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Durga in Java, Indonesia
Long ago, there were various types of Indic sub-religions and sects and cults and paganism, ritualism, and shamanism. These, in due course, were coalesced to form the precursor of modern Hinduism. Among the components of modern Hinduism, we have Shaktham. This cult holds Shakthi as the Supreme Goddess. Ancient Shaktham had many variations. Some of them were allied. But many were individual religions on their own merit. Most of them had their own Agamas called Tantras. There were sixty four Tantras belonging to the Shaktha cults. Some of the cults had fierce goddesses; some had fierce practices. Very few seem to be docile. Most forms of Shaktha worship had sacrifices
among which human sacrifices also figured. Some cults had a curious practice of cutting off one's head as a self-sacrifice called Navakantam. Even Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller of the 13th century has mentioned it. In one important cult, they worshipped the Goddess as a Perpetual Virgin. This cult had an eighteen-armed Goddess called Ashta Dasa Bhuja Mahalakshmi. She is the Supreme Goddess. This worship is different from the cult of SriVidya, which has SriRajaRajeswari/Lalitha Parameswari/MahaTripuraSundari as the Supreme Goddess. This Mahalakshmi is not the same as the MahaLakshmi who is also known as the Goddess Sri, who is the consort of MahaVishNu. Her manifestations/coexistors are the MahaSaraswathi, and the MahaKaaLi. This MahaLakshmi is different. The MahaSaraswathi mentioned here is not the consort of Brahma who is one of the Trimurthis. The Mahalakshmi is Adhi ParaShakthi Herself in this cult. And the MahaKaali is not the same as what is known as the BadraKaali whom we see ordinarily in pictures. The three forms of Adhi ParaaShakthi - namely MahaLakshmi, MahaSaraswathi, Maha KaaLi have a combined form - samashti figure- and this what we worship as Durga. She is called Durga Lakshmi, Chandi, Chamundi, NarayaNi, Kathyayani, MahaMaya, KanyaKumari, MahishaMardhini and by other names. She is a Virgin Goddess. Readers must keep in mind that this concept of Shakthi worship is somewhat different from that of RajaRajEswari/Kamakshi/TiripuraSundari worship. While we go along in this series of madals, it is better to keep this fact in mind. Even if you tend to forget, bring it back. It should be, with it as a backdrop, that you have to read this. People have 'Vedicised' these concepts for reasons of their own. With that influence, if these facts are seen, then they will be seen as disparities. Especially when this is written by a non-Brahmin. When all the Brahmin sources write one way, a Non-Brahmin writing in another way in Agathiyar, will certainly look wrong in the eyes of an influenced reader. (A similar thing happened in the case of 'Varahi') It is all up to you. What the Vedicised versions say need not always be correct. They were Vedicised along half-way by interested people. Not by the Gods themselves. The past was very different from what the Hindus have been made to believe. Mother Goddess worship was prevalent and popular in most parts of the ancient world. An important component of this was the Virgin Goddess worship. The Virgin Goddess worship was also extending over a very large area of the known world in the ancient times. Ishtar, Astarte, Diana, Freya, Juno and a host of such Goddesses. From Scandinavia, Spain to the Middle East, India, and South East Asia. We can still see the worship of Virgin Mother Goddess in some other religion also. In fact the worship is more prominent.
Ishtar in Babylon
If we take the pantheon of the Mother Goddess of Hinduism, we can see a huge multitude of goddesses. These goddesses belong to several cults. The study and research of these cults cover a very vast field. These cults got collected into sub-religions. As time passed by, and under threat of the introduction of foreign religions, they stuck together. We still can see very distinct and different streams of these goddess worships. Another big contribution of our goddesses came from Buddhism and Jainism. When Jains and Buddhists got converted, their goddesses also got converted with them. For the most part, many of the goddesses went out of worship. Many more lost their prominence and became minor deities. Still others were relegated to guardian or village deities. Some became the unseen KulaDevathas. There are many sadhanams for the worship of Devi. One among them is a mantra book called 'Sri Devi Mahathmyam'. This is a very special mantra codex. There is nothing which is comparable to it. This mantra codex contains 700 slokas. Hence it is known as 'Durga Sapthasati' - The Durga Seven Hundred. This is supposed to be one of the most powerful mantras.
This is the mantra which is used when performing Chandi Homam. There are many reasons for performing the Chandi Homam. But most importantly it is done for victory and success. There is a shade of difference between the words 'success' and 'victory'. Although both seem similar. The 700 slokas are in the form of stories or Charithams. Three of them. Within them are thirteen chapters. This charithams were seen by Markandeya Maharishi who sang them in seven hundred verses and made this codex. Devi appeared as MahaKaaLi, MahaSaraswathi, and MahaLakshmi during various Manvanthras and destroyed Adharma - injustice, terror, cruelty, hardship, etc., and the Asuras who perpetrated them. The agents of Adharma were creating Chaos. The Goddess, by destroying them stopped the devolution into Chaos and stabilised Cosmos which is the fine order of the Universe. What is a Manvanthra? The Hindus have a concept of the measurement of periods of time. There are eras known as Yugas. There are four yugas - Kritha, Thritha, Dvaapara, and Kali. Kali has 432,000 years. All the four yugas combined together known as Chathur Yuga has a total of 4,320,000 years. 72 such ChathurYugas make one Manvanthra. A Manvanthra is a period after a minor Pralaya and human kind is born though its progenitor called a Manu. A Manu is the son of Surya. Man is known as 'Manushya' because he was born from Manu. Each Manvanthra is ruled by a Manu and is known by his name. The present Manvanthra is known as Vaivasvatha Manvanthra which named after Vaivasvatha Manu. He got that name from the Sun Vivasvan. There are twelve Adithyas who are manifestations of the Sun/Surya. Vivasvan is one the twelve. Devi appears during each Manvanthra. We were talking about Sri Devi Mahathmyam. Not only does the book treat the stories, but it also contains the Sthuthis which eulogise the Goddess. It praises Her greatness and majesty. All the seven hundred verses of this codex are mantras on their individual merit. And also they act as a single mantra when chanted as a whole. Of the seven hundred, seven manthras are selected to form the SapthaSloki which also acts as a MalaManthra by its own merits. I am sure that many of you would have heard the manthra 'Sarva Mangala MaanagalyE SivE....' being chanted during the Maangalyadhaaranam - tying of the Thaali during marriage. It is also normally chanted during the Deepa Aaraadhana. This manthra is one the seven hundred and also one of the seven. And it is used singly also.