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Durga the Warrior Goddess: Story, Symbols & Mantras

Durga the warrior goddess is a principal form of the Goddess or Divine Mother in Hinduism. She is also known as Devi and Shakti. In Sanskrit, the name Durga means “inaccessible” or a “fortress.” Other translations of her name are impassable, invincible, and unassailable. Her name is related to the word “durg” which means “something difficult to defeat or pass.” Durga is “the undefeatable goddess.”

DURGA ARTICLE CONTENTS

This article includes the story of Durga, her unique aspects and symbols, Durga’s sacred geometry yantra, mantras to Durga, nine forms of Durga and further resources to explore.

Durga Illustration by Rose Karlsen
Durga Prints Available

The Story of Durga

Durga is associated with protection, strength, motherhood, destruction, and wars. The most famous legend about Durga is the killing of the buffalo demon, Mahishasura. After doing severe penance to appease Brahma, the Creator god, the buffalo demon asked for immortality. Brahma denied the plea, insisting that all things must die one day.

Mahishasura appealed this decision, asking that only a woman could kill him. Mahishasura believed women to be powerless and weak. Brahma granted his wish. Afterwards, Mahishasura started to torture innocent people. He attacked and captured heaven without any fear.

To save the innocent people who were being harmed, the gods combined all of their energy to create Durga. As the recipient of their collective energy, she became greater than all. She emerged as the ultimate warrior goddess. Durga is generally shown with 8 to 10 arms.

The gods gave her duplicates of all of their weapons to be held in her many hands. Like other goddesses, Durga is also renown for her beauty. Receiving their gifts and energy, Durga became the inner power or shakti for all of the gods. The Lord of Himalayas gifted her a lion to ride. With her many weapons and impenetrable power, Durga fought Mahishasura and destroyed him.

Durga Goddess Face Detail

The Goddess Durga’s Unique Aspects

Durga is always depicted with a calm and serene face even in the midst of battle. This tranquility is derived from the fact that she only acts out of necessity. Durga does not fight for the pleasure of battle. She seeks only the good and the freedom those who depend on her. She is the guardian of the soul’s journey to liberation.

Durga’s many limbs allow her to always be ready for battle in any direction. She also has three eyes, like her consort Shiva. Durga’s left eye is associated with the moon, symbolizing desire and lunar energy. Her right eye is connected to the sun and symbolizes action or solar energy. Her third eye in the middle of her forehead represents intuition and wisdom. Her third eye is connected to the fire element. The three eyes also symbolize her vigilance. She is ever ready to do battle.

Durga Goddess Painting Detail Symbols

Detail of Symbolic Objects Held by Durga

Symbols of Durga

The many symbols associated with Durga include the seven items that she holds in her hands as well as the lion or tiger that she rides.

Conch Shell: Durga’s conch shell is connected to the word OM, the sound an source of all creation. The conch shell is used as a musical instrument. This is the sound that awakens the crown chakra, the place of final enlightenment.

Bow and Arrow: Durga holds both a bow and arrow in a single hand. This indicates complete mastery over energy, both potential (the bow) and kinetic (the arrow).

Thunderbolt: Holding a thunderbolt indicates firmness in convictions. The thunderbolt indicates that Durga attacks in complete confidence without fear.

Lotus Flower: Durga holds a lotus that hasn’t bloomed yet. This represents the certainty of success along the spiritual path before the final stages are reached. The lotus grows in the mud of the world but stays true to its inner nature.

Chakra Discus: The chakra discus spins around on one of Durga’s fingers. This demonstrates that the energy of the entire world is subservient to Durga’s will.

Durga’s Sword: Durga’s sword symbolizes knowledge. Her mind and wisdom are indicated in the sharpness of the sword. The shine of the sword represents knowledge without doubts.

Trident: The trident (Trishula) is a symbol of Satwa (inactivity), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (nonactivity). Durga uses them all in the trident to alleviate physical, mental and spiritual suffering.

Lion or Tiger: Durga rides a lion or tiger, representing her mastery over power, will, and determination. She poses easily on the lion or tiger, demonstrating her freedom from fear.

Durga Goddess Lion Detail

Detail of Lion Ridden by Durga

Durga’s Primary Mantra

This mantra includes Durga’s seed syllable. Seed syllables are concentrated sounds in Sanskrit that embody a particular force or energy. Durga’s seed syllable is DUM (short form “duhm”; long form “doom”). The words to this mantra are “OM DUM Durgayei Namah.”

The chant is sometimes sung with the ending “svaha.” The ending “namah” or “namaha” means “I honor” or “I bow to.” The word svaha is usually associate with a fire offering. Svaha is traditionally used at certain times such as during certain astrological cycles. 

The seed syllable DUM is a fire element syllable. This is a powerful fire mantra with a weapon-like effect. DUM is an earthly fire rather than an etheric fire. The martial energy of DUM overcomes opposition.

DUM is also a transformative energy to eliminate sorrow and obstacles both within and without. DUM grants self-control. DUM combines protection and self-discipline, saving us from difficulties whenever possible. DUM with a long vowel (pronounced doom) is similar but softer and more feminine. This form of DUM also neutralizes negative forces projected against us. DUM is beneficial for tissues in the body and can be used to burn away toxins and also to increase the digestive fire. DUM is a solar rather than a lunar energy.

Read full article on seed syllables: One Word Mantras: Powerful Bija Seed Syllables

Durga’s Protection Mantra

Durga is known by many names including Bhagini (sister), Devi, Shakti and more. Durga personifies the vibration of the fierce mother, only moving into battle to protect her own and never for the sake of violence. In some circumstances, Durga leads a divine army. 

The lyrics to this mantra are: “Om Hrim Krim Dum Durgayai Svaha.”

The Sanskrit word OM is familiar to most people as the quintessential mantra. OM is the fundamental mantra connecting us to higher reality and the highest aspect of our own beings. OM is believed to be a sound of the whole cosmic manifestation. OM is the sound of the universe, the sound from which all other sounds are formed. OM represents past, present and future. OM is a seed or building block of creation.

HRIM (hreem) is a mantra for the heart: the spiritual heart, the emotional heart and the physical heart. This mantra aids in longevity by energizing the heart. Due to the healing and stimulating influence on the heart, HRIM is also said to promote circulation and positively affects the lungs and nervous system. KRIM is a mantra of divine manifestation, specifically the divine electricity that exists behind all things. There is something about repeating this sound that really feels like a mild, positive electrical stimulus.

KRIM is the most important of the consonant mantras beginning with a hard consonant. The Sanskrit letter “k” or ka is an initial thrust of energy or prana. The letter “r” or ra adds fire and the “i” (ee) adds focus. KRIM is the Kriya Shakti or power of action that operates on all levels. The inner action is the awakening of the kundalini. KRIM also rules over time, helping us to move from past karma and master time, space and action.

Read full article on seed syllables: One Word Mantras: Powerful Bija Seed Syllables

Durga Yantra Illustration

Durga Yantra by Rose Karlsen
Yantra Prints Available

Yantra: Sacred Geometry of Durga

Durga’s stories and iconography are based on the idea that it is better to protect yourself and divert misfortune whenever possible. For this reason, the Durga Yantra is viewed as a protection yantra.

As a warrior goddess with indomitable strength, Durga will help you to let go of anything that is no longer serving you. In addition, she can serve as a shield on many levels as you move through the world.

Durga cultivates a unique combination of fearlessness, courage and love. The many upward pointing triangles in the yantra emphasize spiritual freedom. Durga’s colors are white, silver, gold, saffron, orange and red.

The mantra associated with the Durga Yantra is “Om Aim Hrim Klim Chamundaye Viche.” The word “Chamundaye” is a reference to Durga and the slayer of Chamunda, an evil demon.“Viche” means a “shield” and indicates Durga’s role in protecting her own. Durga has the role of destruction for the sake of universal harmony.

More about Yantra Meaning: Powerful Sacred Symbols.

Nine Forms of Durga the Warrior Goddess

Durga appears in nine different forms, each with unique traits and powers. Together, they are called “Navadurga” or the “nine Durgas.” In the festival called Navaratri, all of her forms are celebrated over nine nights.

Durga as Shailaputri
During the first night of Navarati, Durga’s avatar Shailaputri is celebrated. This name means “daughter of the mountains.” She is the daughter of the king of the Himalayas. Shailaputri is the highest or purest form of Durga. In this form, Durga is the mother of nature. She is pictured riding a bull while holding a trident in one hand and a lotus blossom in the other.

Durga as Brahmacharini
The second day of Navaratri is devoted to Durga as Brahmacharini. This name means the “one who practices devout austerity.” She holds a rosary in her right hand and a water utensil in her left hand. The rosary symbolizes special Hindu prayers recited to her. The water is for marital bliss. Durga is believed to endow peace, prosperity, happiness, and grace upon her followers.

Durga as Chandraghanta
The third manifestation of Durga is a representation of peace, tranquility, and prosperity. Her name, Chandraghanta, is derived from “Chandra” (a half moon depicted on her forehead) and the ghanta (a bell). Durga rides a lion in this form. Chandraghanta is celebrated on the third day of Navarati.

Durga as Kushmanda
Durga’s fourth form is Kushmanda, meaning “creator of the universe.” Kushmanda is the one who brought light to the dark cosmos. She also has multiple limbs holding weapons, glitter, a rosary, and holy objects. The glitter is symbolic of the light she brought to the world. In this form, Durga rides a lion. Kushmanda is celebrated on the fourth day of Navarati.

Durga as Skandamata
Skandamata is the mother of Lord Kartikeya, who was chosen by the gods as their commander-in-chief in the war against the asuras or demons. Skandamata has a pure and divine nature. She is seated on a lotus or lion, possessing four arms and three eyes. She holds the infant Skanda (Lord Kartikeya) in one arm. Skandamata is celebrated on the fifth day of Navarati.

Durga as Katyayani
Katyayani is the sixth form of Durga celebrated in Navarati. Katyayani has wild hair, 18 arms (each holding a weapon) and rides a lion. Katyayani was born in a fit of divine rage and anger. She emits light that darkness and evil cannot hide from. Though Katyayani looks terrifying, she is believed to bestow a sense of calm and peace upon her followers.

Durga as Kalaratri
Kalaratri is also known as Shubhamkari. Her name means “one who does good” in spite of her fearsome looks. She has a dark complexion, wild hair, four arms, and three eyes. Lightning comes from her necklace and flames shoot from her mouth. Kalaratri is similar to Kali: she has black skin and is worshipped as a protector of faithful Hindus. She is to be honored and feared. Kalaratri holds a spiked club and a dagger. Two of her other hands beckon to the faithful to be protected and dispel their fears. Kalaratri is celebrated the seventh day of Navaratri.

Durga as Mahagauri
Mahagauri means “extremely white.” This is the eighth form of Durga. The name Mahagauri refers to Durga’s luminous, radiating beauty. By worshipping her, Hindus believe that all sins – past, present, and future – will be washed away. She wears all white, has four arms, and rides a bull. Mahagauri holds a small tambourine and a trident. Another hand grants blessings. Another is held in a gesture allaying fear.

Durga as Siddhidatri
Siddhidatri is the final form of Durga. Her name means “giver of supernatural power.” Hindus believe she gives blessings to gods and worshippers alike. Siddhidatri grants wisdom and insight. She also rides a lion, carries a trident, a chakra discus, a conch shell, and a lotus.

For more information: Durga and Navaratri.

About the Author

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

Kathleen’s Books

Vocal Medicine reveals Kathleen Karlsen’s personal journey and years of research into mantras, chanting and kirtan. Learn more about using mantras and singing to invigorate your life! Explore the chakras and the impact of sound in every area of your life. 

Flower Symbols by Kathleen Karlsen features fascinating information about the folklore of the world’s most beloved flowers. Flowers accompany us in nearly every major event in life. This book is a perfect gift for every flower lover in your life! 

DURGA ARTICLE SUMMARY 

The story of Durga is the story of spiritual protection in the form of a Hindu goddess. Durga’s name means “fort” and her role is to defend her devotees. This article includes her story; her symbols, mantras and yantra; and the nine forms of Durga. Music videos of two mantras to Durga are also included.

More Resources to Explore