Sumbha and Nisumbha
In the Hindu text the Devi Mahatmyam, Sumbha and Nisumbha, also spelled as Shumbha and Nishumbha, were two Asuras that confronted, and were ultimately slain by, Devi or Durga. Some, such as John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, see them as symbols of arrogance and pride which is ultimately overcome by the Devi's humility and wisdom.
In the Devi Mahatmyam
The story of Sumbha and Nisumbha begins in the fifth chapter of the Devi Mahatmyam. The Devi relates how two brothers of Asura stock sought to conquer the Three Worlds by subjecting themselves to severe penance and purification rituals so that no man or demon could destroy them. Sumbha and Nisumbha traveled to Pushkara, a sacred place, and remained there in prayer for ten thousand years. God Brahma saw the brothers' penitence, and was pleased, granting them the boon they requested.
It was at this time that Chanda and Munda, two lesser Asuras in the service of Sumbha, encountered the Devi, and were overwhelmed by her beauty. They carried reports of this goddess to Sumbha, who sought to possess the Devi and her beauty. Sumbha sent the Sugriva to court the Devi, but she rejected his advances. It was then decided by the demonic brothers that if the Devi would not come willingly, they would have to abduct her. The demon Dhoomralocana and his retinue of sixty-thousand Asuras were sent to kidnap the Devi, but she and her lion-steed managed to slay the entire army. Next, Chanda and Munda were deployed, but the Devi destroyed them as well.
After these encounters, Sumbha and Nisumbha had no choice but to meet the Devi in direct combat. Although Brahma's boon had granted the brother's protection against men and demons, no such protection existed against goddesses. Nisumbha was the first to fall, after assaulting the Devi's lion. After Nisumbha's death, a powerful demon emerged from his corpse, but Devi managed to dispatch this monster as well, by decapitating it. Upon seeing the death of his brother, Sumbha went after the Devi in a rage, but was ultimately cleaved in two by the Goddess' trident. With Sumbha and Nisumbha gone, the Three Worlds returned to their ordinary state of being, rid of a great evil.
After the death of Mahishasur, Shumbh and Nishumbh did penance to Lord Brahma, Brahma blessed them the boon of being killed by a woman who has not been married and not been born from her parents, Shumbh and Nishumbh were crowned Kings and have attained supernatural powers and have also created an army. Lord Indra knew about Shumbh and Nishumbh's powers and has also sent in a large army against Shumbh and Nishumbh's army. The battle commenced between the demon brothers and Lord Indra who was fighting all alone with them. Meanwhile, the demon army has completely fought and destroyed all of the armies of Lord Indra. The Gods then gave the heavens to the demons, especially Shumbh and Nishumbh. Due to Lord Shiva's miracle, Parvati's complexion turned dark. This made her angry for that and upset because of Shiva. She harshly meditated on the Kailash Mountains. She shed her skin and out appeared of her third eye a black-complexioned Goddess, Kaushiki. All this was linked to the death of the two demon brothers Shumbh and Nishumbh. These two demons had driven away the Gods away from heaven. Kaushiki used to live in an amazing palace singing praises of Shiva. Shumbh and Nishumbh came to know about the Goddess's beauty and decide to take her as their wife. They sent Sugriv first to Kaushiki in order to take her to the heavens, to the brothers. Sugriv came to Kaushiki's palace, Sugriv asked her politely, in a kind, respectful and sweet voice to come to Shumbh and Nishumbh at the heavens. Kaushiki told him that she will marry the one who defeats her in a war. Sugriv understands, he tries to make her understand and convinces her but he fails. Sugriv conveys this to Shumbh and Nishumbh back at heaven, they were very angry and sent Dhumralochan and his army to get Kaushiki at heaven with force. Later, after Sugriv had gone, Parvati came to see how Kaushiki was doing, but not for long. The demon soldiers of Dhumralochan were singing his praises. Parvati and Kaushiki heard this, they created soldiers to guard the palace. Parvati took the form of Goddess Jagadamba with ten hands holding weapons, decked with ornaments, wearing a crown, wearing a red saree, having a fair complexion and astrided on a lion. Kaushiki took her warrior form having the same features as Jagadamba, except she rides a tiger, wearing a yellow saree and has eight hands holding weapons. They both came to the battlefield and spotted Dhumralochan and his army. Dhumralochan's army attacked Jagadamba and Kaushiki with their weapons. Both Kaushiki and Jagadamba attacked them back with their own. The opposite weapons of the army of Dhumralochan were broke by Kaushiki and Jagadamba. Until it was finally time when Dhumralochan attacked the lion of Jagadamba with his arrow, Kaushiki was very angry and from the flames of her anger of her mouth and her third eye incinerated Dhumralochan and some of his army. Jagadamba congratulated Kaushiki on killing Dhumralochan and his army. Shumbh and Nishumbh came to know about Dhumralochan's death and Jagadamba this and sent Chand and Mund to kill Jagadamba and to kidnap Kaushiki. Chand is the brother of Mund, who has his head always banging from right to left and left to right. Meanwhile Kaushiki applied medicine on Parvati's lion, still in the form of Jagadamba. Chand and Mund came to Kaushiki and Jagadamba with their soldiers. On seeing the uncountable number of soldiers, Kaushiki and Jagadamba's third eyes started to emit fire and took the shape of a new Goddess. The newborn Goddess had terrible appearance, that Goddess's name was Kali, she is portrayed wearing a girdle of severed human hands, a garland of human skull heads representing the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet or a garland or flowers, for her clothing, she wears tiger skin like Lord Shiva. She has three eyes that symbolizes past, present and future and sometimes, when she gets too furious, her eyes looked bright red. She has two dead heads for her earrings. She is often shown having four hands holding scimitar, demon head, trident and container, and often trident, sword or iron weapon and thorn like weapon made out of thorns, often she is portrayed having four hands holding scimitar or sword in the left hands and a severed demon head in upper and lower left hands while the remaining two on the right are the hand gestures of boon-conferrings and fear-dispellings. And now she has sharp claws like a lioness. She started to fight and destroy the demon armies of Chand and Mund by blowing storms out of her mouth, turning them into ashes (burning them alive), beheading their heads, decapitating them by eating their skin alive, eating them alive, scratching them, choking them, stabbing their chests, drinking their blood, breaking their bones, breaking their necks, twisting their hands and legs and swinging them away. When Chand and Mund's army was fully destroyed, Chand ran towards the Goddess Kali, she beheaded his head off with her scimitar. Mund was furious, he ran towards Kali, with one hold of his hair, she cut off his head. She presented their heads to Kaushiki and Jagadamba. They both gave the Goddess's name as Chamunda now because she killed Chand and Mund. Shumbh and Nishumbh has gotten new news about the killing of Chand and Mund and their army. They were very angry and sent a new demon called Raktabeej, he has accumulated from Lord Brahma indicating that his blood will drop on the ground and an another clone of his will spring up. The Gods of Fire, Death, Water, Sun, Wind, Moon, Wealth, Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Indra, Kartikeya, Varah, Ganesh, Narasimha came to aid the Goddesses Parvati (still in the form of Jagadamba) and Kaushiki, the Gods have created their powers, one by one. The power of Brahma came out of his body by the name of Brahmani, having four heads and six hands holding a noose, bell, waterpot, lotus, book and rosary wearing her yellow robes and mounted upon a swan or a chariot pulled by swans. The power of Vishnu came out of his body by the name of Vaishnavi, having six hands holding a discus, conch shell, mace, lotus, longsword, bow and arrow wearing her purple robes and seated on a eagle. The all-destroying power of Shiva (Maheshwar) came out of his body by the name of Maheshwari or Shankari, wearing bracelets of snakes, a crown of matted hair adorned by a crescent moon along with other snakes, wearing a snake necklace on her neck and wearing a tiger skin skirt including especially some tiger skin appeared above. She has six hands holding a trident, waterpot, drum, rosary, drinking vessel and a battle-axe, seated on a bull, the power of Kartikeya came out of his body by the name of Kartikeyani or Kaumari having six or one face and having twelve hands holding a mace, trident, longsword, sword, bow, arrow, spear lotus, discus, conch shell, battle-axe and shield and wearing her pink robes and riding on a peacock, Indra, the egoistic and selfish God-King of the heavens, a power came out of his body named Indrani, she has six hands holding a goad, noose, thunderbolt, spiker, striker, thunderbolt, lotus, saw and vajra, seated upon Airavat, the heavenly white elephant of heavens, also known as Indra's faithful vehicle, and wearing her light green robes, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, boar-faced Varah, the slayer of King Hiranyakashyap's brother, Hiranyaksh, a power came out of his body named Varahi, having his same face with the symbolism of a boar's face, having ten hands holding a yak's tail, sword, rod, vajra, plough, bell, discus, bow and drinking vessel, astrided upon a boar and wearing her blue robes, another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, called Narasimha, the slayer of the unruly demon King Hiranyakashyap, a power like him came out of his body named Narasimhi, she has a lioness face, having really blond or disheveled hair and having sharp lion claws, riding on a lion and wearing her orange robes. A power from Lord Yama came out of his body named Yamdevi, holding a scythe, plough or skull staff, riding a buffalo and wearing her black robes, the power of Kuber came out of his body named Kauberi, having a four hands holding two lotuses in two hands and a jar of gold coins in the other, wearing her gold robes, the power of the Sun God came out of his body is named Saranyu, wearing her bright yellow robes, the power of the Fire God came out of his body named Swadha, wearing her fire robes and seated on a ram, the power of the Rain God came out of his body named Varuni, holding a lasso and a special water weapon, wearing her watery robes and riding a crocodile, the power of the Wind God came out of his body named Vayudevi, seated on a gazelle wearing her light blue robes, the power of the Moon God came out of his body named Rohini, seated on an antelope wearing her dark blue robes and the power of Ganesh, the first-revered among all Gods had an elephant's head like him named Ganeshi, having six hands holding a goad, noose, battle-axe, trident and a plate full of sweets, riding on a mouse. After all these female Goddesses, all armed, surrounding Goddesses Kaushiki and Jagadamba, Lord Shiva asked the Goddess Jagadamba to destroy all the demonic forces of Shumbh and Nishumbh at the earliest, then that Jagadamba, a ferocious power named Chamundai emerged out from her body, having sixteen hands holding a spear, bow, arrow, drum, trident, discus, conch shell, drinking vessel, battle-axe, mace, snake, vajra, scimitar, sword, shield, noose and a skull topped staff, a dark complexion even wearing the same clothes like Kali such as a girdle of severed human hands, a garland of human skull heads representing the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet or a garland or flowers, for her clothing, she wears tiger skin like Lord Shiva. She has three eyes that symbolizes past, present and future and sometimes, when she gets too furious, her eyes looked bright red. She has two dead heads for her earrings. Jagadamba asked Shiva to go Shumbh and Nishumbh as the Goddess's messenger to make them to go back to hell and give back the heavens to King Indra and other Gods and if they are proud of their power and want to fight the Goddess, they will come out on the battlefield and see their destruction, after that, another Goddess was created by Jagadamba by the name of Shivduthi, having four hands holding a trident and rosary, wearing her purple robes and riding a lion. After Raktabeej came to the battlefield with his army, they were very scared on seeing the female army of Kaushiki and Jagadamba. Altogether, Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Indrani, Varahi, Narasimhi, Yamdevi, Kauberi, Saranyu, Swadha, Varuni, Vayudevi, Rohini, Ganeshi, Chamundai and Shivduthi fully fought, killed and destroyed the armies of Raktabeej in different ways, Brahmani showered some cooling water, Swaha burned them to ashes, Varuni showered heavy rains and storms, Indrani's vehicle elephant crushed the demons and more, some fled the scene. After that, they all used their weapons to kill Raktabeej, he was infected by their weapons, blood dropped from his body and fell on the same spot and reproducing his many clones, the Goddesses were scared and tried again, and many clones of Raktabeej sprang from the same spot, the Gods were very worried and the situation got worse. Kaushiki assigned Chamundai to eat Raktabeej while the other Goddesses strike Raktabeej with their weapons. The Goddesses tried once again and all the blood of Raktabeej fell of Chamundai's massive tongue, she ate all of Raktabeej's clones too and kiled the original Raktabeej by eating him, the wives of the Gods were very happy, so were the Gods and Jagadamba. Shumbh and Nishuumbh was very angry after the death of Raktabeej, they performed the other funerals for Dhumralochan, Chand-Mund and Raktabeej themselves, they shall get revenge for killing Jagadamba, Kaushiki and other females. To face the wrathful side of the Goddesses and combat the dark side of Shumbh and Nishumbh, they got ready for the final battle, the two demon brothers came with their huge armies, the furious war started. Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Indrani, Varahi, Narasimhi, Shivaduthi and Chamundai paired up with Jagadamba and Kaushiki with Yamdevi, Kauberi, Saranyu, Swadha, Varuni, Vayudevi, Rohini and Ganeshi. With the strenuous effort, they destroyed the army of Nishumbh, Kaushiki stroke Nishumbh with an arrow, Nishumbh fell unconcious, but not for long, he attacked Kaushiki back with an arrow and stroke her lion vehicle, she was very angry and stroke Nishumbh back with a very paining arrow, that arrow hit Nishumbh's chest, and he fell dead, from NIshumbh's body, emerged out a monster, Kaushiki had destroyed it by cutting his head off with a sword. Shumbh's army was also completely destroyed, he warned Jagadamba and Kaushiki that not to be selfish that they are relying upon other females. Jagadamba was tired of fighting the battle and returned as Parvati, she said to Shumbh that she is the eternal power and is one, she made Shumbh to look at all these female powers of the Gods emerged in her body. So Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Indrani, Varahi, Narasimhi, Yamdevi, Kauberi, Saranyu, Swadha, Varuni, Vayudevi, Rohini, Ganeshi, Chamundai and Shivduthi all surrounded Parvati from all sides and then merged into her body altogether as one. She said to Shumbh that all the Goddesses of all the Gods have merged into Parvati. She then asked Kaushiki to kill Shumbh, after a long battle between Shumbh and Kaushiki, she killed him by using her trident. All the Gods were happy again and thanked the Goddess.
In popular culture
In Shashi Tharoor's satirical novel The Great Indian Novel, the story of Sumbha and Nisumbha is used both as a warning against the dangers of seduction, and as a metaphor for the collapse of the relationship between the five Pandavas.
- Hawley, John Stratton; Wulff, Donna Marie; Devī: Goddesses of India. Published by University of California Press, 1996: p. 68 ISBN 0-520-20058-6, ISBN 978-0-520-20058-6
- "The Devi Mahatmya Navrathri Katha - Chapter 1 to 13". S-a-i.info. Retrieved 2009-01-29.
- "The Devi". Sdbbs.tripod.com. Retrieved 2009-01-29.
- "Sri Durga Saptasati or The Devi Mahatmya". Sivanandaonline.org. Retrieved 2009-01-29.
- "Sri Durga Saptasati or The Devi Mahatmya". Sivanandaonline.org. Retrieved 2009-01-29.
- Tharoor, Shashi. The Great Indian Novel. Viking Press: 1989. ISBN 0-670-82744-4