The story of Devi Durga as depicted in the Devimahatmyam or Chandi, a part of the MarkandeyaPurana which is recited during the Durga Puja, is a spiritual metaphor for liberation by eliminating evil forces. However, the task becomes increasingly challenging at every stage of its evolution. The narration projects a three-fold vision of the goddess as a battle-queen fighting marauding hordes of demons. At the first stage, she helps Vishnu in overcoming the dreaded demons Madhu and Kaitabha after they are deluded by her maya.
In the second major episode, which is central to her identity during the Puja celebrations, she exterminates the buffalo-demon Mahishasura after a long battle and emerges as Mahishasuramardini. As the story goes, the gods led by Indra, are vanquished by demons led by Mahishasura in the form of a buffalo and are driven away from heaven.
Parvati, the consort of Shiva, becomes Devi Durga as she is invoked and created by the combined effulgence of the assembled gods who give her their weapons and wish her victory in her battle against the demons.
Generals deputed by the buffalo-demon like Ciksura, Camara and Udagra, along with thousands of their aides, fight Devi but are vanquished by her till she comes face-to-face with Mahishasura who tries to deceive her by changing his form from lion and elephant and back to buffalo. Chandika, as she is called here, finishes him off after a long battle. The gods heave a sigh of relief and hail her great victory.
In the third and final episode, the longest one, the gods are harassed by demons headed by Sumbha and Nishumbha and the Devi is invoked to come to their rescue. But, she has to first face their ferocious generals, Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda and Raktabija. She dispatches them one after the other during a protracted and gory battle and thus becomes known as Chamunda while assuming the form of Kali.
The terrible Raktabija, whose every drop of shed blood turns into yet another demon, is found to be more deceptive than the earlier demons. Ultimately, she drinks his blood and by so doing prevents the blood from touching the ground. After slaying him, she exterminates Sumbha and Nishumbha. The gods feel relieved and cosmic balance is restored.
Durga Puja celebrations would be meaningful only when devotees become aware of how dangerous such vices can be as they are stumbling blocks in the path to Self-realisation and devotees spare time to introspect.
Durga Puja is heralded on the ‘Mahalaya’, in the first phase of the waxing moon, with the invocation of the Goddess before daybreak. On MahaSashti, Devi arrives at her terrestrial home to spend time with her parents. She is welcomed with the pulsating beat of the dhak, or drum when the idol is unveiled.
MahaSaptami is the first day of the full-fledged Puja when nine types of plants, collectively called Navapatrika and a plantain tree are worshipped along with the goddess as part of an ancient ritual. This shows her close association with vegetation, food and fertility. On MahaAshtami, Sandhi Puja is performed to mark the interlinking of this day with MahaNavami the following day, the last day of Puja. On VijayaDashami, the next day, a tearful farewell is accorded to Devi who leaves the home of her parents to her consort Shiva in Kailash.