Leaf 24 from the Devi Mahatmya: The Beauty of Ambika
Guler, circa 1790
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
8 1/4 x 12 in. (20.9 x 30.5 cm.)
Christies, London, 10 October 1989, lot 70.
Sumbha, enthroned on a terrace under a canopy, two attendants behind him, hears news of Ambika from Chanda and Munda who come before him, as a demon stands behind him.
“Then Chanda and Munda, two servants of Shumbha and Nishumbha happened to see that Ambika (Kausiki) looking extremely beautiful. They reported to Shumbha:
“O great king there is an exceedingly beautiful woman whose queenly beauty is illuminating the Himalaya. No-one has ever seen such sublime loveliness anywhere. Find out who that goddess is and take possession of Her, O Lord of Asuras. She is a gem among women, with exquisitely beautiful limbs which illuminate the four directions with their lustre. There she stands, O King of Demons.
You deserve to see Her.
Lord! Whatever precious stones, jewels, elephants, horses and so on are in the three worlds, all now decorate your house, O King! You have obtained the precious elephant Airavat, also the fabulous tree Parijata, as well as the wonderful horse Ucchaishrava, which was Indra’s. Here in the courtyard stands the gem-studded chariot drawn by swans, brought here from Brahma the Progenitor. Here is the treasure Mahapadma from Kubera and the unfading lotus garland Kinjalkini, the gift from the ocean. Varuna’s umbrella, which showers gold, now stands in your house with the superb chariot that once belonged to Prajapati.
Lord! You have snatched Utkrantida, the missile of Yama by which he gives exit to all creatures.
Your brother now possesses the noose of the Ocean King. Nishumbha also has all the gems from the Ocean while you have the two fire-proof garments from Agni.
O Demon king, as all these gems have been given you why not also seize this jewel among women?”
The Rishi said:
After listening to all this from Chanda and Munda, Shumbha sent out the mighty demon Sugriva as his messenger to the Devi. He said:
“Go and convey my invitation to Her in a gentle way so that She will be affectionate toward me.”
Going over to the lovely mountain seat of the Goddess, the messenger spoke in a sweet, soothing tone, saying:
O Devi, I am the messenger of Shumbha, Lord of the Demons and Sovereign of the three worlds. He has vanquished all his foes among Asuras and even the Gods were unable to resist him. He sent me here to Your presence. Listen to what he says, his message is this:
“All the three worlds are mine. Even the Gods obey me. I eat all the offerings which once were theirs. All the finest jewels of the three worlds are now mine. Even Indra’s elephant, Airavata, I now have. With salutations the Gods have even offered me the glorious horses called Ucchaihsravas which arose at the churning of the milk ocean.
O magnificent lady! All the other objects which belonged to the Gods or Gandhavas or Nagas, all are now in my possession. We regard You, O Devi, as the jewel among womankind. Therefore, come to us, we who are the connoisseurs of gems. Come to me or to my powerful younger brother Nishumbha, O Lady of the quick side-glances, You are indeed a sparkling jewel. By marrying me You will gain incomparable wealth. Think of the advantage and become my wife.”
When this was said, the adorable Goddess Durga who sustains and protects the universe, smiled thoughtfully and said:
“What you say is true, no doubt. Shumbha is indeed sovereign of the three worlds together with Nishumbha. But how may I nullify My former vow? Please listen to this vow I once made in ignorance: I once declared I would only marry one who could be My equal in strength, one who could defeat Me in battle and remove My pride, only he could be my husband.
So let Shumbha come here, or Nishumbha the great Asura, let him vanquish me without delay and gently take my hand in marriage.”
The messenger said:
O Devi! This is arrogance! Do not talk this way to me! Name a single god from the three worlds who is capable of standing against Shumbha and Nishumbha!
In fact all the Gods were unable to face even the other Asuras in battle. So how could You, a single woman do this on your own? If Indra and all the other Godheads united could not defeat Shumbha, how will You, a woman, dare to face him?
It would be better that You heed my message and go to Shumbha and Nishumbha yourself. Otherwise you will suffer the humiliation of being dragged there by the hair.
The Devi said:
It is true. Shumbha is strong. Nishumbha is very heroic. But what can I do? In My ignorance I made my vow earlier. You go back to the Asura Lord and tell him politely what I have said then he may do whatever he pleases.”