She is a central deity in Shakta-tantra tradition, where she is equated with the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman. One of the most important texts of Shaktism is Devi Mahatmya, declaring the Supreme Being and the creator of the universe as feminine. Estimated to have been composed between 400-600 CE, this text is considered by Shaktas to be as important scripture as the Bhagavad Gita .She has a significant following all over India and in Nepal. In Bengal and Bangladesh, the four-day-long Durga Puja is the most important religious festival for the Hindus and celebrated across the country with Vijayadashami being a national holiday. In Sri Lanka, Durga in the form of Vaishnavi, bearing Vishnu’s iconographic symbolism is celebrated. This tradition has been continued by Sri Lankan diaspora.
The Buddhist Goddess Palden Lhamo shares some attributes of Durga. The fierce Goddess Yamantaka in Vajrayana Buddhism, for example, is a syncretic Yama and Durga. The Tantric traditions of Buddhism included Durga and developed the idea further. In Japanese Buddhism, she appears as Butsu-mo (sometimes called Koti-sri). In Tibet, the goddess Palden Lhamo is similar to the protective and fierce Durga.
The Sacciya mata found in major medieval era Jain temples mirrors Durga, and she has been identified by Jainism scholars to be the same or sharing a more ancient common lineage. In the Ellora Caves, the Jain temples feature Durga with her lion mount.
Durga is exalted as the divine in Dasam Granth, a sacred text of Sikhism that is traditionally attributed to Guru Gobind Singh.
Outside Indian subcontinent
Archeological site excavations in Indonesia, particularly on the island of Java, have yielded numerous statues of Durga. These have been dated to be from 6th century onwards.Of the numerous early to mid medieval era, deity stone statues uncovered on Indonesian islands, at least 135 statues are of Durga. In parts of Java, she is known as Loro Jonggrang (literally, “slender maiden”).In Cambodia, during its era of Hindu kings, Durga was popular and numerous sculpture of her have been found. However, most differ from the Indian representation in one detail. The Cambodian Durga iconography shows her standing on top of the cut buffalo demon head.Durga statues have been discovered at stone temples and archeological sites in Vietnam, likely related to Champa or Cham dynasty era.
Now let us look into the esoteric aspect of Durga iconography
Symbolic meaning of Durga
The word Durga (दुर्गा) literally means “impassable”, “inaccessible”, “invincible, unassailable”. It is related to the word Durg (दुर्ग) which means “fortress, something difficult to access, attain or pass”. Word Durga is derived from the roots dur (difficult) and gam (pass, go through)
Durga is depicted as having eight or ten hands. These represent eight quadrants or ten directions in Hinduism. This suggests that she protects the devotees( sadhakas/spiritual practitioner) from all directions.
She rides on lion . The Lion –pashuraj (king of animals). animal is a symbol of uncontrolled animalistic tendencies in us such as anger, arrogance, selfishness, greed, jealousy, desire(sexual/nonsexual) to harm others etc. S hakti rides( she herself takes the charge) on such sadhaka (spiritual practitioner) who has power will and determination like a lion to conquer animalistic tendencies. and destroy the evil (demon/asura) inside.
Only such a lionhearted devotee ( practitioner) deserves prosperity ( laxmi), knowledge ( saraswati) , siddhi ( ganesh) and victory ( kartik) in the true sense.Idols of these Deities are seen to be standing behind/with Durga idol in a Durga puja festival.
Durga’s many weapons
The conch shell in Durga’s hand symbolizes the sound ‘Pranava’ or the mystic sound ‘Om’, which indicates her holding on to the supreme in the form of sound.
The bow and arrows represent energy. By holding both the bow and arrows in one hand “Mother Durga” is indicating about her control over both aspects of energy – potential and kinetic.
The thunderbolt signifies firmness. The devotee of Durga must be firm like thunderbolt in one’s convictions. Like the thunderbolt that can break anything against which it strikes, without being affected itself, the devotee needs to attack a challenge without losing his confidence.
The lotus in Durga’s hand is not in fully bloomed. The lotus in Sanskrit is called “pankaja” which means born of mud. Thus, lotus stands for the continuous evolution of the spiritual quality of a truth seeker amidst the worldly mud of lust and greed.
The “Sudarshan-Chakra” or beautiful discus, which spins around the index finger of the Goddess. She uses this unfailing weapon to destroy evil and produce an effect “within” conducive to the growth of righteousness.
The sword that Durga holds in one of her hands symbolizes knowledge. Knowledge which is free from all doubts cuts through the darkness of ignorance..
Durga’s trident or “trishul” is a symbol of three qualities – Satwa (inactivity), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (non-activity) -balancing all three gunas to maintain stability while destroying the inner evil ( symbolized by asura/demon)
2) Dev Devi Rahasya – Nigurananda (prof S sarkar)
Link to Kali: tantric symbolism part – 1