Devi Mahatmya, extracted from the Markandeya Purana, extols the valour of Goddess Durga and narrates, in 13 chapters, how she vanquished evil forces represented by Mahishasura, Raktabija, Sumbha, and Nisumbha. These Asuras, after acquiring enormous powers through long years of rigorous penance, became arrogant, declared a war on Dharma and tormented people endlessly. Their tyrannical actions invited divine intervention — the incarnation of the Divine Mother as Durga.

Lalita Sahasranama, a string of 1,000 names signifying the attributes and glory of the Divine Mother, occurs in the Brahmanda Purana and is in the form of a dialogue between Hayagriva (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu)and Sage Agastya. In his commentary on the Devi Mahatmya, the author spells out the benefits that will flow from reciting the verses (as mentioned in the 12th chapter) and points out that they form the base for the conduct of ‘Chandi Homa', a spiritual rite performed to ward off evil.

Import

The import of the verses is such that their recitation would invoke the presence of the Divine Mother. Questions related to the concept of incarnation and the role of the Divine Trinity have been answered convincingly. The chapter summaries highlight the important episodes. Cross-references given to works such as ‘Tirumandiram' and ‘Tiruvachakam' and to those of Adi Sankara, Avvaiyar and Bharati go to enhance the charm and substance of the commentary. However, in the narration of the episode related to Madhu-Khaitaba, one notices a variation from the traditional text.

The other commentary, on Lalita Sahasranama, points out that there is a logical sequence and continuity in the order in which the thousand names occur in the hymn. The arrangement is such as to enable the devotee comprehend the divine form in its entirety and meditate single-mindedly.

The comments offered for the various names are appealing and informative, and the author has done well to provide relevant quotes/cross-references to Tirumoolar, Thayumanavar, Arunagirinathar, Abhirami Bhattar, Papanasam Sivan and the ‘siddhars'. The significance and modes of worshipping the Divine Mother during the ‘Navaratri' are outlined in separate chapters.

Esoteric significance

The two hymns are both complementary and supplementary to each other. Some important episodes find mention in both. They are suffused with tantric and mantric import and constitute a highly potent piece of hymnal literature in Sanskrit with a lot of esoteric significance. The author deserves to be complimented for having come out with insightful commentaries in simple, easy-flowing Tamil to the two premier tantric texts devoted to the Shakti order of worship.

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