Durga is said to derive her name from her identity as the slayer of the demon Durgo. This demon was wreaking havoc on heaven and earth. Shiva, the trident-bearing Supreme Destroyer, was helpless against him as Durgo was invincible against all males. At Shiva’s request, his consort Parvati assumed the form of a warrior and killed the demon. The connection to Parvati places Durga in a familial context and provides a vital clue to why a martial goddess is worshipped as a mother and wife.
Parvati, after all, is the daughter of the Himalayas who gained Shiva’s love after long penance and married him against her mother’s wishes. It is this daughter who returns to the lap of the Himalayas every year with her children from her divine abode on Mt Kailash…
…The form in which Durga is portrayed in the annual festival derives from another myth. Mahishasura, the buffalo-demon, once prayed long and hard to Brahma, the Father of Creation. Satisfied, the god appeared before the king of the nether world and offered him a boon. Mahishasura sought to be immortal. When this was refused, he thought up the next best option — that he die only at the hand of a woman. After all, what risk would he, an intrepid warrior, stand from a frail female!
Armed with this confidence, he set off to conquer the universe. First, he took over earth and then marched with his army towards heaven. The war raged for a thousand years and the demons were victorious. The gods were driven out of heaven and flocked to Lord Shiva for protection.
As Shiva listened to their tale of woe, a divine effulgence emanated from his face. The other gods too emitted a similar glow. This energy combined to take a 10-armed towering female form. Jewellery and gems from Kshirod Sagar (the mythical sea of milk) were brought to dress her up with earrings, rings, bangles, necklaces and anklets. The gods, then, created replicas of their own weapons and armed her. Himalaya, the king of the mountains, gifted her a lion which she took as her mount.
Adorned in finery and armed to the teeth, Durga let out a roar and headed for Mahishasura’s palace... Mahishasura rushed out to check the source of the roar. But on seeing Durga, he burst out laughing. This infuriated Durga even further. She reminded the demon-king of the boon and his vulnerability, and urged him to battle...
...Durga was ready. The divine trident pierced the demon’s chest. This is the moment that is frozen in the images worshipped every autumn in the towns and villages of Bengal.
(Excerpt from Durga Puja: Celebrating the Goddess Then and Now by Sudeshna Banerjee, Rupa & Co., 2006)