Goddess - The Demon Slayer

September 25, 2020
 By Mrudula Govindaraju and Blythe Robbins
A Pronunciation Guide and Glossary can be found at the end of the post.


Many eons ago there were three kingdoms: In the first kingdom, the gods (also know as devas) lived beyond the skies; in the second kingdom, humans (also known as manavas) lived on earth; and in the third kingdom, demons (or asuras) lived deep within the earth in the realm of darkness. While the gods in the first kingdom were the most powerful, there were power struggles between the three kingdoms over who would reign supreme.

In the world of darkness, there lived two brothers named Rambha and Karambha, both known as brave warriors and honorable kings. Even though they were successful kings, they were unhappy. Their hearts worried about who would rule their beloved dark lands after they were gone. You see, they had no children to inherit their thrones and rule after them. Even though they had both wanted kids, they had never had any. So, in an act of desperation, the two brothers set out to seek wisdom from the great Lord Brahma, hoping that the Creator God would be able to bless them with children.

The two brothers traveled far to arrive at Lord Brahma’s sacred lake, Panchanada. To ask Lord Brahma for his help, the brothers planned to pay tribute to him so that the Brahma would descend from his home to help them. Karambha stood neck-deep in the water of Lake Panchanada, and Rambha lit a sacred fire and sat in front it: then they prayed to Lord Brahma for help.

The brothers’ prayers were so intense that the forest and water spirits became quiet as they watched. Eventually, the king of the gods Indra heard what was happening, and he rushed to the scene to investigate. Indra didn’t know that the brothers wanted help having children, but he was worried because he was afraid that if Lord Brahma helped them that the brothers would become more powerful than he was.

Out of fear, Indra acted without thinking further: he changed into a crocodile, slid quietly into the lake, and gobbled up Karambha. And then he left.

When Rambha realized what had happened to his brother, he was so sad and angered that he screamed into the sacred fire that he had built and cried loudly at the great loss of his closest friend. His howls were so great that they filled the sky until thunder and lightning appeared. Strong winds whipped the branches in the trees, and stones flew in the air and over the water.

      “Stop!” A loud voice echoed from the sacred fire, just as a mighty form rose from it. “Rambha get up.”

“Lord, O my Lord.” Rambha instantly dropped to the ground in front of Agni, the fire-god.

“Stand up, Rambha.” Agni commanded. “Your passion is great but so is your grief. What is causing this uproar?”

“Agni! My brother Karambha was killed unfairly by Indra. The coward took the form of a crocodile and ate my brother while he prayed. Please help me make something good out of all of this bad.”

“What do you want?” Agni asked.

“Grant me a child who will be immortal.” Rambha bowed deeply.

“No one can be immortal, Rambha. Every being that is born must die when it is time for it to pass. Even God Brahma, the Creator cannot grant immortality.”

“In that case, God, grant me a child, who will be strong, will have fantastic magical powers and have the ability to shift-shape.”

“So be it.” God Agni blessed Rambha and disappeared. Rambha was joyous and he set out with a purpose. The child he had longed for would finally come to be.

On Rambha’s journey back to his land, he fell in love with a yakshi, a forest spirit, and together they had a child named Mahishasura. Because his father was magical, Mahishasura became a grown-up immediately: he had the body of a full-grown man but the head and tail of a buffalo. Because Rambha wanted his child to be the most powerful of all creatures, he was part buffalo, or Mahisha, the most fearsome beast of the forest.

      Since Mahishasura was a gift from God Agni, he became powerful and invincible. Like his father, he became the ruler of the dark lands of the third kingdom. He was so powerful that he conquered the land of people in the second kingdom to become the Lord of the Earth. Mahishasura became so powerful that he dreamed of conquering the kingdom of the gods.

      Mahishasura plotted to bring war to the first kingdom, the land of the gods, but he knew that when he did, the gods would seek the help of the most powerful gods: Lord Brahma, the Creator; Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, and Lord Shiva, the Destroyer. Mahishasura worried that he would never be able to defeat an army of angry, strong gods. So, as his father had done many years before, Mahishasura turned to Lord Brahma for help.

      Mahishasura prayed passionately to Lord Brahma for support. Pleased with Mahishasura’s devotion and sincerity, God Brahma appeared before him.

      “O father of all beings, I am blessed that you have appeared before me.” Mahishasura fell at Brahma’s feet with folded palms.

“What do you want, Mahishasura?”

“God Brahma, grant me immortality.” Mahishasura bowed with reverence.

“I cannot. Ask me for something else.”

“Grant me that no man or god or demon can kill me.”

“So be it.” Brahma granted the wish.

Mahishasura was jubilant. He returned to his dark lands in triumph and gathered all of the warriors in his court.

“I am invincible,” he bragged. “thanks to God Brahma. Gather our armies and prepare for war.”

Mahishasura marched his army into the land of gods and fought a mighty war. Even Indra’s most powerful weapon, his thunderbolt, was no match against the might of Mahishasura and his army. Indra and the other gods were driven out of their homes. In desperation, they went to find Lord Brahma.

      “O father, what have you done?” They cried. “You have granted Mahishasura invincibility and he has driven us out of our homes. Soon he will drive you from yours too. Gods Vishnu and Shiva will follow. What will happen to all of us? We must do something!” Indra held Brahma’s hand and wept, tired and defeated.

 Brahma summoned Vishnu and Shiva.

“I made Mahishasura invincible. He cannot be killed by a man, animal, or demon. That means only one thing: we must send a woman after him. Where can we find such a woman?

Vishnu answered in a quiet voice, “She is in each of us. She is the feminine Shakthi we carry within ourselves. She is the greatest power, the mother of all powers.”

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva summoned their Shakthi from deep within. All three powers combined to form a single, great Shakthi. A powerful and spectacularly luminous woman formed from the combined Shakthi of the Trinity. She became Maha Maya, the supreme mother goddess.

Maha Maya had eighteen hands, each held a weapon, and she sat on a ferocious lion. The luminescence from her clothes and jewelry were blinding and the gods couldn’t bear looking at her. They closed their eyes in fear.

The Trinity bowed to Maha Maya.

“Brahma, you must never be so thoughtless when you grant a favor.” Maha Maya admonished gently.

“Mother, I realize that now. Please, you must help us rein in Mahishasura. He has become power-hungry and is out to conquer all the kingdoms.”

Maha Maya thought for a moment and then said, “I will give him an opportunity to choose first. Everyone has choices to make at every point in their lives. Just as we make those choices, so too must we learn to face the consequences of those choices.”

So saying, Maha Maya vanished into the kingdom of the gods. The roar of her lion reverberated among the three kingdoms. She appeared in the celestial garden with a laugh.

An unearthly voice called to Mahishasura.

“Mahishasura, your realm is in the dark lands. Go back there and rule in peace. You have no business sitting on Indra’s throne.”

“Who dares talk to me in that fashion?” Mahishasura grunted in a terrible voice. “Come stand before me if you are that brave.”

“I am here in the garden, come find me.” Maha Maya laughed.

In one mighty leap Mahishasura jumped from his palace into Indra’s celestial garden and stopped dead in his tracks. He had never beheld a woman so fierce and dazzling.

“You are a woman.” He gawked. “I have never seen anyone like you. Who are you?” He asked in wonder.

      Maha Maya laughed. “I am here to give you a choice, so that you may make the right one, and return home to your own land, where you may continue to rule as your father once did.”

Now Mahishasura laughed. “Now why would I do that?

Maha Maya sighed, “Go back and rule where you belong, Mahishasura. The land of the gods is for the gods, and the land of earth is for people. And you belong in your own world. You must make the right choice, or you will face devastating consequences.”

“I might do that,” Mahishasura said, “but no one can harm me: no man, animal or deva.”

      Maha Maya smiled, “Do I look like a man to you Mahishasura? I am a woman, and so those rules do not apply to me.”

       And then it dawned on the king that he was outwitted by the gods. But he was a great warrior and he wouldn’t go without a fight.

      The battle raged with great fury between the Mother Goddess and the dark world King, both getting the better of the other. Maha Maya at every instance gave Mahishasura a chance to change his mind and his ways. When Maha Maya reached the end of her rope, she looked at Mahishasura and her eyes blazed red.

“You have lost your chance, Mahishasura. You are unable to make the right choice. Your time is up.”

      Maha Maya threw the trident in her left-hand and it struck Mahishasura in his heart. The king fell dead to the ground. When his soldiers saw their king fall, they ran in a panic back to their own dark lands and remained there. Peace returned to all three kingdoms.

 We worship Maha Maya, especially during Navaratri, by chanting her many names. One of them is Mahishasura Mardini or the slayer of the great demon, or asura, Mahisha.


 Glossary and Pronunciation Guide

  • Devas (dey.vas) - Gods
  • Manavas (ma.nuh.vas) - Humans
  • Asuras (ah.sur.ahs) - Demons
  • Panchanada (punch.uh.na.da) – Sacred lake
  • Agni (uh.gni) – In Sanskrit agni means ‘fire’. The fire-god Agni is the messenger between humans and gods.
  • Immortal – Living forever
  • Invincible – Cannot be defeated because they are too powerful.
  • Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer – In Hindu mythology God Brahma creates the world and everything in it. Vishnu takes care of the world and preserves it. Shiva destroys the world so Brahma can once again create it. This cycle of birth, preservation and death repeats again and again.
  • Shakthi – Power or energy