The Meaning of Iconography in Maa Durga Paintings

In Shrikarma Tantra, many forms of Maa Durga are invoked during worship in the Shrichakra. Some of these forms which are religiously portrayed in Maa Durga paintings are known as:-

  • Vanadurga
  • Shulinidurga
  • Bhrahnmaridurga

These manifestations of Goddess Durga are worshipped as Samaya Devatas or guardians that protect from evil. There are three main forms in which she is worshipped, these are:-

  • Maha Durga
  • Chandika
  • Aparajita

Chandika is the one who helped Ambika- a form of Maa Durga to destroy Chand- an Asura. She is worshipped in two forms namely, Navarna Chandi of Uttarmanaya. She is worshipped along the three Angavidyaas. Each of these Angavidyas consists of nine letters which are often inscribed in Maa Durga Paintings.

Navakshari together with Mahakaali, Mahalaxmi, and Mahasaraswati comprise thirty-six lettered-Vidya. They are known among the devotees by the Four Vicchye Mantra. Another form is Amanayanayika Trishakti-Chamunda. It is the most mysterious part of Chandi.

Maha Durga is the Paramshakti or supreme power. She is Mulprakarti or nature herself. She is worshipped in these three forms:-
  • Ashtadashbhauji Ugrrachanda
  • Shodashbhuji Bhadrakaali
  • Dashbhuji Katyayani

Avidya is described in detail in Shakta Lore as having three forms as follows:-
  1. Taamsika
  2. Sattvik
  3. Raajsik

If we worship or do Upaasna of Ugra-Chanda, one gets free from Taamsika Mala or Impurity. She is the manifestation of Yoga kriya or action. Her form is said to be Ugra or ravenous. By worshiping Bhadrakaali through the yogic energy attained by Bhakti, Raajsik Mala is conquered. She is elucidated as having a semi-furious face. That is why she is known as Ardha Ugra-half ferocious or Ardha Saumya or half ladylike. It is believed that Katyayani destroys the Sattvika Mala. She is elucidated as Shuddha Suamya Swarupini. She represents the unadulterated form of Gyaan Yoga.

Mahishasura is the symbological manifestation of Avidya or ignorance. He was killed by Maa Durga in her soft form i.e. Katyayani and not in her furious (Ugraa) form or semi-ferocious form as Ardha Saumya. It was so because only purity can eliminate impurity. In the same way ignorance could only be removed by attaining spiritual knowledge and wisdom.

A commentary on Badabanala Tantra states that in tantra of Karma, the Samjana of Mahishasurmardini only applies to the Dashabhujakatyayani and to no other deity. Thus, we can say that Katyayani is the manifestation of both the path and the destination as Atmavidyaswarupini.

The arcane symbology behind the Devic Iconology

Mahishasura did severe penance for several years and eventually, Lord Brahma appeared in front of him to grant his wish. He asked for immortality. But, Lord Brahma refused to grant him this wish because one has to face death if one is born.

Mahishasura thought that he did this penance for nothing. He devised a plan. He asked for a boon that only a woman could defeat him and kill him. Lord Brahma unaware of his evil intentions granted him this boon.

He was now all-powerful as all the gods who were a threat to him could not kill him now as they were men. He gathered his evil forces from the Pataal Lok or Womb of the earth where all asuras lived and attacked Amravati- the dwelling place of the king of gods i.e. Indradev.

All Devatas or gods fought Mahishasura but could not defeat him because of fo the boon. They fled Amrawati tasting defeat and went to Mount Kailash- the humble abode of Lord Shiva. The Tridev i.e. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva streamlined their energy with other gods and thus, Maa Durga was born.

They gave her their weapons with which she was able to defeat Mahishasur and called by the name of Mahishasurmardini. Here are some symbols. Let us find what they mean!

  • The Conch Shell

It is believed that Om has mystical powers and mystics energize themselves with this energy to stay fit and healthy without eating much. The conch shell reproduces the divine sound of OM. Maa Durga carries a conch shell in one of her hands. It reveals that she has the power of this divine manifestation of Shiva- the supreme god. It wades off Evil energies.

  • The bow and arrows

Goddess Durga also carries Bows and arrows in both her hands to signify women's empowerment. She is strong and mighty. In metaphysics, it could be seen as proper balancing of the two energies i.e. potential and kinetic.

She is the embodiment of a mother, teacher, guide, warrior, and justice. She is the reflection of both impermanent forms of nature and permanence of soul and static things. She is worshipped by all to attain power and victory over foes. She grants us strength to fight the inherent evil of Avidya and become one with eternal energy of God.

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