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‘Nava-Durga’ or nine varied forms of Durga are worshipped in the nine auspicious days of Navratri.
The first form of Goddess Durga or Shakti is Shailaputri (also known as Parvati or Hemavati). ‘Shail’ means mountains and ‘Putri’ means daughter. Parvati, the daughter of King of the Mountains, Himavan, is called ‘Shailaputri’. She mounts a bull, holding a trident and a lotus flower in her hands.
Legend goes by that the Goddess was born as Sati to the King Daksha, son of Brahma. Sati was a stoic devotee of Shiva, who had done severe penance to win her Lord’s heart and married him. Once her father, the King had organized a yagna in which all the Gods except Shiva was invited.
Sati visited her father despite Shiva’s warnings, where the King insulted her spouse and called him a follower of occult. Not able to take the insults, Sati sacrificed herself to the yagna fire. After that, she took birth as the daughter of Himavan and was called Shailaputri.
Brahmacharni (also known as Tapashcharini, Aparna and Uma) is the second form of Shakti. Here Brahma means penance. Brahmacharini is one who practices penance. The form of Brahmacharini is tremendously effulgent and extremely majestic, personifying love and loyalty. She holds a rosary in her right hand and Kamandalu in her left.
Legend has it that Naradaji predicted on seeing her palm that she would marry Lord Shiva because she was Sati, the wife of Shiva in her previous birth. And that she would have to perform penance to attain him in this birth too. During her penance she gradually reduced the food intake and in the end gave up food and water. She undertook the most severe form of penance and was given the name of Brahmacharini.
The third form of Shakti is Chandraghanta worshipped on the third day of Navratri. Bearing the crescent moon on her forehead, she has ten arms and three eyes; she is of a golden complexion and has an aggressive posture showing readiness for war. She wears a necklace of bells, which terrifies demons. She rides a tiger and protects devotees.
This particular aspect of the Goddess gives extreme peace and bestows ultimate good.
Kushmanda (also known as Ashtabhuja) is the fourth form of Shakti. The name is derived from Ku-Usma-Anda. `Ku` means `a little`, `Usma` is warmth, heat or energy and `Anda` means the cosmic egg or universe. Her body shines like the glowing sun. She has eight arms, so the name goes as Ashtabhuja.
In her seven hands she holds Kamandalu, bow, arrow, lotus, a jar of nectar, discus, and mace. In her eighth hand she holds a rosary capable of giving eight Siddhis and nine Nidhis. She rides a lion. On worshipping her ailments and sorrows are eliminated and life span, name, strength and health improve.
The fifth form of Shakti is known as Skandamata (also known as Padmasana). She is the mother of Kumara or Skanda or Kartikeya, who was chosen by Gods as their commander in the war against the demons. She has three eyes and four arms. Her two hands hold lotuses while the other two hand display defending and granting mudras, respectively. Her mount is a lion.
Legend has it that demon Tarakasur pleased Brahma with extreme penance and asked for immortality. Brahma refused and asked him to wish for something else. Tarakasur being very clever asked for a boon that only the son of Lord Shiva could take his life. Tarakasur thought Lord Shiva would never discard his vow of celibacy, so there would be no son and he would never die.
The boon was granted and Tarakasur started tormenting the world thinking that he was invincible. All the Gods asked Lord Shiva for help. They requested him to get married. Lord Shiva was reluctant but agreed so that the terror spread by the demon could end. After taking human form, he married Parvati and had Kartikeya or Skandkumar who later killed Tarkasur.
On sixth day of Navaratra, the divine Shakti’s Katyayani form that is worshipped. She has three eyes and four arms. One left hand holds a weapon and the other a lotus. The other two hands respectively display defending and granting gestures. Her skin appears golden in colour. Her mount is a lion.
Legend has it that Sage Katyayana cherished a keen desire to have Shakti born as his daughter. The Goddess acceded to his request. Meanwhile, army of the powerful demon Mahishasura, who could only be killed by a warrior Goddess, had reached heaven to overthrow the Gods from their abode. The trinity of Gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, got infuriated and they created the Goddess Durga, who was a culmination of the powers of all deities. Sage Katyayana had the first privilege to worship her, so she was also named Katyayani.
Another myth goes by that she was born to Katyayana as his daughter on the 14th dark of the month Asvina. Katyayana worshipped her for three days, 7th, 8th and 9th of the bright fortnight in the same month and killed Mahishasur on Vijayadasami. Her worship done with devotion and faith leads to four objects – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
The destroyer of darkness and ignorance, Kaalratri (also known as Shubhamkari) is the seventh form of Shakti, the enemy of ignorance. Her complexion is like dark night with bountiful hair and has four hands. The left two hands holds a cleaver and a torch, and the right two are in the mudras (gesture) of "giving" and "protecting". She has three eyes which emanate rays like lightning. Flames appear through her nostrils when she inhales or exhales air. Her mount is donkey.
Legend has it that Goddess Kaalratri killed Raktabeej. Raktabeej was a demon who could multiply from every drop of his blood which fell on the ground. The Goddess Kaalratri killed him by licking the blood before it could reach the ground and hence conquered him. She endows her devotees with calm and courage.
Mahagauri is the eight form of Shakti. The Goddess is in the form of eight-year old child with complexion as fair as a conch, moon and jasmine. Her clothes and ornaments are white and pure. She has three eyes and four arms. Her right upper hand is in the pose of allaying fear and right lower hand holds a trident in it. The left upper hand holds a tambourine and the lower one is in the pose of blessing.
Legend has it that when Gauri became soiled with dust and earth while observing penance, Shiva cleaned her with the water of Ganga, after which she became clean and bright like a ray of lightning. Thereafter, she became known as Mahagauri. All sins of devotees are washed away due to her worship. Her power is unfailing and instantly fruitful.
The last among the nine forms of Shakti is Goddess Siddhidatri who is worshipped on the ninth or final day of Navratri. ‘Siddhi’ is a Sanskrit term which means ‘perfection’. Goddess Siddhidatri has four arms. She holds a chakra in her right lower hand and a mace in the upper. In the left lower hand there is a conch and in her upper left hand a lotus flower. She is seated on a lotus flower with the lion as her mount.
Legend has it that the Supreme God Shiva got all these ‘siddhis’ by worshipping Maha Shakti. With her gratitude the half body of Shiva became that of the Goddess Shakti and therefore he also came to be called as ‘Ardhanarishvar’.
The Goddess Siddhidatri is capable of giving all sorts of occult powers and is also the possessor of 26 different wishes to grant her worshipers. If a ‘sadhaka’ worships in the prescribed manner with his full faith he acquires all ‘siddhis’ and nothing remains unattainable fro him in the universe.