By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Devimahatmya, DevimAhAtmya, Devimaahaatmya
Devimāhātmya literally means ‘the greatness of the Devī or the Goddess’.
The Devī-sampradaya is centered around the concept and the worship of God as the Divine Mother. The two most important literary works of this cult are:
The Devimāhātmya is an independent work, and was added to the Mārkandeya Purāṇa, later. It is also known by two more names:
Origin and Growth of Devi Cult
The roots of this sampradaya belong to the Ṛgveda and is indicated by:
Some of the minor Upaniṣads like the Devī Upaniṣad and the tantras (Śāktāgamas) have expounded this sampradaya.
Gradually, as the paurāṇic thought became more popular, three aspects of the Devī were projected by the scriptures for the worship and meditation and these goddesses are:
Word ‘Devī’ is exclusively used for Goddess Pārvatī and other innumerable goddesses are considered as her aspects.
Content of Devimāhātmya
The work has thirteen adhyāyas or chapters divided into three Caritras or major sections. These three Caritras mainly cover the greatness of the following three aspects of the Devī :
These three caritras or sections are as follows:
The first section starts with the story of a king Suratha and the merchant Samādhi. Both of them had been deprived of their wealth and possessions by their own near and dear ones. They met at the hermitage of the sage Sumedhas and questioned him about the cause of their tragedies and the reason for their mental attachment to their possessions and relatives who had deceived them.
The sage described this as the blind attachment and infatuation resultant from the power of moha or māyā. The sage further satisfied their curiosity by narrating the stories related to the Devī.
The first story accounts the Devī as Yoganidrā. At the end of a kalpa, Nārāyaṇa was in deep sleep. Utilizing this opportunity, two demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha tried to attack and kill Brahmā. Brahmā prayed to Yoganidrā, to come out of Nārāyaṇa so that he could wake up. She answered his prayers by appearing and disappearing before him. Nārāyaṇa then killed the demons and rescued Brahmā. This is the conclusion of the Prathamacaritra.
This section contains the story of Mahiṣāsura, the king of the asuras or demons. He had usurped the kingdom of heaven and driven away all the devas or gods including Indra. These gods, under the leadership of Brahmā, came to Viṣṇu and Śiva and recounted their tale of woe.
After listening to their tale, both the gods became furious due to which a brilliant light emerged from their faces. Similarly, the energies of all the others devas too emerged out and merged into a huge mass of brilliant blazing light and power. This mass took the form of the goddess Durgā.
All the gods equipped her with their respective weapons. She went to Mahiṣāsura, challenged him for fight and ultimately killed him. The heavenly region was restored to the gods. The Devī Durgā promised to come to the rescue of the gods whenever they called upon her for help. This is the conclusion of the second section.
This section begins with the outrageous misdeeds of the demon brothers, Śumbha and Niśumbha. They also like Mahiṣāsura, had forcibly occupied the heavenly regions and driven away the gods. The gods prayed to the Devī, recalling her promise. She manifested herself as Kauśikī Durgā having bewitching beauty. She started roaming about the Himālayan region and got noticed by two servants of Śumbha. They informed Śumbha about her presence in his kingdom and stressed about her captivating beauty. When Śumbha sent messengers to her with a marriage proposal, she informed them of her vow taken out of ‘ignorance’ to marry only him who will conquer her in combat.
All the attempts of Śumbha’s men, including several generals of his forces, to capture her were in vain. The Devī, with her emanations like Brahmāṇī, Nārāyaṇī, Kaumārī and others, successfully killed all the demons like Caṇḍa, Muṇda and Raktabīja. Finally, she prospered in her mission to send both Niśumbha and Śumbha to the world of Yama, the god of death. Hence she drove the great terror out of the world.
After listening to these exploits of the Devi, Suratha and Samādhi got everything they wanted, by her grace. Suratha got back his kingdom whereas Samādhi succeeded in attaining supreme knowledge.
The work contains four hymns which are exquisitely beautiful and an eminent contribution to the hymnal literature. They are:
- Brahmā’s hymn to Yoganidrā
- Hymn by all the gods, led by Indra, expressing their gratefulness after Mahiṣāsura was killed by Durgā This hymn is known as Indrādistuti
- Hymn by all the gods, on the bank of the river Gaṅgā in the Himalayas. This hymn is called Aparājitāstotra
- Hymn by all the gods, after Śumbha and Niśumbha were killed. This hymn is the famous Nārāyanī stuti
Types of Devimāhātmya Recitations
The Devimahatmya is highly revered mantra even now and its recitation is quite popular.
- There are several modes of chanting for specific purposes like freedom from diseases, attaining wealth or position, for the birth of children
- These recitations have to be learnt from teachers who are experts in the field
- Recitations called Śatacandi and Sahasracandī are forms of congregational worship done for the welfare of the society
- In all these rites, homa is also done
Mantras in Devimāhātmya Recital
The Devimāhātmya recital should include:
- Repetition of the well-known Navārnamantra
- The entire text of the Devimāhātmya
- The Devisukta
- The Rahasyatraya : Prādhānika, Vaikrtika and Murti Rahasyas
- Śāpoddhāramantra and ksamāprārthanā : recital of the Aparādhaksamāpanastotra
Method of Reciting Devimāhātmya
The entire Devimāhātmya is considered as a mantra endowed with mystical powers. That is why a ritual recitation of it is encouraged and even recommended for the fulfillment of one’s desires. Such a ritual recitation normally consists of the following procedure:
- Ācamana : ceremonial sipping of water before beginning any religious rite
- Prāṇāyāma : breath-control
- Saṅkalpa : religious resolve stating the details of the ritual.
- Dīpasthāpana : lighting a lamp and offering a simple worship to it, considering as a representation of the Devi
- Worship of the Devimāhātmya book used for the ceremonial chanting
- Repetition of the śāpoddhāramantra to ward off the effects of the curses of the sages of former times, if any
- Then the actual recital
- Mārkandeya Purāna chapters 78 to 90
- Since it contains saptaśata or 700 verses extolling the greatness of Mother Durgā.
- Since it deals with the exploits of the fierce goddess Caṇḍī or Caṇḍikā.
- Ambhṛṇīsūkta 10.125.1
- Rātrīsūkta 10.127.1
- Prathamacaritra is comprised of Chapter 1.
- Madhyamacaritra is comprised of Chapter 2, 3, and 4.
- Uttamacaritra is comprised of Chapter 5 to 13
- Māyā is called the spell cast by the Devī or the Divine Mother on all the living beings.
- Kalpa is called as cycle of creation
- Brahmā is the creator seated on the navel-lotus of Nārāyaṇa.
- Yoganidrā is an aspect of Kālī
- Devimāhātmya Chapter 1, śls. 72-87.
- Devimāhātmya Chapter 4, śls. 1-27.
- Devimāhātmya Chapter 5, śls. 8-82.
- Devimāhātmya Chapter 17, śls. 1-35.
- Śatacandi is a recitation where ten brāhmaṇas recite it for four days, once on the first day, twice on the second day, thrice on the third day and four times on the fourth day.
- Sahasracandī is the same recitation as Śatacandi but with one hundred brāhmaṇas.
- Homa is offering of oblations into a duly consecrated fire.
- Navārnamantra has to be received from a competent guru in initiation
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore