DURGA OF KASHI
Devi Bhagavatham tells us the interesting story of how Bhakti compelled Durga Devi to be seated in the holy city of Kashi. King Dhruvasandhi who came in the lineage of Ikshvaku ruled Ayodhya; his rule was well known for strict adherence to dharma and the subjects were all very happy. He had two wives, Manorama and Lilavati; a son was born to each of the queens. Manorama's son Sudarshan was elder by a month to Satrujit, son of Lilavati. Both the children grew up under a shower of great love. Satrujit known for his deft tongue became more popular. Once Dhruvasandhi went to the forest for hunting and got killed by a ferocious lion. Sage Vasishtha and the ministers decided to make Sudarshan the king, being the elder of the two sons and also found suitable for the throne. This decision generated strong resentment in King Yudhajit, the father of Lilavati; he was keen to get his grandson Satrujit installed king. King Veerasena, the father of Manorama, tried to reason with him in favour of Sudarshan. In the meantime, dacoits started looting the headless kingdom and ministers were very worried. Yudhajit and Veerasena had endless arguments; Yudhajit's avarice and intransigence finally led to a bloody armed war between the armies of the two sides assembled there. Veerasena was killed in the conflict.
The grief-stricken Manorama now feared for the life of her son Sudarshan. She thought: "One who is swayed by greed will stoop to any despicable action including killing his own parents, brothers, teachers and relatives. In earlier times, Devendra himself entered the womb of sage Kasyapa's wife Diti and divided the crying foetus into fortynine bits, who later became Marut devatas. Sagara was born bearing the poison fed to his mother by his step-mother. Kaikeyi banished Rama to forest in order to make her son the king, killing her husband Dasaratha in the process." So thinking, Manorama consulted her trusted minister Bidalla and they proceeded to the battlefield to see the dead king Veerasena. From there, Manorama, accompanied by son Sudarshan, Bidalla and a servant-woman, slipped away. After two days' journey across forests, they lost everything including the chariot to the robbers who attacked them. They then crossed river Ganga and sought refuge at the ashram of sage Bharadwaja's descendants. The hermits there, on knowing of the plight of the royal destitutes, took pity and assured them of total safety and further blessed that the child would become king of Ayodhya in due course.
Yudhajit got his grandson Satrujit crowned king with glee. He was however anxious to find the whereabouts of Manorama and Sudarshan and kill the latter. He returned to his city and came to know of the hermitage where Manorama was staying. He immediately proceeded there, accompanied by the hunter chieftain of Sringaverapura. Manorama heard about their arrival and became very worried. She recalled the story of Draupadi, who was staying in a hermitage. The five Pandavas had gone out for hunting. King Jayadratha who happened to pass by saw the beautiful Draupadi. Attracted, he wanted to take her with him and use force if required; but he was halted by the spiritual force of the sages. Manorama pleaded with the sages in the same manner to save her and Sudarshan from Yudhajit. The sages tried to persuade Yudhajit to leave the ashram guests in peace; but their advice fell on deaf ears. When Yudhajit showed no inclination to listen, they threatened him with consequences faced once by Visvamitra. When Visvamitra wanted to take away by force the divine cow Nandini from the ashram of Vasishtha, the latter challenged him. In the ensuing tussle, Visvamitra's military powers failed in front of Vasishtha's spiritual prowess. Yudhajit's ministers counselled him: "Fighting the sages would result in destruction of the complete lineage. When the time is unfavourable Indra's weapon Vajra may turn into a blade of grass and a blade of grass into Vajra. Similarly a mosquito may be able to kill an elephant." Yudhajit thought it wise to withdraw.
Sudarshan grew up physically as well as spiritually in the atmosphere of the hermitage. He chanced upon the Bijamantra 'Klim' of Devi at the age of five and developed special indescribable love and attachment to the powerful single-syllable mantra. He became a great devotee of Devi spontaneously without having been initiated in mantra or Pooja by any Guru. He was initiated into Upanayanam when he turned eleven. He learnt Vedas, archery, political science etc. Once he had the rare fortune of having direct darshan of Devi, blood-red in colour, mounted on Garuda. Devi bestowed on him divine bow, arrows and quiver.
Subahu was the king of Kashi at that time and he had a beautiful daughter called Sasikala. She was also a great devotee of Devi. She heard of the impressionable personality and glorious attainments and traits of Sudarshan. Love dawned in her and she became determined to marry him. Devi appeared in her dreams and assured her that her wish would be fulfilled. She then met a brahmin who had returned from the hermitage where Sudarshan stayed. He praised Sudarshan as the most handsome prince and said that the union of herself with Sudarshan would be brilliant like that of gold and pearl. Sasikala's pangs of separation out of boundless love for the prince grew every day. She said to her friends: "My mind is very pained. Sandalpaste applied on the body is hot like poison. Garland is like serpent. The cool rays of the moon burn me like fire."
Sudarshan had darshan of Devi in his dream again. Once the hunter chieftain of Sringaverapura gifted him with a fully fitted chariot with four horses. The loving sages in the ashram blessed him and predicted that he would soon become king of Ayodhya. Considering the circumstances, Manorama could not bring herself to believe that her son with no army, no wealth, no ministers and no help could become king; however she trusted that the blessings of the sages, who had mastered mantras and siddhis and who were worthy of worship, could not turn untrue.
Subahu in the meantime decided to conduct a swayamvara for his daughter. Swayamvara in royal household used to be of three types: one, where the girl chooses a boy according to her best liking; two, where the boy who fulfils a stiff precondition is chosen; three, where the boy who shows the maximum physical prowess as a fee is chosen. Subahu proposed to adopt the first method. Sasikala grew anxious on hearing about this disturbing development. Through a friend of her she apprised her mother of her undying love for Sudarshan and of her steely determination to marry him, come what may. Her mother discussed the matter with the king. She later met Sasikala and advised her to desist from her wrong choice because Sudarshan had no wealth, no army and no kingdom. Further, his life was in dire danger from Yudhajit. Sasikala was not moved by these arguments. She cited to her mother the example of Sukanya who was a young beautiful princess and yet married the old and blind sage Chyavan. Finding that Sasikala was absolutely obstinate, her mother conveyed the status to the king.
Sasikala now thought that she should do something actively to get Sudarshan to Kashi and marry her. She sent a message to him through a brahmin conveying the news of the proposed swayamvara and of her eternal love for him. She said: "Bhagavati has blessed in my dream that my marriage with you would surely take place. I have vowed to marry you. If there is any obstacle in our marriage, I will consume poison or fall in burning fire. My father has called a swayamvara. Please therefore take immediate action to come here and marry me." On receiving the message, Sudarshan set out for Kashi on his chariot without any loss of time. His mother initially dissuaded him citing danger from Yudhajit. Sudarshan said he would follow Devi's instructions and proceed to Kashi as consequences are Devi's responsibility. Manorama invoked Devi's armour (kavacham) and herself accompanied him, blessed by the sages. They were ceremonially welcomed in Kashi. Many princes from different kingdoms, accompanied by kings and big retinues of army, had arrived. They were all astonished to see Sudarshan, unarmed and alone, having come for participating in the swayamvara. Yudhajit along with Satrujit was also there. He said he would kill Sudarshan, but was dissuaded by the king of Kerala on grounds of dharma. Yudhajit responded: "How can a jackal be allowed to enjoy the legitimate share due to a lion? Military might is the strength of kshatriyas. Hence it would be right on my part to fight the undeserving Sudarshan. "
Summoned to the assembly, the kings asked Subahu about his intention. To everyone's shock, Subahu disclosed Sasikala's determination to marry Sudarshan in spite of his persuasions. The assembled kings then spoke to Sudarshan inviting his attention to his state of being totally unarmed when the other hostile kings were fully armed to fight him. Sudarshan's response was an epitome of his high level of devotion and total surrender to Devi. He said: "I do not see any enemies; I only see Bhavani everywhere. It is the Supreme Shakti that ordered me to come to the swayamvara. Whatever is Her will is sure to come by. Believe me, I have no anxiety regarding honour or dishonour in case of victory or defeat; that is entirely for Devi to worry." The kings then pointedly spoke to him about the danger to his life from Yudhajit. Sudarshan responded wisely and beautifully: "Jiva is bound by his karmas, Prarabdha, Sanchita and Vartamana. People with tremendous security die; people having none to protect live thousands of years. I have surrendered to Bhagavati; her will is my pleasure. I have no enmity with Yudhajit; anyone who is hostile to me will reap the fruit of his action."
The next day all kings and eligible princes assembled in the swayamvara hall in their best attire. Subahu informed Sasikala that the assembly of royal guests was waiting for her and that she could select anyone of her choice. Sasikala refused to go over to the hall as that would be against her dharma of loyalty to husband, having already vowed to wed Sudarshan. She pleaded with her father to get her married to Sudarshan. Subahu reached the assembly hall and informed the guests very respectfully and courteously of Sasikala's obstinacy. He entreated them to return to their cities. Yudhajit spat venom. He abused Subahu for the dishonour heaped on the guests. He vowed to kill Subahu as well as Sudarshan if Sasikala is not given in marriage to his grandson Satrujit. Daughter should be given only after considering the lineage, wealth, strength, personality, kingdom, military might and friends of the suitor. Even if Sasikala chooses any prince other than Sudarshan, he would have no objection. Yudhajit asked for Sasikala to be brought to the hall. Subahu retreated, conveyed to Sasikala Yudhajit's threat and once again pleaded with her to come to the assembly hall. Sasikala persisted in her refusal to do so. Subahu offered to impose some stake or precondition for the suitors and conduct the swayamvara. Sasikala did not agree to this either. She said that the question of swayamvara did not arise as Sudarshan had been chosen by her. She suggested that if Subahu was afraid of the kings, he should ask them to come to the hall again the next day. The marriage with Sudarshan should be conducted in the night and Sudarshan would leave the palace with her in his chariot. In case a war with the kings ensues, Devi would protect her and Sudarshan. There was nothing to worry. Such was the strength of devotion of Sasikala. Subahu could do nothing in the face of the rock-like determination of Sasikala. He once again expressed to the kings on bent knees his inability to persuade his daughter to attend the swayamvara and promised to bring her round the next day. The kings appreciated the truth of the situation and went away, but they stood on guard at the outlets of the city.
In the evening Subahu secretly invited Sudarshan and Manorama to his palace and performed the wedding as per prescribed rites. He presented the couple royal gifts of horses, elephants, chariots, pearls, gems and ornaments, servants and foodgrains. He thanked Manorama for agreeing to the marriage. Manorama praised Subahu for his courage in giving his accomplished daughter in marriage to a prince with no kingdom, no army and no near and dear ones; that too, in the face of life-threatening opposition from powerful kings. Subahu offered to give his own kingdom entirely or at least in part to Sudarshan; but Manorama said they would leave for their hermitage in the forest and think of future course of action. In the meantime the kings came to know that the marriage had indeed been completed. Subahu also apprised them in the morning of the completion of the marriage. The kings became furious and vowed to kill Subahu and Sudarshan. They blocked the roads leading out of Kashi. Sudarshan, Sasikala and Manorama left the palace in a chariot, followed by Subahu and his army.
A violent clash soon ensued between Yudhajit and Satrujit on the one hand and Sudarshan and Subahu on the other. Volleys of arrows flew. A wonder happened all of a sudden. There appeared in the battlefield Durga Devi in person, mounted on lion, decked in beautiful ornaments and holding many weapons in her hands. Sudarshan now became even more courageous and expressed his happiness to Subahu. The kings could not believe their eyes. However Yudhajit goaded them to continue the fight, making light of the appearance of a young girl on the scene. Fighting between the two sides continued. Devi, who became very angry, assumed different forms holding many weapons. She let off powerful arrows. In a moment Yudhajit as well as Satrujit fell dead from their chariots. The other kings were shocked.
Subahu praised Devi in soul-stirring verses. He said: "When Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are unable to praise you sufficiently in words, how can an ordinary person like me attempt? When severe austerities cannot ensure your darshan, it is only due to your compassion that a very ordinary devotee like me is blessed with your darshan. You have once again demonstrated your determination to exterminate evil forces and protect the good." Devi told Subahu to ask for boons. Subahu, who was overwhelmed with the intensity of bliss of the sudden experience, entreated Devi to grant him unwavering devotion at her feet. He also pleaded that Durga Devi should reside permanently in Varanasi and protect the city and the inhabitants. Devi agreed to his request. Sudarshan now praised Devi expressing his surprise at her compassion in protecting one who is devoid of devotion. He asked Devi for further guidance. Devi blessed him and asked him to proceed to Ayodhya and perform the duties of king properly. She directed that her idol be installed in Ayodhya and Poojas be performed three times every day. Navaratri should be celebrated four times in a year; in the months of Chaitra, Ashadha, Aswina and Magha. The Navaratri in Aswina called Sharad Navaratri should be celebrated on a grand scale. Ashtami, Navami and Chaturdasi specially in Krishna Paksha are very auspicious for devoted Pooja of Devi.
The assembled kings now became very respectful with Sudarshan and apologised for the hostility shown so far. They heartily congratulated him and thanked him for the unexpected darshan of Devi. They requested him to explain the greatness of Devi and as to how he developed so much devotion and what made Devi to give darshan. Sudarshan explained that Devi is the primordial power and is the cause of all creation including the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. It is difficult for us to think of her as Nirguna and so it is advisable to meditate on Devi with names and forms. Sudarshan informed the kings as to how he got to know of the Kamabija mantra by sheer chance, how the sages in the forest encouraged him to do japa of that mantra and how he had been always meditating day and night on Devi with devotion. The kings happily returned to their places. Subahu also got back to Kashi.
Sudarshan reached Ayodhya and was welcomed with joy and great fanfare by the ministers and citizens. He proceeded straight to the apartment of Lilavati. He said to her on oath that he had absolutely no hand in the killing of Yudhajit as well as her son Satrujit. Jiva experiences the results of karmas. Sudarshan said that he was the servant of Lilavati. One should observe dharma strictly in all circumstances and accept whatever happens as Devi's grace. He said that when he along with his mother went to the forest, was looted by dacoits and was given refuge at the ashram and fed on simple diet, he never felt any sorrow. Getting birth as a human being and that too in Bharatavarsha is a rare good fortune. One should utilise this opportunity to subjugate the sense organs and try for Gnana leading to Liberation. Lilavati responded that she bore no illwill towards him and that it was the evil deeds of her husband and son that led to their ghastly death.
Sudarshan established a grand temple for Durga Devi and got a beautiful golden throne in which her idol was ceremoniously installed. Festivities on a large scale were observed in Ayodhya. The tenure of kingship of Sudarshan was like in Ramarajya. There was no deviation from the path of dharma. Dharma devata stood on all four legs. In Kashi also, Subahu ceremoniously consecrated Durga Devi's image in a grand temple. Everywhere people worshipped Devi with great devotion. The atmosphere always reverberated with joyous utterances of the holy names of Devi, Poojas, havans and celebrations.
The history of worship at the grand temple of Durga in Kashi continues from those early times uninterruptedly to this day. It is revered as a holy place of pilgrimage and people crowd there for falling at Devi's feet and obtaining her blessings.