According to Hindu mythology, a demon named Mahishasura (Buffalo Demon), did a long penance and meditation on Lord Shiva. Shiva granted him a boon saying that no man or deity could kill him. Mahishasura, was drunk with power and thought that the blessing made him invincible as no man or woman in the universe could match his might and power. Filled with arrogance, Mahishasura reigned and started torturing people in all the three lokas. He had conquered the nether lands and earth and then set to conquer Indraloka, the abode of the Gods. He drove all the gods out of heaven, who went to the trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. On hearing the pleas of the gods, Vishnu and Shiv joined their energies to form a powerful devi. Besides the Trinity, other gods like Yama, Moon God, Indra, Varun, Surya also contributed to add to her powers and gave her weapons to defeat the demon. As she was made from the female energies of devas and demigods, she was aptly named Shakti (Durga). On seeing Durga’s beauty, the mesmerised Mahishasur wanted to marry her but Durga said that she will marry him only if he can defeat her in battle. The battle started where Durga easily defeated his armies, and then she faced Mahishasur himself. After many hours of blood and war, Durga grounded Mahishasur, struck him down with her left leg and killed him with her trident. The battle that went on for 9 days went on to be known as Navratra – Nine Nights. And the tenth day is called Vijayadashami.
Ambika and Shumbha – Nishumbha
When the gods were challenged by the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, they approached the Goddess again. This time, from the side of Parvati, she manifested herself as Kaushika Durga, also called Ambika. Ambika’s beauty attracted the demons who then wanted to marry her. She vowed to marry the one who could defeat her in battle, but all such attempts were disastrous. Even with the assistance of giants like Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija, they were unsuccessful. And the Devi destroyed the demons easily.
The Legend of Chamunda
From the forehead of Durga manifested the fierce, dark goddess Kali, who became known as Chamunda for beheading the demons Chanda and Munda. When she fought with Raktabija, it took a special effort because of his powers that caused each drop of his spilled blood to manifest into another demon. It was Kali who managed to drink all of his flowing blood and prevent any additional demons from manifesting. Thus, Durga was able to kill him. She easily killed Nishumbha, but Shumbha accused her of accepting help. The Devi then withdrew all her emanations into a unified form, and then proceeded to battle and kill Shumbha.
Durga in other mythology
The worship of Shakti(Durga) was in vogue in all ages (Yugas). In Satyayug, as it can be seen in Markandeya Purana, Surtha, the king, got back his lost kingdom by worshipping Durga with the help of his spiritual preceptor Maharshee Medha. Sita Devi, in Tretya Yug had worshipped Goddess Viraja (another form of Shakti/Durga) to get Rama Chandra as her spouse. In Dwapar Yug, as revealed in the Srimad Bhagvat, Gopis achieved Lord Krishna as their celestial lover due to worship of Katyayini devi. Rukmini too married Lord Krishna due to grace of Durga and because of her blessing Shishupala was defeated. In Kurukshetra, before the battle of Mahabharata, Arjuna prayed to Goddess Durga after being advised by Lord Krishna and received blessings of victory from Goddess Durga to defeat the powerful Karna. In Kaliyug, also some great sadhakas and spiritual gurus like Rama Krishna Paramahansa (the guru of Swami Vivekanand), Nigamanada have achieved the grace of Durga.
Durga and Kans
At the time of Krishna’s birth in Vrindavana, Yashoda bore a daughter, Katyayani . However Mother Devaki bore a son, Lord Krishna. Krishna’s father, Vasudeva, brought Krishna from Mathura to Gokul , to save him from the wrath of King Kansa, and exchanged him with the daughter of Mother Yasoda, taking the daughter back with him. When King Kansa came to get the new born from Mother Devaki, and threw the child to her death. The child instead of hitting the ground rose into the air. She showed herself as the devi Durga and warned Kans to change his ways unless he wanted to be destroyed by Krishna.
Lord Rama and Goddess Durga
When Lord Rama went to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the king of demons in Lanka, he took the blessings of Durga before starting on his battle. But to worship Durga Maa he needed 108 blue lotuses. Lord Rama managed to get only 107 lotuses. For the last one he got ready to cut his lotus shaped eye for the puja. Maa Durga was very pleased with his devotion and granted him her blessings. The battle ensued, Ravana was killed in Sandhikhan, which is a crossover period between ashtami and navami, and was cremated on Vijaya Dashami.
Pandavas and the Shami tree
Pandavas, after wandering in the forest for 12 years hung their weapons on a Shami tree before entering the court of King Virat to spend the last one year in disguise. After the completion of that year on Vijayadashmi, the day of Dushera, they brought down the weapons from the Shami tree and declared their true identity. Since that day the exchange of Shami leaves on Dushera day became symbols of good will and victory.
Kautsa and the Gurudakshina
Kautsa, the son of Devdatt, insisted on his guru Varatantu to accept ‘gurudakshina’, after finishing his education. His Guru, finally asked for 14 crore gold coins, one crore for each of the 14 sciences he taught. Kautsa went to king Raghuraj, who was known for his generosity. But just at that time he had emptied all his coffers on the Brahmins, for a sacrifice. So, the king went to Lord Indra and asked for the gold coins. Indra summoned Kuber, the god of wealth and told him to make gold coins fall on the ‘shanu’ and ‘apati’ trees round Raghuraja`s city of Ayodhya. The rain of coins began to fall. King Raghu gave all the coins to Kautsa, who gave 14 crores gold coins to his guru. The remaining coins were lavishly distributed to the people of Ayodhya city. This happened on the day of Dussehra. This custom is kept of looting the leaves of the ‘apati’ trees and people present each other these leaves as gold.
Vishnu and Mahamaya
Before the creation of the universe, water pervaded all space. In that water, Lord Vishnu rested in Yoga Nidra (deep slumber), which was a result of a divine spell cast by Mahamaya – a form of Shakti on Lord Vishnu. From the navel of Lord Vishnu appeared Lord Brahma, the creator, seated on a lotus. From the wax in Lord Vishnu`s ear were formed two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha. Madhu and Kaitabha were supposed to be companions of Brahma but being demons they indulged in naughty acts, which disturbed Lord Vishnu`s slumber and he ordered them to go away. Though the demons went away they pledged vengeance on Lord Vishnu. They propitiated Shakti and she gave them a boon that they could choose their own death. The demons came back and started troubling Brahma. Lord Vishnu decided to kill the two demons but he could do little since they were protected by Mahamaya`s boon. Brahma and Vishnu then called on Mahamaya. Using her powers of illusion and cast spells on the two demons, they told Vishnu that the condition that they can be killed is where there be no earth or water, no air or ether, neither mind nor intelligence and not even false ego. Taking this opportunity, Lord Vishnu squashed the two demons on his thigh, which was neither of earth, water, air, ether, fire, mind, intelligence or false ego, since Lord Vishnu`s was a transcendental body.