Hindu Goddess Durga: History & Names

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

According to Hindu legend, the dark, demon-slaying goddess Kali emerged from the goddess Durga. Learn more about Durga in this lesson, including her history and various forms.

Durga's Origin and Purpose

Though Hinduism is renowned for its thousands of gods and goddesses, most Hindu traditions claim there is only one goddess, or Devi, with many different manifestations. Devi, which simply means ''goddess'' in Sanskrit, takes on as many forms as needed. She is often called Shakti, which means ''energy.'' So what does this have to do with Durga?

Durga is one of the many incarnations of Devi or Shakti. Durga was not incarnated to have a child, like some of Devi's other forms but instead was created so that she could slay a demon. Mahisa Asura was this buffalo demon, who was a cousin of the gods. He was granted immortality by Brahma, the creator god, with one catch - he could be killed by a woman. Mahisa Asura, along with the other Asuras who were cousins of the gods, attacked all of the gods and, with Mahisa's new immortality, could not be beat. The gods decided to combine their energies to defeat Mahisa, combining them into Durga, the incarnation of Devi, who was a woman. The two battled for nine nights, according to the tradition, before Durga was victorious. This is commemorated during the festival of Navaratri, which literally means ''nine nights.''

Durga slaying Mahisa Asura
Durga slaying Mahisa Asura

The Appearance and Symbols of Durga

Clearly Durga is a fierce and fearsome warrior. Most of her appearance and symbols relate back to her battle with Mahisa Asura. When she was created for this epic battle, she was immediately born as a beautiful fully formed adult. She is usually depicted carrying various weapons in each of her eight (sometimes ten) hands, representative of the gods combining their energies in her. She is usually seen riding a lion or tiger as well - quite fitting animals for such a warrior. Her name even literally means ''invincible.''

Durga's Other Forms

Like we have seen, Durga has many other forms because she is an incarnation of the ever-pervasive Devi. One of Durga's other forms is Parvati. Parvati is one of the most popular Hindu goddesses, being the consort of Shiva and the mother of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. Through Parvati, Durga is also Guari, a goddess of life, and Ambika, a goddess of marriage.

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