The Devi Mahatmyam or Chandipath is part of the Markandeya Purana and is traditionally recited during the time of Durga Puja. It tells the story of the slaying of various asuras (demons) by Devi during a great battle over a period of nine nights (hence navaratri). This killing of demons has a deeper significance. In the first chapter of the Devi Mahatmyam, we find the story of the killing of the two demons named Madhu and Kaitabha who were produced from the earwax of Lord Vishnu when He was lying asleep in Yoganidra. These two demons represent tamo guna (the mode of ignorance). The killing of these two demons thus represents the conquest of ignorance. We must conquer this ignorance which appears in the form of kama (lust), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed), in order to make spiritual progress.
There once was a king named Surata and a Vaishya (someone of the merchant class) named Samadhi. The king was a just king and protected his subjects like his own children. However, his enemies defeated him and he was reduced to lordship over just his capital city. There too, his own ministers robbed him and the treasury and deposed him. The king was thus driven out of the kingdom and was wandering in the forest where there was the hermitage of the great sage Medhas. Although without his kingdom, the king was constantly thinking about his glorious past and still deeply attached to his family and subjects and concerned about their welfare. As he was approaching the hermitage, he met the Vaishya named Samadhi and the two started talking to each other and sharing their grief. The Vaishya too was a very successful merchant and born in a wealthy family but was cheated by his own wife and sons who deprived him of his wealth and drove him out of his own house. Surata, the king, and Samadhi, the merchant, both started wondering why they were still so attached to their past and could not let go of those who had caused them such great harm. The king asked, “Why are you still so attached to these covetous folk who have deprived you of all your wealth?” The merchant replied, “I have been wondering about the same thing. Why don’t I feel hatred towards these folks? Why this compulsive affection of a father?”
The two decided to go the ashram of the sage Medhas and seek his advice and instructions regarding how to get over their delusions. The rishi listened to them and replied that, “Humans are attached to their children because of their greed (lobhaat) and they expect their children to reciprocate to them.” This is the power of Mahamaya. It is She who makes possible the existence of this world. She is the Yoganidra of Mahavishnu and deludes the whole world. She forcibly draws the minds of even the wisest and throws them into delusion.
Following this, the king and merchant asked the sage to tell them more about this Mahamaya. The sage Medhas then told them the story of Mahamaya and how she was created. At the end of the kalpa (the day of Brahma), the Lord Mahavishnu was lying on the serpent bed (Shesha naaga) inYoganidra (divine slumber). From the dirt in his ears sprung the two asuras Madhu and KaiTabha. They saw Brahma seated on the lotus that springs from the navel of Mahavishnu and immediately tried to attack and kill him. Brahma was gripped with fear and started extolling the praises of the Lord in order to protect himself and awaken the Lord from His slumber. To awaken Lord Hari, Brahma started extolling Yoganidra, who resides in His eyelids. The Devi extolled in this way withdrew Herself from the eyes, nostrils, arms, heart and breast of Mahavishnu and appeared before Brahma. This awakened Janardana and He saw the two demons and fought with them for five thousand years.
The two demons, deluded by Mahamaayaa and infatuated by their own strength then asked Mahavishnu to ask for a boon from them. Mahavishnu replied, “If you are pleased with My strength and valor, then I wish that you agree now to be slain by Me.” The two demons were perplexed and seeing the waters of the deluge (pralaya) all over the Universe said, “You can slay us where there is no pralaya water.” TheLord Hari said, “Be it so.” And, putting them on his lap (jaghana, or loins) killed them by severing their heads with his discus since the waters of the pralaya had not risen to that level. This was the first appearance of Devi, as Mahamaaya, after being extolled by Brahma.