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Five Pillars Yoga

Get To Know The Gods: Exploring the Hindu Pantheon

Meet Durga: The Eight-Armed Demon Killer

In case you missed last month’s post on Ganesh, we’ve got a new series going on over here — Get To Know The Gods: Exploring the Hindu Pantheon — a dive into the mythology surrounding the Hindu deities.

This week the goddess of the hour is DurgaNavaratri, or Durga puja, began on October 1 and the celebrations will continue for nine nights. Puja is a prayer ritual or act of worship performed to honor a deity, and this particular ceremony honors Durga’s creation story.

As the tale goes, the gods were in trouble. Mahishasura, a demon born from the union of a human with an inflated ego who fell in love with a water buffalo, had staged a coup and claimed heaven as his own. The gods’ rage was so intense they manifested a new being, Durga, who formed from the flames shooting out of the gods’ eyes.

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Durga, then, is known as the brilliance of all the gods. Awed and impressed, her cohorts bestowed upon her many powerful gifts.

Durga’s Weapons

  • Conch Shell: Symbolizes the sacred sound Om; the sound of God in the palm of her hand.
  • Bow and Arrows: Durga has control over energy in all its forms — potential and kinetic.
  • Thunderbolt: A signal to attack with firmness. A thunderbolt breaks that which it strikes without being destroyed. The message: Move forward with confidence.
  • Lotus: The blossom in Durga’s hand is not fully bloomed. Born from mud, the lotus stands for continual spiritual evolution. We are always in process.
  • Sudarshan-Chakra: A spinning disc with 108 serrated edges that revolves around Durga’s finger, never touching it. She uses it to destroy evil and support righteousness.
  • Sword: Durga’s sword symbolizes knowledge, a tool that can cut deeper than any weapon. Doubt-free, this knowledge shines like a polished blade.
  • Trident: Each prong of the trident marks one of three interconnected qualities — Satwa (light or clarity, non-doing); Rajas (action and movement); and Tamas (inertia, heaviness). Concurrently, the trident signifies Durga as the remover of three types of suffering: physical, mental and spiritual.

A goddess needs many hands to hold those weapons, and Durga has plenty.

Durga’s Arms

Depending on the representation, Durga has eight or ten hands, an indication that she protects her devotees from all directions. Also, weapon holders.

Durga’s Eyes

Durga is referred to as Triyambake, the three-eyed Goddess. The left eye represents desire, the right eye action, and the central eye knowledge.

Durga’s Mount: The Lion

The lion is a universal symbol of power. Here he also stands for will and determination, qualities over which Mother Durga has complete mastery. Durga came into being to defeat the demon Mahishasura, a clear stand-in for ego and an inflated sense of self. To destroy the ego, first come into possession of power, will and determination.

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Oh, yeah, the demon Mahishasura! To pick up the creation myth where we left off, Durga destroyed him. As if you had any doubt.

So what does this have to do with yoga? As the warrior goddess of strength, protection, and courage Durga is all about staying calm in chaos and graceful under pressure. She is great example for anyone getting too caught up in the “doing” instead of the “being” of yoga. Though she may appear violent (all those weapons!), Durga is more about mastery and total clarity. When she strikes she never misses. Practice with a clear intention and observe the results.

Photos: Top and bottom image; middle image