Being the personification of the material energy, Durga is also the maidservant of Lord Krishna, and conducts herself in accordance to the will of the Supreme. Her shadow is the material energy, maya. In this form of Durga, she is pictured as a beautiful demigoddess with ten arms, representing the ten types of material activities. She rides on her lion, indicating her heroic activities. She is the subduer of vices, represented by the image of her trampling the demon Mahishasura. She is the mother of her sons Kartikeya and Ganesha, representing beauty and success. She is armed with twenty weapons, denoting the various pious activities enjoined by the Vedas for the suppression of vices. She also holds a snake, which signifies destructive time. The word durga also means a prison house or a fort. So the material world is like a prison from which it is hard to escape. ?Dur? means difficulty and ?Ga? means going. So it is very difficult to escape from this material world without undergoing many hardships. But one who takes shelter of the spiritual potency can get free from the illusory nature of the material world. So when the living beings forget their spiritual nature and the service of the Supreme Being, Krishna, they are confined in the material prison of the universe. This is the aspect of the cosmic creation which is presided over by Durga. However, those who are devotees of the Lord and who are on the spiritual path to regain their real nature are free from this prison-like environment of the universe. Durga does not affect them.

       The spiritual form of Durga is Yogamaya. The external form of Durga is Mahamaya, the illusory energy. The spiritual form of Durga who functions on the platform of shuddha-sattva, pure transcendental existence, is understood to be Krishna?s sister, known as Ekanamsha or Subhadra.9 The name Subhadra means auspicious. So Subhadra also paves the way for the devotee?s spiritual progress by supplying that which is auspicious and taking away all that is inauspicious. So this is the spiritual form of Durga, the shadow of whom is the external material energy. We should note, however, that Durga works in the material world. Subhadra plays the part of Lord Krishna?s sister and is the internal or spiritual energy, and does not work as Durga in the material world. So, originally their energy is one and the same, but through her expansion as Durga she works in a different capacity within the material realm.

       Furthermore, higher than Subhadra is Radharani, Lord Krishna?s consort and the quintessence of spiritual energy. She is the personification, essence, and origin of Lord Krishna?s pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. This pleasure potency of Lord Krishna expands to become Radharani for the sake of the most intimate spiritual pastimes in Goloka Vrinadavana, the topmost spiritual planet. This potency expands further into the forms of Krishna?s queens in the other Vaikuntha planets, and also as His sister, Subhadra, for other purposes and pastimes. And Durga is an expansion of this internal or spiritual energy. In this way, Durga also can be considered an expansion of Radharani. Therefore, Radharani is the source of the pleasure essence in the spiritual dimension, while Durga provides the means for all pleasure in the material realm.

       So herein we can understand that mahamaya in the material world is an expansion of yogamaya in the spiritual world. The difference in function is that yogamaya manages the spiritual sky, and in her partial expansion as mahamaya she manages the material world. Yogamaya covers the devotees in the spiritual world so that they can forget the Lord?s greatness and engage in loving pastimes with Him as His friends, parents, servants, and so on without being overwhelmed by His omnipotence. Mahamaya in the material world, on the other hand, keeps the living entities forgetful of their true eternal nature as long as they have no spiritual inclination. So yogamaya helps bring the devotees together with the Supreme Being in various relationships while mahamaya keeps them separate, or at least makes it seem they are separate through the principle of forgetfulness.

       Another way to understand this is that there are two divisions of energy, the material and spiritual. The original energy is the spiritual, in which is the hladini-shakti potency of Krishna, which is His pleasure potency. It is this pleasure potency from God through which all spiritual joy and happiness are felt. This is also the original form of Durga who is nondifferent from this spiritual energy, but Durga is her form in the material world. The partial expansion of the hladini-shakti potency is mahamaya, which also acts like a covering for the hladini-shakti potency, the pleasure of our spiritual nature. In the material world she bewilders the conditioned souls so they can think they are happy in material pursuits. In this way, the materialists remain covered over by their attraction to their desires for sense pleasure due to mahamaya, and the devotees and transcendentalists become absorbed in spiritual pleasure through yogamaya, or the hladini-shakti. It is through yogamaya that the religious become happy or joyous in their spiritual pursuits and liberated from the material realm. This is the work of Subhadra who provides what is auspicious and takes away what is inauspicious for the sincere seekers on the spiritual path. Thus, the material energy is like a testing ground that must be passed before one can gain entrance into the spiritual world. It also protects the spiritual atmosphere from those who are not sincere. This is one function of Durga.



    The Narada Purana (1.3.13-15) lists many names of Durga. Since she is considered one of the energies of the Lord, she is regarded as His shakti, and is called Uma, Bharati, Girija, and Ambika. The great sages designate her as Durga, Bhadrakali, Chandi, Mahesvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi (supreme potency of Lord Vishnu), Varahi (potency of Lord Varaha, an incarnation of Krishna), Aindra, Shambhavi, Brahmi (connected with Lord Brahma), Vidya (spiritual knowledge), Avidya (nescience), Maya (the illusory energy of the Lord), and Para Prakriti (the Supreme Primordial Nature).

       Other aspects of Durga are accompanied by a different name and often a story for each name. We will not relate each story, but some of the additional names can be summarized. These include Lalita, who is a beautiful Goddess, living eternally in the city of Shripura on Mount Meru with her spouse, Shiva Kameshvara. Annapurna is the form of Parvati who blesses the household with food. Aparajita means Durga as the invincible. Bala means the child. Bhadrakali is one of the aspects of Mahakali and the form that sprang from her wrath when her husband, Shiva, was insulted by Daksha, and who fought along with Virabhadra, the embodiment of Shiva?s wrath, to destroy Daksha?s sacrifice. Bhairavi is the Devi as the power to cause terror, one of the ten aspects of Shiva?s energy. Bhavani is another name. Bhutatma is the Mother of the Bhutas or ghosts. Dakshayani is Durga as the daughter of Daksha. Gauri, means yellow or golden wife of Shiva. Indrakshi has eyes similar to Lord Indra?s, and is often worshiped by Indra. She can also alleviate the incurable diseases when pleased by nice hymns. Jagadhatri is the one who sustains the world. Katyayani is the Devi who was once born as the daughter of Kata. Parvati is the daughter of Parvata, the personification of the Himalaya. Rudrani is wife of Rudra. Tripura Bhairavi is the shakti of Shiva when he is the ruler of death.


   In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Krishna-Janma-Khanda, 118.35) Durga talks with Shiva about how she is an expansion from the highest realms and explains herself in this way: ?I am Mahalakshmi in Vaikuntha, Srimati Radha in Goloka, Shivaa [connected with Shiva] in the region of Shiva, and Sarasvati in the abode of god Brahma.? Thus, from the highest levels of the spiritual domain she expands herself to include all other shaktis, or potencies.

       The Narada Purana (1.3.27) also explains that in regard to Lord Vishnu, ?His Shakti is the great Maya, the trustworthy upholder of the universe. In view of its being the material cause of the universe, it is [also] called prakriti by scholars.?

       This illusory energy, maya, plays an important part in the creative process of the cosmic manifestation. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.5.25), Maitreya explains to Vidura that the external energy works as both cause and effect in the cosmic manifestation. This external energy is known as maya or illusion, and through her agency only is the entire material manifestation made possible.

       Maya is the external energy of the Lord and is divided into two parts. Maya is the efficient cause, and the other part are the ingredients that create the cosmic manifestation, known as the pradhana or prakriti.10 The Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.63.26) relates that in the pradhana aspect, maya is composed of time, activity, providence (the destiny of the conditioned souls) and nature. These along with the vital force or energy, the subtle material ingredients, and the material nature, known as the field of activity for the conditioned souls, and the eleven senses (the senses of perception and organs of action) and five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether), are the ingredients of maya. Thus, Lord Krishna is the creator and maya only helps Him as an instrument. It is this maya, or material nature, which the Lord glances over which becomes agitated, and into which the Lord injects the seed of life as the original living entities. Thereafter, due to the reactions of the Lord?s glance and His energy which mixes with maya, the material energy gives birth to the myriad universes.11

       So maya, or material nature, is merely the secondary cause of the creation. Nonetheless, it serves two purposes: It contains the subtle material elements, and then through the changes that take place causes the material manifestation. The Brahma-samhita (5.19) also explains that the primary material elements were originally separated. Then through the spiritual power of the Supreme, in His knowledge potency, maya was moved. It is through this combination of the efficient or spiritual potency in conjunction with the inactive material causal principles of maya that the elements and the different entities develop into a state of cooperation. Thus, it is by this combination of energies that the material creation can manifest, and the spiritual living beings appear as the materially conditioned souls within the material elements of the creation. In a graphic description, it is explained that maya appears like a huge pot filled with the innumerable universes that are like mustard seeds within it.12

       Another function of maya is to cover the living beings with the material energy, and, thus, keep them in illusion as to what is their true identity. This sort of forgetfulness is one of the main principles of the material world, without which the living beings could not engage in material life. After all, if it was too obvious to the living beings that they are spiritual entities, they would not be satisfied with material pursuits or the engagement of bodily sense pleasures. So to help provide a playground for the materially conditioned souls who are rebellious and want to live outside of God?s kingdom, this forgetfulness must be there. This is the third function of maya, which covers the living entity in this way. As explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (8.14.10), ?People in general are bewildered by the illusory energy [maya], and therefore they try to find the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through various types of research and philosophical speculation. Nonetheless, they are unable to see the Supreme Lord.?



   This is further explained as follows: The internal potency of the Supreme Lord is spiritual. The marginal potency consists of the living beings who can lean toward the spiritual or material energy. The third potency of the Lord is the material energy, maya, also called nescience or darkness. It is this maya which makes the living entity godless and fills him with the desires for fruitive activity and sense pleasure. Thus, because of being influenced by the nescient potency, which covers his spiritual position, he suffers the threefold miseries of material existence.13 These three kinds of miseries of material existence include those that come from the body itself, those caused by other living beings, and those problems caused by natural occurrences.

       Because of being illusioned like this the living entities cannot understand the truth of the creation and, thus, they wander throughout the material world for many lifetimes. However, the living beings are independent in determining whether they want to engage in material or spiritual activities. Misusing this independence to turn toward the dark side separates the living beings in varying degrees from the spiritual light. Yet, when the living beings turn toward God and work to regain their spiritual nature, they can return to their normal spiritual state of being and be relieved of material existence.

       Actually, the spiritual living beings are merely covered by this cloud of maya, which affects their consciousness. Therefore, the goal of any genuine spiritual path is simply to remove this cloud and the influence of the illusory energy. If a religious system cannot do that, then it is incomplete.

       The Brahma-samhita (5.44) also explains that maya is like the shadow of the Lord?s chit or knowledge potency, and is also worshiped in the form of Durga, the creating, preserving, and destroying agency of this material world.


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