……Continuing from July 2017 issue
There were Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, gods who ruled in the Puranic times. When they were there to fight the Asuras why were the Goddesses enrolled for this purpose. This is a riddle which requires explanation.
There was a great battle, it is said, between Durga and the two asuras which brought renown to Durga. The story is told in the Markandeya Purana in full details. It says:
At the close of the Treta Age, two giants, named Sumbha and Nishumbha performed religious austerities for 10,000 years, the merit of which brought Shiva from heaven, who discovered that by this extraordinary devotion, they sought to obtain the blessing of immortality. He reasoned long with them, and vainly endeavoured to persuade them to ask for any other gift. Being denied what they specially wanted, they entered upon still more severe austerities for another thousand years, when Shiva again appeared, but still refused to grant what they asked. They now suspended themselves with their heads downwards over a slow fire, till the blood streamed from their necks; they continued thus for 800 years. The Gods began to tremble, lest, by performing such rigid act of holiness, these demons should supplant them on their thrones. The king of the Gods thereupon called a council, and imparted to them his fears. They admitted that there was ground for anxiety, but asked what was the remedy.
Acting upon the advice of Indra, Kandarpa (the God of love), with Rambha and Tilotama, the most beautiful of the celestial nymphs, were sent to fill the minds of the giants with sensual desires. Kandarpa with his arrow wounded both; upon which, awaking from their absorption, and seeing two beautiful women, they were taken in the snare, and abandoned their devotions. With these women they lived for 5000 years; after which they saw the folly of renouncing their hopes of immortality for the sake of sensual gratifications. They suspected this snare must have been a contrivance of Indra ; so, driving back the nymphs to heaven, they renewed their devotions, cutting the flesh off their bones, and making burnt offerings of it to Shiva. They continued in this way for 1000 years till at last they became mere skeletons ; Shiva again appeared and bestowed upon them his blessing – that in riches and strength they should excel the Gods.
Being exalted above the Gods, they began to make war upon them. After various successes on both sides, the giants became everywhere victorious ; when Indra and the Gods, reduced to a most deplorable state of wretchedness, solicited the interference of Brahma and Vishnu, they referred them to Shiva, who declared that he could do nothing for them. When, however, they reminded him that it was through his blessing they had been ruined, he advised them to perform religious austerities to Durga. They did so: and after some time the goddess appeared, and gave them her blessing; then disguising herself as a common female carrying a pitcher of water, she passed through the assembly of the gods. She, then assumed her proper form, and said, ‘They are celebrating my praise’.
‘This new goddess now ascended Mount Himalaya where Chanda and Manda, two of Sumbha and Nisumbha’s messangers resided. As these demons wandered over the mountain, they saw the goddess; and being exceedingly struck with her charms, which they described to their masters, advised them to engage her affections, even if they gave her all the glorious things which they had obtained in plundering the heavens of the gods.
Sumbha sent Sugriva as messanger to the goddess, to inform her that the riches of the three worlds were in his palace; that all the offerings which used to be presented to the gods were now offered to him; and that all these offerings, riches, etc., would be hers, if she would come to him. The goddess replied that the offer was very liberal, but that she had resolved that the person she married must first conquer her in war, and destroy her pride. Sugriva, unwilling to return unsuccessful, pressed for a favourable answer, promising that he would conquer her in war, and subdue her pride; and asked in an authoritative strain; ‘Did she know his master, before whom none of the inhabitants of the worlds had been able to stand, whether gods, demons, or men? How then could she, a female, think of resisting his offers? If his master had ordered him, he would have compelled her to go into his presence immediately. She agreed that this was very correct, but that she had taken her resolutions, and exhorted him, therefore to persuade his master to come and try his strength with her.
The messenger went and related what he had heard. On hearing his account, Sumbha was filled with rage, and , without making any reply, called for Dhumlochana his commander-in-chief and gave him orders to go to Himalaya and seize the goddess and bring her to him, and, if any attempted a rescue, utterly to destroy them.
The commander went to Himalaya, and acquainted the goddess with his master’s orders. She, smiling, invited him to execute them. On the approach of this hero, she set up a dreadful roar, by which he was reduced to ashes. After which she destroyed the army of the giant, leaving only a few fugitives to communicate the tidings. Sumbha and Nisumbha, infuriated, sent Chanda and Manda, who on ascending the mountain, perceived a female sitting on an ass, laughing. On seeing them she become enraged, and drew to her ten, twenty, or thirty of their army at a time, devouring them like fruit. She next seized Manda by the hair, cut off his head and holding it over her mouth, drank the blood. Chanda, on seeing the other commander slain in this manner, himself came to close quarters with the goddess. But she, mounted on a lion, sprang on him, and, dispatching him as she had done Manda, devoured part of his army, and drank the blood of the slain.
The giants no sooner heard this alarming news than they resolved to go themselves, and collecting their forces, an infinite number of giants, marched to Himalaya. The gods looked down with astonishment on this vast army, and the goddesses descended to help Mahamaya (Durga), who, however, soon destroyed her foes. Raktavija, the principal commander under Sumbha and Nishumbha, seeing all his men destroyed encountered the goddess in person. But though she covered him with wounds, from every drop of blood which fell to the ground a thousand giants arose, equal in strength to Raktavija himself. Hence innumerable enemies surrounded Durga, and the gods were filled with alarm at the amazing sight. At length Chandi, a goddess, who had assisted Kali (Durga) in the engagement, promised that if she would drink the giant’s blood before it fell to the ground, she (Chandi) would engage him and destroy the whole of his strangely formed off spring. Kali consented, and the commander and his army were soon dispatched.
Sumbha and Nishumbha, in a state of desperation, next engaged the goddess in single combat, Sumbha making the first onset. The battle was inconceivably dreadful on both sides, till at last both the gods and the goddesses chanted the praises of the celestial heroine, who in return bestowed a blessing on each.”
A comparison between the Vedic and Puranic Goddesses raises some interesting questions. One of them is quite obvious. Vedic literature known as Brahmanas is replete with them. But all these wars against the Asuras are fought by the Vedic Gods. The Vedic Goddesses never took part in them. With the Puranic Goddesses the situation has undergone a complete change. In the Puranic times there are wars with the Asuras as there were in the Vedic times. The difference is that while in the Vedic times the wars with the Asuras are left to be fought by the Gods, in the Puranic times they are left to be fought by the Goddesses. Why is that Puranic Goddesses had to do what the Gods in Vedic times did? It cannot be that there were no Gods in Puranic times. There were Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, gods who ruled in the Puranic times. When they were there to fight the Asuras why were the Goddesses enrolled for this purpose. This is a riddle which requires explanation.
Source : ‘Riddles in Hinduism – Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 4 Pages 99 – 107, Published by Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1987.