First among the Nava Durga is Shailaputri, the absolute form of Mother Nature. Also known as Sati, Bhavani, Parvati or Hemavathi, this form of Durga adorns a half moon on her forehead and is portrayed holding a trident in her right hand, a lotus in left hand. She is mounted on a Nandi or a bull. Legend has it that pleased by the rigteousness and good deeds of Parvathai Raja Himalaya, Goddess Parvathi takes birth as his daughter and hence she gets the name ‘Shailaputri’, which means daughter of the mountain.
The meaning of the word “Brahma” is tapasya (austerities) and Brahmacharini means the one who follows tapasya and has renounced the materialistic pleasures. Brahmacharini is shown holding a japa mala in Her right hand and a kamandalu (water pot) in Her left hand. To obtain Lord Shiva, Goddess Brahmacharini did tapasya following the advice of Narada Muni. Divine Mother is Maha Shakti (Divine Energy). To obtain liberation, a seeker worships Divine Mother (Shakti) in the form of Brahmacharini, and She grants him Brahma Gyaan (knowledge of Brahman). Therefore, Her name is Brahmacharini and Her work is to give knowledge of the Supreme to devotees. Brahmacharini is the Goddess of Sacred Study.
The third form of Mother is Chandragantas or the one who has a half-moon shaped like a bell. She is believed to reward people with her grace, bravery and courage. She has eight hands holding a trishul (trident), bow-arrow, Gada (mace), sword, lotus flower, bell, water pot, while one hand remains in blessing posture. She rides on a tiger or lion as her vehicle, which represents bravery and courage. She wears a half moon on her forehead and has a third eye in the middle of her forehead. Her complexion is golden. Shiva sees Chandraghanta’s form as a great example of beauty, charm and grace.
The fourth form of Goddess Durga is Kushmanda. At the beginning when there was no creation, there was darkness everywhere. Kushmanda gave rise to creation and She lives in the realm of the sun (Surya Loka). The energy in all of creation is Kushmanda. This form of Mother has eight hands and therefore She is often called Ashtabhuja Devi. Her vehicle is a lion (dharma) and she holds water pot (kamandalu), arrows, a chakra, club, lotus flower of peace, a pot filled with immortal nectar and a japamaala. If you worship Mother Kushmanda, She destroys disease and sorrow and bestows the boons of long life, fame, strength and good health. Kushmanda is the Goddess of Purifying Austerity.
Skandamata is the fifth form of Hindu Goddess Durga. Her name comes from word, Skanda, which is another name of Lord Kathikeya, son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi. Skandamata is four-armed and rides on a lion. She possesses four arms out of which two often hold the lotus flowers. One of her hands is always in the boon-conferring gesture and with the other she holds her son Skanda in her lap. Her complexion is white and she is seated on the lotus. So, she is also called Goddess with a lotus-seat. Lion is her vehicle.
In the war between the forces of duality (asuras) and unity (devas), the devas (forces of unity) needed a leader. Shiva and Parvati’s son Kartik who is also called Skanda is the commander of those Divine armies. Skandamata is the Goddess who Nurtures Divinity.
Mother Katyayani is the sixth form of Durga. Maharishi Katyayana was a great Seer who performed strong tapasya in his ashram. One day Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar came to his ashram and they delegate their power to one enityt- a form of Goddess Durga. This happened on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin. Maharishi Katyayana was the first to worship this Goddess Durga, and therefore She was named Katyayani. He worshipped Her on the 7th, 8th and 9th days of the bright fortnight of the month of Ashwin (Fall Navaratri). On the tenth day (the day of Victory), Goddess Katyayani vanquished Mahishasura.
Katayayani means the Goddess who is Ever Pure. Mother Katyayani has four hands. In her upper-right hand she displays the mudra that grants freedom from fear and in her lower-right hand she displays the mudra bestowing boons. In her upper-left hand she holds a sword and a lotus flower in her lower-left hand.
Devotees who worship Mother Katyayani are blessed with the fulfilment of their needs for artha (wealth), dharma (ideal of perfection), kama (desires) and moksha (liberation). All disease, sorrow and suffering is destroyed by Mother.
Mother Kalaraatri is the seventh form of Durga. The reason she is called Kalaraatri is that she is the destroyer of that kaal (time) who destroys everything. Kalaraatri means the Dark Night (surrendering the ego). Her colour is dark and her hair is unbound and flies wildly in all directions. She wears a garland of lightning and from her body emanates a light that is strong like a fire.
Her vehicle is a donkey. In her upper right hand she holds a mudra to grant boons and in her lower right hand she grants fearlessness. In her upper left hand she holds a club and an iron knife in her lower left hand. Another name for her is “Bhayankari” (this literally means “Fearful”).
The eighth form of Mother is Mahagauri. The name Mahagauri means extremely white, as she was white in colour and very beautiful(Maha, ??? = great; Gauri, ???? = white). Mahagauri is usually depicted with four hands, the hands holding a trident, lotus and drum, while the fourth is in a blessing gesture. The lotus is sometimes replaced with a rosary. She rides a white bull, usually shown wearing white clothes. Her vehicle is a bull. In her upper right hand she shows the mudra bestowing boons and in her lower right hand she holds a trishul. In her upper left hand she holds a drum (damaru) and in her lower left hand is the mudra bestowing boons.
Siddhidaatri is the ninth form of Durga and Mother is given this name because she grants perfection (siddhi daan) to devotees and spiritual aspirants. It was with Siddhidaatri’s Grace (anukampa) that Lord Shiva got the Ardhanarishwara form. Her vehicle is a lion and Her asana is a lotus flower. In her upper-right hand Mother holds a club and in her lower-right hand is a discus. In her upper-left hand she holds a lotus and in her lower-left hand is a conch. For all spiritual aspirants and devotees, worship of Mother Siddhidaatri grants all desires both in this world and the other world. Siddhidaatri means Grantor of perfection.
(This article was published in the recent issue of Karnataka Today Magazine)