Friday, March 27, 2020

Devi Mahatmya - 1

Devi Mahatmya - Markandeya Purana, tr. by Bibek Debroy

Ch 1  (Ch 78 in the book) >> Ch 2

f the five sections in the Markandeya Purana, the Devi Mahatmya is the fourth. While ascribing a date to one of the oldest Puranas is difficult, one estimate is that the Markandeya Purana was composed no later than the 4th century CE, and the Devi Mahatmya most likely by the 6th century CE. Bibek Debroy uses the Sanskrit text brought out by Nag Publishers in 1983 for this translation, which gives us 6,449 shlokas.

Of which the Devi Mahatmya comprises a little under six-hundred shlokas, contained between chapters 78 and 90. Introductory verses added to the Devi Mahatmya result in 700 shlokas, and that is known as the "Chandi or Durga Saptashati (seven hundred)".

Kroushtuki asked rishi Markandeya about the Manus. Markandeya starts by telling him that the eighth Manu was Savarni, Surya's son. He came to be the Manu on account of the favours of Mahamaya (Devi).

To get to that part, we first need to go to the Svarochisha manvantara and a king named Suratha. Suratha was defeated in a battle with the Kolas because of his advisers and lost his kingdom and riches. Dejected, depressed, he went to the forest on the pretext of a hunt. There he met a brahmana named Sumedha and a dejected-looking vaishya named Samadhi. The vaishya told him that he had lost all his wealth to his wicked wife and evil sons. However, he still thought about his family. That was as surprising to Suratha as it was to Samadhi himself. Both presented themselves to the sage Sumedha. The king had the same dilemma as Samadhi, and asked the brahman for answers - despite having lost everything, they still retained a sense of attachment to those material objects, a sense of "mine".

The rishi replied that this sense of attachment was on account of Mahamaya - the great illusion. Mahamaya the goddess, the brahmana said, had originated from Hari at a time when he had been immersed in yoga. Mahamaya deludes even the intelligent ones, is the reason behind the 'bondage of samsara', and the reason behind emancipation. Obviously, the king wanted to know more!

At a time when the entire universe was submerged, Vishnu was asleep and lying down on Shesha. At such a time, two demons - Madhu and Kaitabha - manifested themselves from the wax of Vishnu's ears and prepared to kill Brahma. To propitiate Yoganidra and awaken her, Brahma praised her. The verses he chanted in her praise are known as the Ratri Suktam - originally present in the Rig Veda, but also included as a subsidiary text of the Devi Mahatmya.

Brahma chanted these shlokas, praising and describing her as Vishwehwari, Nidra, Svaha, Svadha, Sandhya, Savitri, Mahavidya, Mahamaya, Mahamedha, Mahasmriti, Kalaratri (night of destruction), Maharatri, Moharatri (night of delusion), Shri, Ishvari, and more, ending with a plea to wake Achyuta up from his slumber and defeat the asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha.

Thus praised, the goddess emerged from Vishnu's eyes, nose, arms, heart and chest. He woke up, saw the two asuras, and a great and long battle between the three took place. Dazed by Mahamaya, they sought to give a boon to Keshava. Seizing upon the opportunity, Keshava asked that the two die at his hands. Realizing their folly, the two tried to make the boon an unattainable one and asked that their deaths at his hands come at a place where there was no water. Remember that this was at a time of the great deluge, with the entire universe was flooded! Keshava agreed, placed them on his thigh and sliced off their heads with his chakra.

Thus ends the first chapter of the Devi Mahamatmay from the Markandeya Purana.

Reference: Markandeya Purana, translated by Bibek Debroy. Published by Penguin, 2019.

© 2020, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.