Ma Durga is Mother Nature, the form of the universe (as opposite to Shiva - the content of the universe). She is Devi Mahamaya (maha = great, maya = illusion), the supreme goddess. Durga is depicted as a warrior woman with multiple hands carrying weapons and assuming mudras (symbolic hand gestures). She rides a lion or a tiger (originally it was ghoradaba singha, a mythical animal which has characteristics of Lion as well as Horse). This form of the Goddess is the embodiment of feminine and creative energy (Shakti).
The Worship of Durga
Worshipping of Ma Durga is celebrated in different forms in all corners of the world where some Hindu population is there. The 4 day Durga Puja is the biggest annual festival in Bengal and other parts of Eastern India We Bengalis envision her as a daughter of Bengal (Parvati, the daughter of Himalay), who lives in mount Kailash with her husband Lord Shiva, sons Kartik and Ganesh, and daughters Laxmi and Saraswati. The four days of her worshipping is to celebrate her yearly homecoming. The day of Durga's victory is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami (East and South India), Dashain (Nepal) or Dussehra (North India) - these words literally mean "the tenth" (day), vijaya means "of-victory". This day also commemorates Lord Ram’s victory over demon king Ranvan.
The Epic Battle
The story of Durga goes like this.
There was a demon king Mahishashur. He was extremely powerful, ruthless, and megalomaniac. He was a gifted changeling; he could to change to any form of being in an instant. His signature was his horn-shaped headgear.
Mahishashur with his army of demons, with its weapons of iron, and its phalanxes of elephants and chariots, marched on the corners of earth, enslaving humanity, and then finally attacked king of heaven – the Indra of the devas, defeating him.
The victory was complete, and all devas were driven from heaven. Whoever remaining were enslaved by Mahishashur. Devas roamed around the world as refugees, destitute and heartbroken. They finally went to the three great gods- Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the nurturer), and Shiva (the destroyer).
On hearing the story of Mahishasur's atrocities, the face of the three gods flushed with anger, and a brilliant light flooded forth from their third eyes. The light concentrated on one single point and burst into flames. Devas watched in wonder as the great flame issued forth in all directions. The fire illuminated all the three worlds: the heaven, the earth, and the nether-world in penetrating light. Devas poured in their own powers into the light, and from the combined might and sacrifice of the good, Ma Durga was born.
The three gods and the prominent devas donated their best armoires to Durga. Once prepared, Durga lead the army of devas to heaven, and brought devastation on Mahishashur’s kingdom.
Mahishashur was shocked and enraged by the disastrous events on the battlefield. He changes to his favourite form, a buffalo, and charged about on the battlefield. He ran wildly at Durga's divine soldiers goring many, biting others and all the while thrashing with his long, whip-like tail.
Durga's lion, angered by the presence of the demon-buffalo, attacked him. While he was thus engaged, Durga threw her noose around the buffalo’s neck. To escape this trap, Mahishashur discarded the buffalo and assumed the form of a lion.
Durga beheaded the lion, and the demon escaped in the form of a man.
Without hesitation, Durga dispatched towards the man a flight of sharp arrows. Yet again the demon escaped, and this time took the formidable shape of a huge elephant.
The elephant battered Durga's lion with his tusk. With her sword Durga hacked at the tusk until it too was broken.
Weakened, the demon reverted once more to his form of the wild buffalo. He retreated into the mountains where he hurled boulders at Durga with his horns. The Mother of the Universe drank the divine nectar, gift of Kuver. She jumped on Mahishashur pushing him to the ground with her left leg. She grasped his head in one hand, pierced him with her sharp spear held in another, and with yet another of her ten hands she wielded her bright sword, beheading him. At last he fell dead, and the scattered surviving remnants of his once invincible army fled in terror.
The devas returned to heaven, and along with the sages of the earth, they sang praises to the Goddess Durga.
You can get some more details @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durga
Rishi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhye, in his revolutionary book ‘Ananda Math’, presented the concept of Devi Durga, Laxmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, intellect and music) together as one and the same, as Bharat Mata (Mother India), the embodiment of Mother Nature.
He also described Devi Durga as future form of Mother India / Mother Nature, where she with all her magnificence is protecting her children and banishing the evil.
You can get some more details @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anandamath
Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga. From this day starts 'Devi-paksha' (fortnight of the goddess) and marks the end of 'Pitri-paksha' (fortnight of the forefathers). It is the day people in the pre-dawn hours pray for their demised forefathers and take holy dips in the holy rivers. This ritual is known as 'Tarpan'.
On this day, Lord Ram hastily performed Durga Puja just before he set for Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana.
This day bears special significance to Bengalis because of a Radio Program “Mahisasura Mardini” first broadcasted in 1930 over the radio in Akashvani. The programme was organised by Premankur Aatorthi, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Nripendra Krishna Mukhopadhya and Raichand Boral. The script was written by Bani Kumar, music was directed by Pankaj Kumar Mallik; while Dwijen Mukhopadhya, Manobendra Mukhopadhya (Tabo Achinta....), Sandhya Mukhopadhya, Arati Mukhopadhya, Utpala Sen, Shyamal Mitra and Supriti Ghosh (Bajlo tomar alor benu....) sang in their melodious voices.
It was broadcasted live then. Later it was recorded and played.
Download those timeless Mahalaya tracks here:
From then it has always been the voice of Birendra Kishna Bhadra enthralling the listeners in the pre-dawn hours of Mahalaya. Akashvani in Kolkata still plays that on the auspicious dawn. Those migrated elsewhere; many of them carried CDs of the same in the farthest corners of the world, and play it to observe Mahalaya in their own way.