From the Brahmanda Purana, “Lalitopakhyana” of 40 chapters
This is a story of the days following the destruction of Daksha’s sacrificial rite by Shiva’s retainers and the rebirth of Dakshayani (Sati) as Gauri, daughter of the mountain-lord Himachal. The Asura leader Taraka had routed the gods who found out that only a son of Shiva could slay this invincible. But the lord was engrossed in meditation. So, the gods begged Kama, the god of love, to intervene. Shiva, disturbed with the flower-arrows of desire shot from Kama’s sugarcane bow, opened his third eye and burned the presumptuous god to ashes. Chitrakarma, a lord of Shiva’s hosts, made a wonderfully formed figure from these ashes. When Shiva cast his gaze upon this form, it assumed life as an extraordinarily powerful, resplendent person who worshipped Mahadeva with the Shatarudriya mantra that Chitrakarma taught him. Delighted, Shiva blessed him, “Bhanda (fortunate)! As you have wished, half the strength of your opponent’s strength will become yours and your rule shall last for sixty thousand years.”
Daityas flocked to join Bhanda who was advised by Shukra to rebuild the city of Shonitapur (Tejpur in Assam, or somewhere on the banks of Mandakini) from where Daityas had ruled the three worlds in earlier times. Crowned there with the crown Brahma had given Hiranyakashipu, he chose two chowries that dispelled all sickness as his insignia. Shukra gifted him an umbrella made by Brahma that sheltered one from all missiles, a bow named Vijaya, a conch called ‘slayer of enemies’ and an imperishable throne that shone like the sun.
Comprehending the needs of the time, the gods silently served Bhanda who, with his Danavas, worshipped Mahadeva. Thus sixty thousand years passed like the blink of an eye. Then Janardana, lord of the Devas, created an invisible, all-enchanting Maya to delude Bhanda. Seeing her with her attendant apsaras, Bhanda and his counsellors were infatuated. Immersed in lust, they forsook all auspicious rites and neglected their preceptor, much to the delight of Vasava and the gods.
Narada, the itinerant sage, now advised the gods to destroy the deluded Daitya by propitiating the transcendent Shakti. On the slopes of the Himalaya the gods performed a great yajna to worship Parashakti on the bank of the Bhagirathi for ten thousand years and ten days.
Noticing this, Shukra approached Bhanda and warned him that Vishnu had invariably slain leaders of Daityas. Therefore, he should abandon Maya and rush to frustrate the rites of the gods.
As they approached the site, the Creatrix reared up a rampart before them, which reappeared every time Bhanda shattered it with his missiles. Despondent, Bhanda returned to his city. Horripilating, Shakra decided to hold a maha-yajna to worship the transcendent Shakti by offering Mahamamsa, human flesh. And so they did, chopping off the flesh of the victim and dropping it into the holy fire including feet and hands. As they were offering the entire body, a massive wheel-shaped mass of dazzling lustre emerged from the flames. The gods saw Mahadevi Ambika in its centre.
The essence of beauty and bliss, she resembled the hibiscus in complexion, wore robes of pomegranate-red and ornaments of all types, bearing noose, goad, sugarcane-bow and five shining arrows in her four hands. The gods chanted the praises of this Kamakshi, Kameshi, Kali, celebrating her as Mother Shri Lalita. The goddesses Durga, presiding deity of all mantras, and Shyama, presiding deity of all lores, joined Shri Lalita.
Commanded by Brahma, Vishvakarma built a wondrous city on the spot. Brahma pronounced that by herself a woman could not rule over a kingdom. She needed a consort to be complete. Since she embodied love itself, Shankara alone could suit her. As Brahma mused thus, Maheshvara manifested in the form of Kameshvara, a million times more attractive than the god of love. The goddess garlanded him and was given in marriage by Vishnu. The Devas presented them with various weapons and ornaments.
Thereafter, Lalita Devi set out to conquer Bhanda. Out of her goad emerged the goddess Sampatkari, sword in hand, mounted on the elephant Kanakakolahala. From Lalita Devi’s noose emerged the swiftly moving deity Ativaritavikranti seated on the horse Aparajita, holding in her four hands the noose, the goad, the cane and the horse’s bridle. They were joined by the boar-faced Shakti Krodhamukhi leading an army carrying palm-leaf fans set with diamonds and dark Mantranayika on a chariot. Alighting from the elephant Shri Dandanatha mounted the lion Vajraghosha whose thunderous roar deafened the four quarters. From the parrot carried on the hand of dark Mantranayika (whose other names are Sangitayogini and Shukapriya), the science of archery emerged to hand over the bow Citrajiva and inexhaustible quivers. Lalita Devi moved ahead on a huge chariot on whose ninth step ten Siddhi Devis of china rose complexion were stationed (Anima, Mahima, Laghima, Garima, Ishita, Vashita, Prapatisiddhi, Prakamyashiddhi, Muktisiddhi and Sarvakama, each holding the Chintamani, skull, trident and collyrium. There were also eight Shaktis: Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Mahendri, Chamunda and Mahalakshmi, each holding skull and lotus, red in complexion and in red garments. Above them were the Mudradevis with two hands, expressing mystical gestures, resembling pomegranate flowers and dressed in yellow robes. In two arms they held shields and swords.
Each had her name preceded by “sarva”: Samkshobini, Vidravini, Karshanakrinmudra, Vashankari, Madnanamudra, Mahankushayashti, Khecharika, Bija, Yoni, Trikhandika. Above them were the 16 digits of the moon with secret names, resembling the coral tree, with four arms holding swords, shields, bows and arrows and three eyes each. On the seventh step were the Gupta Taras, with the lustre of the china Rose, each of whose names was preceded by “Ananga”: Madana, Madanatura, Lekha, Vega, Ankusha, Malangi, holding sugarcane bow, flowery arrows, bouquets of flowers and lotuses. Then were the Sampradayas on the sixth step who had risen from the ashes of Kama, wielding fiery bows and arrows, lustrous like the fire of death, each name preceded by “Sarva”: Samkshobini, Vidravini, Karshanika, Hladanika, Sammohini, Stambhana, Jrimbhana, Unmadana, Arthasadhika, Sampattipurani, Mantramayi and Dvandvakshayankari. On the fifth step were the ten Kulottirnas like crystals, holding axe, noose, mace, bell and gems. Their names, preceded by “Sarva” are: Siddhiprada, Sampatprada, Priyankari, Mangalakarini, Kamaprada, Duhkhavimochini, Mrityuprashamini, Vighnanivarini, Angasundari, Saubhagyadayini. On the fourth step were the benevolent Nigarbhayoginis of pearly lustre, whose names preceded by “Sarva” are: Yajna, Shakti, Aishvaryaprada, Jnanamayi, Vyadhivinashini, Dharasvarupa, Papahara, Anandamayi, Raksharupini and Ipsitaphalaprada. Each held the thunderbolt, javelin, iron club and discus. On the third step were the eight Rahasyayoginis, deities of speech, lustrous like the red Ashoka, holding bows and arrows, encased in armour, also carrying lutes and books: Vashini, Kameshi, Bhogini, Vimala, Aruna, Javini, Sarveshi and Kaulini. On the second step were three goddesses, with eight arms holding bows, arrows, drinking bowl, fruit, dagger, shields, noose and a bell: Kameshi, Vajreshi, Bhagamalini. On the step in the centre of the chariot were fifteen deities, all round on the Anandamahapitha, the great seat of bliss, who are eternal, resembling Lalita in forms and weapons: Kameshi, Bhagamala, Nityaklinna, Bherunda, Vahnivasini, Mahavajreshvari, Druti, Tvarita, Kulasundari, Nitya, Nilapataka, Vijaya, Sarvamangala, Jvalamalinika and Chitra.
Shridevi or Lalita’s favourite was Sangitayogini also called Mantini, deity of music, riding in the chariot Geyachakra on whose first step sat Mantini. On the second step were Rati, Priti and Manoja holding lutes and bows, dark like the Tamala tree. On the third step were the deities of Kama’s arrows: Dravini, Shoshini, Bandhini, Mohini and Unmadini with five gods named Kamaraja, Kandarpa, Manmatha, Makaradhvaja and Manobhava, glowing like the Palasha flower. On the fourth step were Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Rati, Priti, Kirti, Shanti, Pushti and Tushti, the eight Kumaris, holding lances and discus. On the fifth step were sixteen deities: Vama, Jyeshtha, Raudri, Shanti, Shraddha, Sarasvati, Shribhushakti, Lakshmi, Shrishti, Mohini, Paramathini, Ashvasini, Vichi, Vidyunmalini, Surananda and Nagabuddhika, lustrous like the ruby, covered in armour, holding thunderbolt, baton, shataghni and bhushundika. On the sixth step were the Bhairavas with trident and drinking bowl: Asitanga, Ruru, Chanda, Krodha, Unmattabhairava, Kapali, Bhishana, Samhara. On the seventh step were Matangi, Siddhalakshmi, Mahamantangika and Mahati holding bows and arrows. With them were the heads of Ganas, Kshetrapa, Durgamba and Batuka along with Lakshmi, Sarasvati and the treasures Shanka and Padma. On the same step were the ten deities of the quarters holding thunderbolt, spear, Kala’s staff, sword, noose, pennant, mace, trident, missile of darbha grass and the discus.
On the chariot Kirichakra rode Dandanatha, boar faced, dark complexioned. On the second step were Jrimbhini, Mohini and Stambhini with pestle, plough and liquor pot. On the third step were five deities led by Andhini seated on the Devi yantra. On the fourth step were six deities led by Brahmi. Beneath them were the seven Dhatunathas: Yakshini, Shankhini, Lakini, Hakini, Shakini, Dakini and another Hakini ready to consume the seven ingredients of the body. Krodhini and Stambhini fanned with chowries on the same step flanked by plough and pestle. The terrible lion Chandocchanda stood before Dandanatha with three eyes. On the sixth step were eight deities led by Vartali: Varahi, Varahamukhi, Andhini, Rodhini, Jrmimbhini, Mohini and Stambhini with a dusky white buffalo on their left to carry Dandanatha. Beneath them were Indra and the other guardian deities of the cardinal points. On the wheel were Jrimbhini, Stambini and Mohini presiding over the Northwest. At the end of the step was Kshetrapala holding skull and mace, damaru and serpent noose. Beneath them were ten Bhairavas: Hetuka, Tripurari, Agnibhairava, Yamajihva, Ekapada, Kala, Karalaka, Bhimarupa, Hatakesha and Achala.
Hearing the noise, Bhanda ordered Kutilaksha, “Drag that foolish woman conceited because of the strength of the Devas, by her tresses after defeating her.” Durmada was the first to attack and was slain by Sampatkari with her arrows. Kuranda now came forward, elder brother of Durmada, to attack Sampatkari. But she was approached by Chandi who requested permission to despatch this foe. Seated on a horse, she slew him with her blazing goad. Kutilaksha now sent five generals led by Karanka who created a huge serpent to swallow up the Shaktis. Goddess Nakuli riding on Garuda was born of the palate of Lalita, and presided over all speech. She turned her teeth into mongooses who despatched all the serpents. Then she beheaded the five generals.
Now Bhanda sent seven generals led by Balahaka. At the bidding of Dandanatha, her bodyguard Tiraskaranika blinded the foe and beheaded them. She made a garland of their seven heads and put it around her neck.
Bhanda now asked his brother Vishanga to attack Lalita from the rear while fifteen generals distracted her armies. They succeeded in occupying the ninth step of Lalita’s chariot and Vishanga’s arrow shattered her royal fan. At this, Shridevi knitted her brows, noticing which the fifteen Nitya deities of the moon’s digits came into the fray led by Kameshvari who split Vishanga’s armour and made him flee.
Bhanda now sent his thirty sons led by Chaturbahu. Hearing this, Lalita’s daughter Bala insisted on facing them. She was flanked by the worried Mantini and Dandanayika seated in a covered palanquin. Soon she destroyed the army and cut off the heads of all thirty sons of Bhanda with her arrows.
Bhanda now sent Vishukra, attacking in the dense darkness invisibly. He operated the great mystical yantra, Jayavighna because of which the Shaktis lost all will to fight. Mantini and Dandanatha, in great agitation, reported the calamity to Lalita who glanced at the face of Kameshvara and laughed with red teeth. From her laugh emerged the elephant headed lord of ganas. With his tusks he split apart the slab on which jayavighna had been drawn. The Shaktis regained their frenzy and with the army of ganas attacked the Danavas. Vishukra sent Gajasura against Ganeshvara who slew him. Vishukra fled. Lalita gave Ganeshvara the boon of being worshipped before all other deities.
Bhanda sent both his brothers Vishanga and Vishkura with his ten nephews born of his sister Dhumini into battle. Vishukra discharged the Trishna missile afflicting all shaktis with acute thirst. Mantini then advised Dandanatha to call forth the deity Surasindhu, ocean of liquor, who showered torrents of various types of liquor to reinvigorate the shaktis who drank joyously. Then they decimated the Danava army. Mantrini used the Brahmashiras to kill Vishukra while Dandanatha killed Vishanga with the plough and club.
Overwhelmed with grief, Bhanda himself attacked with Kutilaksha and thirty-five generals. Lalita herself faced him, knowing that the others could not withstand him. Bhanda released the Mahasurastra from which Madhu, Kaitabha, Mahisha, Dhumralochana, Chanda, Munda, Chikshura, Chamara, Raktabija, Shumbha, Nishumbha, Kalakeyas arose and smashed the army of Shaktis. Lalita became furious and burst into a loud angry laugh. From this appeared Durga. She stuck down these Danavas, bowed to Lalita. Bhanda now discharged the arnavastra, flooding the field, whereupon the goddess created a huge tortoise from the nail of her index finger who supported her armies. The Asura lord now discharged missiles named after Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashipu, Bali, Shasrarjuna, Paulastya, Rajasura, Kali and Mahamoha. They were countered by the goddess creating from her nails Varaha, Nrisimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Kodandarama, Vasudeva-Samkarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, Kalki and finally Shambhava. Ultimately, by the Narayana missile, she burnt up the entire army of Danavas, followed by the Pashupata missile which killed the generals. Bhana she killed with the Mahakameshvara missile.
The gods praised the goddess and brought before her forlorn Rati. From Lalita’s sidelong glance, Manmatha was reborn. She blessed him with the power to upset Shiva so that he weds Gauri and to penetrate everyone to give sexual pleasure. And that is how Dhurjati came to be infatuated with Gauri and they brought forth Mahasena with six faces, nursed by Ganga. He slew Taraka and married Devasena, Shakra’s daughter and lived in Shrinagara.
16 Shrinagaras were built where Lalita dwelt in different forms (nine mountains and seven oceans): Meru, Nishada, Hemakuta, Himalaya, Gandhamadana, Nila, Mesha, Shringara, Mahendra, the salt sea, sea of sugarcane juice, sea of liquor, sea of ghee, sea of curd, sea of milk and sea of pure water.