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Goddess Chamundeshwari

Chamundeshwari: The beauty within the fierce goddess

Mysuru’s afternoon sun burnt brightly, but it wasn’t as scorching as we’d anticipated. After a short drive uphill, we arrived at the Chamundeshwari Temple. Mahishasura’s statue stood outside the temple complex, welcoming pilgrims. With popping eyes, a machete in one hand and a snake in the other, the asura (demon) was a fierce sight.

Legend has it that the demon Mahishasura often troubled the devas (gods) while performing yajna (holy fire rituals) on Mahabalagiri. Nobody could subdue him, because Mahishasura had a boon—every drop of blood spilled from his body onto the earth would create a thousand demons. So, when the devas prayed earnestly, Goddess Parvati took the avatar of Chamundi to destroy Mahishasura. As Chamundi, she was bestowed with the powers of creation, preservation, and destruction, by the Hindu Trinity (Brahma—the creator; Vishnu—the preserver; Maheshwara—the destroyer). Aided by this potent power, and with help from her sister Jwala Tripura Sundari (who covered the entire earth with her tongue so that the demon’s blood doesn’t spill on the ground), the goddess killed the asura. And Mahabalagiri came to be known as Chamundi Betta.

The legend had us expecting a scary goddess for a presiding deity of the Chamundi Temple; someone like Kali, who’d make any demon scurry with fear. But the idol of Goddess Chamundi seemed anything but scary; she looked rather calm for someone who’s hailed as a warrior goddess. If anything, she looked beautiful in all the ornaments she was adorned with. Beneath her right foot, however, we noticed the idol of the dead demon. This peaceful goddess had one foot on her enemy Mahishasura in a victory.

When the going gets tough, we embody the Chamundi within us. When the going gets smooth, we recall the Mahagauri within us.

Standing by the santum sanctorum, we were somewhat confused by her lack of fierce looks. We decided to talk to the temple’s main priest Shashishekara Deekshith. Upon listening to our observations, he explained, “They say ekaivashakti, binachitrata—one primeval feminine energy, many physical manifestations. According to Skanda Purana, the primeval feminine power Shakti takes on a different avatar on each day of Navratri. A nurturing mother Goddess Parvati takes on a fierce avatar of Chamundi for one day to destroy evil. The next day, she turns into Mahagauri, a calm and beautiful deity. Chamundi’s serene face alludes to her calm feminine energy, while her right foot on Mahishasura represents her fierce manifestation.”

Deekshith’s interpretation had us thinking of everyday human life in a new light. Human attributes—love, anger, and calm, among others—are fleeting. We experience different emotions, react to the situations accordingly and take on various roles throughout our lives. It’s this adaptability that takes us through life’s ups and downs. When the going gets tough, we embody the Chamundi within us. When the going gets smooth, we recall the Mahagauri within us.

The uphill drive had seemed daunting for our fear of the scorching heat. But as we descended the hill that afternoon, our hearts felt lighter, our minds more peaceful. Perhaps, we’d come to view the ups and downs in a new light. We’d be alright.

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