Goddess of War
The Invincible One
Annihilator of Mahishasura
These are just some of the terms used to describe one of the most principal and popular Hindu Goddesses, Ma Durga. A warrior deity whose lore revolves around the defeat of demonic forces threatening to imbalance peace, prosperity and dharma, Durga is revered by Hindus for not only her positive radiance (jyoti), but also her femininity.
In fact, in the holy scripture Devi Mahatmya, Durga is described as a great Warrior Goddess whose origins stem from the lethal energy possessed by all the male devas (Gods). From Lord Shiva, she inherits the trishul, or trident, which represents sattva (righteousness), rajas (passion) and tamas (destruction); from Lord Varuna, a conch, which represents the cosmic sound Om; and from the ocean, a beautiful lotus, which represents spiritual consciousness and purity. In combination of all these forces, Goddess Durga herself symbolizes the lethal energy of anger when turned against the most evil of foes, such as the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura.
For this reason, Durga is often depicted as a strong, authoritative woman riding a lion into battle, her weapons all drawn and ready for use, to illustrate her desire to slay Mahishasura and reestablish order in the universe. Although she doesn’t actually behead Mahisasura until the tenth day of battle, Hindus all over the world commemorate each day of her journey, beginning from day one and ending with day ten (Vijayadasami), in an autumn festival, called Navratri (variations may include Durga Puja and Dussehra, among others). Some even divide the festival into three sets of three days, with each segment honoring Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati respectively.
Depending on the region and locale, one may celebrate this holiday by participating in a group dance called Garba, by ritual bathing of the feet of young girls as a means of worship and respect, or by attending week-long faires featuring elaborate processions and reenactments, and other such events. Some may even make pilgrimages to auspicious locations or hold nine-day fasts ranging in intensity — from subsisting on fruits, nuts, and dairy to only taking water.
Regardless, almost all observers will attend a ceremonial ritual of some sort and pay a visit to their local temple. A few famous spots for this include: the Vaishno Devi Temple (Jammu & Kashmir); the Chamunda Devi Temple (Himachal Pradesh); and Chamundeshwari Temple, (Karnataka). For non-residents of India, temples across the US host various celebrations and special rituals.
Take note, though — Durga is omnipresent. Her presence touches every crevice of the universe, and her jyoti radiates through the ripples of time. As such, the best way to worship the Goddess of War is to simply close one’s eyes and chant:
या देवी सर्वभुतेषु बुद्धिरूपेण संस्थिता ।
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥
Yā Ḍevi Sarvabhuteśu Buḍdhi-Rupena Samsthitā |
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah ||
To that Goddess who abides in all beings as intelligence : Salutations to Thee …