘O Adi Shakti, help us! Save us! We’re powerless and cannot help Prithvi Lok.’

Nava Durga

When Adi Shakti saw the state of Prithvi Lok, she was moved.

A 100 eyes appeared on her body, leading her to take the form of the goddess Shatakshi.

Tears gushed out from all her eyes like thick waterfalls for nine days and nine nights. This made the dry rivers, lakes and oceans on Prithvi Lok overflow with water. 

After giving back water, Shatakshi became Shakambhari (the goddess of vegetation) and gave them grains, fruits and vegetables. 

Now Durgam was angry at what the goddess had done. ‘How dare someone act more powerful than I, Durgam, the ruler of the three worlds?’ he fumed, and immediately came with a large army to fight her. 

Seeing him ready for a war, the goddess appeared in her warrior form. And after a long fight, just as she was about to defeat the asura, she told him, ‘It’s the golden rule, Durgamasura! If you want your powers to stay, you must throw your pride away!’ 

Just moments after the victory, the Vedas were freed from Durgamasura’s prison. The four of them came back to Brahma. 

No sooner had they returned than the sages were able to recall and recite the verses. And once again, the gods could do their duties as they had before. 

‘Long live the supreme warrior!’ Rig began. 

‘The one who stands between evil and the universe like a strong fortress,’ Sama continued happily. 

‘The one whom everyone will worship from now on as the goddess of the earth!’ cried Yajur. 

‘The one who will be known as the ‘destroyer of the proud Durgam’!’ pronounced Atharva finally.

‘And for having defeated him, I shall be called Durga!’ the warrior-goddess announced.

‘Praise the Mother Goddess! Praise Durga!’ the devas and the Vedas chanted in joy.

‘Durga!’ the goddess repeated to herself and smiled, ‘I like the name!’

Excerpted from Nava Durga: The Nine Forms Of The Goddess by Nalini Ramachandran, with the kind permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India.