Seeing Mother Durga In Agni


ma durga
Let me wish all my medhavi friends a glorious Navarathri, filled with the joy of the Grace of Ma Shakti in all her manifestations and with fresh opportunities to deal effectively with obstacles in their paths with her help.
When Varshakal ceased its downpour and Sharad smiled on the land, year after year, our ancients knew that the time was ripe to resolve again to get one’s shatrus defeated. When Kishkindha kanda smoothly glided over to Sundarakanda in Valmiki’s epic, Varsha was over and Sharad had risen. The symbolism had been sketched for Ravana’s downfall. Even if Valmiki did not spell out to the devout the future date of the actual fall of the demon-king, they would know that the first nine days of the bright fortnight (shukla-paksha) after Bhadrapada Amavasya had to again bring about this symbolic fruition; for, did not Rama taste victory finally precisely after these 9 days, on another Vijaya dasami day?

Devi Mahatmya describes in 700 slokas, recited by the devout as Chandi parayana, the advent of Parashakti as Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati to destroy exremely formidable demons, who made Devas tremble and mortals miserable. Madhu and Kaitapa, the frightful Mahisha, Raktabeeja, Chanda and Munda and finally Shumbha and Nishumbha! All the engagements of Mother Shakti with the forces of evil could have taken long, very long, but they are all remembered during the Sharad navaratri. Including of course, the victorious dasami, to make up the dasa-ra.

By shatrus our wise ancients did not simply mean external enemies disposed maliciously towards one. They referred to the internal nityashatrus one had to guard against. The kamakrodhadi aberrations that can infect the mind and indriyas of a person who does not observe control. They referred to ignorance, to half-baked knowledge, to vanity coming out of achievement without vinaya, out of wealth without moderation. They referred to laziness, procrastination and lack of diligence.

They wished one to remember intensely the power of Bhagavan’s shakti, atleast nine days in the year, so that restarting one’s education on vijaya dasami, man can resolve yet again to conquer his nityashatrus and become fit for the Love of the Universal mother.

Long before the puranas arrived in our land to tell us how Shakti had to accompany the creator right from the first moment of creation so that selectively good will keep triumphing over evil and survival of good can be assured, our Rishis to whom Vedas were revealed had looked at the natural phenomena near and afar in space and realized the raw energy of Tejas or Fire. Fire that they could raise in their homa spaces. Fire that destroyed forests. The Sun that sustained them in a myriad ways and the stars afar. The comets and the meteors. The mysterious happenings in outer space. They knew that they needed help from all manifestations of tejas, agni, energy, shakti. They prayed to fire in the homa, and to jyotis in all of space. They thought of Fire as a male; it could also be Indra , Vayu and it could be accompanied by Varuna. It could guard like Virochana and destroy like Rudra. They took some time to think of energy as a female; energy would then become Ma Durga above durgas, a Fortress protecting them from different kinds of obstacles, and a Boat transporting them away from the obstacle zones.  Rigveda began the process of crystallizing this concept which got developed, when they understood the sustaining Narayana principle, as revealed joyously in the Mahanarayana Upanishad contents of Yajur and Atharva  Vedas.
The Wikipedia entry on Mahanarayana Upanishad points out that this is the name of more than one Upanishad.

  • The tenth chapter of the Taittiriya Aranyaka is known as the Mahanarayana Upanishad of the Yajurveda. It exists in two recensions, now known as the Dravida, of 64 anuvakas, and the Andhra one, of 80 anuvakas.
  • There is a Mahanarayana Upanishad associated with the Atharvaveda, with similar content, in 25 khandas.
  • A medieval text called the Tripadvibhuti, listed in the Muktika canon, is also sometimes called the Mahanarayana Upanishad. It is not related to the others.
Of these, the two recensions of the Yajurvedic upanishad and the one from Atharvaveda are substantially similar in content. In all three of them you have the beautiful, small sukta, called Durga Sukta.
From several nice renderings available in the web, here is a beautiful one. You will notice the change from the trshthup chanda or metre of the first seven slokas, when the 8th, which is the gayatri of Durga Mata, is recited.

A simple English translation of the 8 slokas of the sukta is as follows:

1. We shall press out the Soma Juice to Jatavedas (Deva Agni). May the all-knowing Agni annihilate our enemies. May Agni protect us against all obstacles and evils and take us across them like a boatman who takes people across the river in a boat.
2. I take refuge in that Goddess Durga who is of the color of Fire, who blazes with her tapas (spiritual fire), who is the consort of Virochana (the Supreme Being) and who is the bestower of the fruit of actions. Obeisance to You who are skilled in ferrying people across the river of the World. Be pleased to ferry us across.
3. O Agni, who are worthy of Praise, take us across all obstacles by ways that are safe. May our town and our lands expand. Make our children happy.
4. You Jatavedas, who are the remover of obstacles, take us beyond all evil like the boatman who ferries the people across the river. O Agni, may you be a careful protector of our bodies like Atri who is always concerned with the welfare of all beings.
5. Let us invoke, from the highest places, Agni the vanquisher of enemy hosts, who is powerful and invincible. May that Agni protect us against all obstacles and evils.
6. O Agni, praised in sacrifices, you increase bliss. You are the ancient and the new invoker at sacrifices. O Agni, make yourself happy and grant us prosperity.
7. O Indra, all-pervading! We shall follow you blessed with abundant cattle and unbroken happiness. May those who live on the heights of heaven bring here the world of Vishnu.
8. We shall try to know Katyayani, we shall engage in contemplation on Kanyakumari may Durga be pleased to guide us.
The first 7 slokas occur together as the 2nd anuvaka of prasna 4 of Mahanarayanopanishad in both recensions of Yajurveda. And the 8th which is the gayatri mantra of Durga Mata is recited customarily at the end of the 7 slokas.
Only the first six are available as slokas 2 to 7 of the 7th khanda of Mahanarayanopanishad in Atharvaveda.
Rigveda, as we saw already does not contain Mahanarayanopanishad. However the only sloka/sukta of the 6th anuvaka of the first mandala of Rigveda, for which the devata or deity is agni, and  author or Rishi to whom it occurred/was revealed is Kasyapa, son of Mareeci, happens to be the same as the 1st sloka of Durgasukta. My grandfather’s translation of the sukta in his 1935 publication is naturally found to be very close to the above translation of sloka no.1 in Durgasukta. It reads:
May we offer the Soma oblation to Jatavedas. May he, the knower, consume the wealth of those, who behave hostilely to us.  May he transport us over all the dangerous paths. May he carry us past all wickedness, as a boat over the stream.
Now  listen to this single sukta anuvaka in Rigveda all by itself. It has a new name, Agni-Durga sukta! Here is the link to the audio.

Was the seed for understanding Narayana and Durga not planted already in Rigveda?


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