There’s a festival that takes place over the course of nine nights in India called Navratri. You may have heard about it. It’s a Hindu celebration that gives reverence to the triumph of good over evil, and it’s dedicated to the nine incarnations of the goddess, Durga. Navratri takes place every October and is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. This means Goddess Durga is also one of the most important feminine deities in the yogic tradition. If you’re not familiar with Durga and what she represents, here’s an overview on this beloved yoga goddess.
Goddess Durga's Symbolism
In essence, Durga is the goddess who fights against evil. She stands for the preservation of morality and good ethical behavior. In India’s ancient language of Sanskrit, durga means “fort,” or a place of shelter and protection. As such, Durga helps to protect us from the forces of evil, giving us a safe haven to take refuge in when evils lurks close by.
In each of her eight hands she wields weapons to fight off the evil forces of hatred, anger, jealousy, greed, selfish behavior, arrogant pride and prejudice. Upon gazing at images of Durga, you’ll see a chakra in her uppermost right hand. This chakra represents our dharma, or "duty." We must all perform our dharma in this life in order to do good work in the world and fulfill our destiny.
Then there’s the sword in another one of her hands, which symbolizes the annihilation of all our personal evil vices. In another hand, you’ll see a beautiful conch representing happiness, which we can all attain when we perform right action and moral duty.
In yet another one of her hands you’ll see a bow and arrow. This is the representation of Rama’s character traits, which have to do with the holding onto our moral values even in the face of our trials and tribulations. Then there’s the lotus flower she holds, which represents detachment. We must always remain detached from our egos, to a certain degree, less the vices of our ego take over. We also need to lessen our attachments on the ups and downs and illusions of the external world around us — in the same way the lotus flower blossoms with grace even among the muck and dirty water in which it lives.
(More on the reality of illusion in Brahman and Maya: A Yogic Explanation of Reality Versus Non-Reality.)
In another hand, Durga wields a club. This is the symbol of the monkey god, Hanuman, who performs his service in the world with love, devotion and, ultimately, surrender. We follow our dharma and do good work in the world, but we surrender the results to the Divine, remaining unattached to the outcome.
The trident, in yet another one of her warrior-like hands, represents courage. It takes courage to fight against the evil vices within us and the evil forces without. It takes a real heart-felt willingness to conquer the inevitable challenges we’re all bound to face in this life.
You’ll see that not every one of Durga’s hands wields a weapon. One hand has taken the form of a specific mudra — the mudra of forgiveness. In order to evolve, we must all forgive ourselves and others for any harm that’s been done in the past. Forgiveness is freedom, which is what the yogic tradition is all about.
You’ll also notice that Durga is seen riding upon a great lion. The lion is a symbol of power — the kind of power that knows no limits. Durga’s lion is also one of strong will and determination. One must also have these characteristics in order to eradicate the ego’s many evil vices.
Finally, Durga has not just two eyes, but three. This triad of eyes represents the sun (action), the moon (desires) and fire (knowledge). This mother of creation, as she is also believed to be, takes life in the image of the goddesses, Shakti, Kali, Sati, Parvati, Basanti, Amba, Jagadhatri, Tara, Ambika and Annapurna. Embodying all these goddesses, Durga really is the goddess of supreme being, as she is also often called.
How to Invoke Durga's Warrior Strength
You may have heard of Durga’s daughters, Saraswati (goddess of the arts) and Lakshmi (goddess of beauty, abundance and auspiciousness). To call in Durga to protect you from evil and give you the limitless power to slay evil forces, take a meditative seat and repeat her mantra at least 108 times:
This mantra will call in the energy of Durga to protect you from negative forces while giving you the strength to slay the dragons of negativity — in all its forms. Like Kali, you can invoke her when you need to call in your inner warrior goddess — the one that sees through the illusions of evil and into the truth of goodness.
(Continue reading for Invoking the Divine Feminine in Yoga: How to Call Upon 5 Popular Hindu Goddesses.)