The goddess Durga is one of the most important deities in the pantheon of ancient India. She came into being when the gods could not defeat a powerful malevolent demon (or, more precisely, Asura) named Mahisa or Mahisha (also known as MahishAsura). Imbued with all the weapons of the gods and her own irresistible power, Durga confronted and defeated MahishAsura and restored balance to the cosmos.
Above is an artistic depiction of the battle between Durga and MahishAsura, from the rock-cut temple or shrine (known as a mandapa) of Mahishamardini at Mahabalipuram in southeast India (in the modern state of Tamil Nadu, south of Chennai, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal), and dated to the seventh or eighth century AD.
The goddess is depicted riding upon the back of a fierce lion, holding a bow in her outstretched arm. The Asura Mahisha is shown as a powerful monster with the body of a giant and the head of a great bull buffalo, brandishing a large bat-shaped club. According to the ancient texts, Durga defeats MahishAsura by cutting off his head.
The celestial references in the traditional depictions of Durga and MahishAsura (and in the Sanskrit texts themselves) make it clear to the student of the world-wide system of metaphor which underlies the ancient myths and scriptures that this episode is built upon characters and events we can still see to this day in the infinite realm of the heavens above.
The goddess Durga riding upon her lion is associated with the constellation Virgo the Virgin in the celestial realm. Note that Virgo follows closely behind the constellation Leo the Lion in the night sky, which explains why so many goddesses in ancient myth from many different cultures are depicted as accompanied by lions or as riding upon lions: some examples include the goddess Cybele of Phrygia, the goddess Rhea of ancient Greece, the goddesses Ishtar and Inanna of ancient Mesopotamia, and even occasionally the goddess Isis of ancient Egypt. Additionally, the goddess Freya (whose chariot is drawn by cats rather than by lions) may also be connected to this same celestial pattern.
There are numerous additional pieces of evidence which indicate that the goddess Durga is closely associated with the constellation Virgo, including textual descriptions and artistic depictions of the goddess with torches, peacock plumes, serpents (usually a cobra), peacocks, and other details related to constellations which are found in close proximity to the constellation Virgo in the night sky. Below is a statue depicting Durga found in the famous temple at Aihole in modern-day Karnataka, and dated to about the seventh century AD. Note that in the statue depicting the goddess we see a torch in one of Durga’s upraised arms (in the upper-left corner as we face the image). This torch can be identified with the constellation Coma Berenices which is seen in the night sky directly above the outstretched arm of the constellation Virgo; many other Virgo-related figures in ancient myth are also associated with torches (including the goddess Hecate of ancient Greece and the goddess Oya of the Yoruba in the continent of Africa):
In this artistic depiction we again see the figure of a lion, as well as a long serpent draped around the neck of the goddess (possibly associated with the constellation Hydra, which stretches beneath the constellation Virgo along the full length of Virgo and on past Leo in the night sky).
The depiction of the figure of MahishAsura in the Mahishamardini rock-temple at top can be seen to closely resemble the outline of the constellation Orion in the night sky: Mahisha stands with his legs apart and a bend at the knee of his left leg (on the right side as we face the image), in very much the same posture as the constellation Orion, whose leg on the right side of the constellation as we face it in the night sky is also slightly bent. The artist of the sculpture in the Mahishamardini cave has even given MahishAsura a wide belt, with a long sash hanging down between the legs, very much reminiscent of the constellation Orion in the heavens.
In fact, the constellation Orion can be interpreted as lacking a clearly-visible head, but the constellation Taurus the Bull is located close by Orion — which is why MahishAsura is described as having the head of a great buffalo bull. This fact can also be seen as the origin of the part of the story in which Durga beheads MahishAsura.
It is very noteworthy that the constellations Orion and Taurus can be seen to be sinking down into the western horizon at the same time that the constellation Virgo is rising up above the eastern horizon. There are numerous examples of myths from around the world in which a constellation rising up in the east is described as “defeating” or “slaying” or “banishing” a constellation (or constellations) which are sinking down into the western horizon at approximately the same time.
Below is a video I made which explains this “dual-horizon action” which is present in some of the world’s ancient Star Myths, including the description of Durga’s defeat of MahishAsura. The myth of Durga’s battle with MahishAsura is described during the first seven minutes of the video:
During the lead-up to the great battle of Kurukshetra, described in the ancient Sanskrit epic of the Mahabharata, the semi-divine hero Arjuna is accompanied by the god Krishna (one of the avatars of Vishnu), who acts as Arjuna’s divine charioteer during the battle. Prior to the battle, Krishna advises Arjuna to call upon the goddess Durga, which Arjuna does. As Krishna recites a hymn of praise to the goddess, Durga appears — and promises Krishna that he will be successful in the upcoming battle, and that he is in fact incapable of being defeated.
I am convinced that the entire Mahabharata is esoteric in nature, and based upon celestial metaphor (there is an extended chapter in The Ancient World-Wide System: Star Myths of the World, Volume One which explores the celestial foundations of many of the characters and events in the Mahabharata). Therefore, I believe that the great battle of Kurukshetra itself is a metaphor (rather than the description of an actual historical or literal battle), representative of our struggle in this incarnate life itself.
The fact that Durga appears in an instant when Arjuna recites his hymn to the goddess illustrates to us that we always have access to the unbounded realm, the divine realm (although we often act as though we do not). Durga’s message to Krishna dramatizes to us the fact that we are in fact incapable of being defeated in this incarnate struggle in which we are engaged — if we are in touch with and in harmony with the realm of the gods, and with our Higher Self (illustrated by the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna during the battle).
As she is speaking to Arjuna, the goddess tells him that the one who recites this hymn to Durga every morning upon rising need not fear even malevolent spiritual beings, and will overcome all obstacles — and, if acting in righteousness, will be aligned with Krishna, and “where Krishna is, there is victory.”