Many years after the defeat of Mahishasura, the Devas had another problem in the form of two asurasa – Shumbha and Nishumbha. The two lived in Patala. [In Hinduism, it is believed that there are three worlds – swarga – the heavens, Privthi or the Earth and the Patala or the underworld. The Patala is considered to be the home of the Danavas, Yakshas and the Nagas. The Patala is supposed to be more beautiful than the heavens itself. Though there is no sunlight in the lower realms, it is said that there is no darkness because of the brightness of the jewels worn by the people in Patala. It is also said that there is no old age or diseases in the Patala.]
The two asura brothers – Shumbha and Nishumbha came to Earth and they desired to be the most powerful persons in the three realms. And as soon as they came to Earth, they performed severe penance at Pushkara.
Lord Brahma, the Creator God was pleased with their penance and appeared before them.
“Open your eyes sons,” Lord Brahma told the two asuras who were deep in meditation.
The two asuras bowed to the Lord after completing their meditation.
“The power of your meditation is such that it dragged me here,” Lord Brahma told the two of them. “Anything that you ask is yours.”
“Immortality,” Shumbha told the Creator God. “We wish for immortality.”
Much to the chagrin of the two asuras, Lord Brahma unhappily shook his head. “All who are born will die. That is the law of nature. I cannot change that. Ask anything else, but not the boon of immortality.” Brahma told them.
“Then we wish that we cannot be invincible in battle before any Deva, man,...” Shumbha rattled out a long list which included all the species in all the realms at that time. But unfortunately for Shumbha he included only the males of all the species.
Lord Brahma granted their wish and vanished from there.
Then Shumbha, being the elder of the two was crowned as the king of the Asuras. They made Sage Bhrigu as their chief advisor and they started recruiting an army. Hearing about the boons that Shumbha and Nishumbha had obtained from Lord Brahma, many asuras happily joined their army. Some of the powerful asuras who joined their armies were Durmalochana, Chanda, Munda, Rakthabija etc.
And then Shumbha started his attacks. The kingdoms on earth could not even offer a proper defense against the ferocity of the asuras and most the kingdoms were routed by them. Very soon, all the kingdoms on earth came under the control of the Asuras.
However, neither Shumbha nor Nishumbha were satisfied with this. They set their sights on the heaven and attacked Lord Indra, the King of the Devas.
Indra fought against the two asuras brilliantly. He used his Vajrayudha [thunderbolt weapon of Indra] against Nishumbha and rendered Nishumbha unconscious.
Hearing news that his brother was unconscious in battle, Shumbha rushed to the battle and fought Indra. And the boon of Lord Brahma protected him. Indra, the other Devas and the Lokpalas [Lords of the Four Directions] were all defeated by Shumbha.
Indra and the other Devas were defeated and thrown out of the heavens. Shumbha ruled the heavens and he ruled it like a dictator.
The Devas were fleeing from Shumbha and the other asuras when they approached their sage – Brihaspathi, for a way out of their predicament. It was Sage Brihaspathi, who reminded the Devas that the Mother Goddess was the one who had saved the Devas when they were harassed by Mahishasura. Therefore Sage Brihaspathi asked the Devas to pray to the Mother Goddess again.
The Devas then went to the Mount Himalayas and prayed fervently to the Great Mother Goddess.
On hearing their prayers, Goddess Parvathi [Parvathi is the wife of Shiva. Her warrior persona is called by many names including Durga, Kali, Chandi, Ambika] transformed into two Goddesses – Goddess Ambika and another dark Goddess called Kalika. While Ambika was fair and beautiful beyond words, Kalika was dark, fierce and looked like a mean fighting machine.
The Devas were stunned when a huge lion appeared before the two ladies, roaring ferociously.
“I will handle this,” Goddess Ambika said with a calm smile.
Upon entering the kingdom the Goddess walked to the nearby gardens and sat there and started singing.
The voice of the Goddess was so beautiful and even the birds and the animals in the garden stopped talking and were listening to the Goddess. Kalika was smiling as she was nodding her head listening to the divine music. The lion seemed to look almost tame as it heard the song of the Goddess.
Chanda and Munda just came back from their hunting when they heard the music. Unable to stop themselves they found themselves in the garden listening to the mesmerising music and what they saw there shocked the two asuras.
A few minutes later, the two men hurried away and were in the inner room of Shumbha.
“My Lord, you cannot find a more beautiful lady anywhere in the universe. She is so beautiful that even the God of Love - Kama Deva would be entranced with her. And her singing…” Chanda could not even find words to describe the beauty of the singing and just gave it up.
Munda nodded fervently, “Just accept the woman as your wife, my Lord!” he said.
Shumbha could not stop smiling as her heard the words of Chanda and Munda. Still smiling he turned his attention to his trusted minister - Sugriva. “Talk to the Lady in beautiful and kind words and tell her that Shumbha wishes to marry her.”
Sugriva nodded and hurriedly went to the garden. There he heard the last lines of the song and nodded his head to the music unable to pull himself away. When the Goddess finished singing, Sugriva walked towards the Goddess and bowed to her.
“My Lady, I have been sent by Shumbha, the king of the Asuras who cannot be defeated by either a Deva, asura or human being. Just by listening to what others have spoken about you, Shumbha has fallen in love with you. Please accept his proposal and become his wife.” Sugriva told the Goddess.
There was a dazzling smile in the face of the Goddess which drove almost anyone insane as she spoke to Sugriva, “I have come to this city of my own free will for finding a husband. And I know all the qualifications of Shumbha, which is why I have come here!”
Sugriva was smiling broadly when the Goddess spoke again, “However, there is a small problem with my wedding!”
Sugriva frowned as the Goddess continued, “When I was younger, I made a promise to my friends that I would marry only the man who can defeat me in battle. Please tell your Lord to defeat me in battle and after that he would know my strength and weaknesses. After that I would marry him.”
Shumbha was completely and truly astounded. He was sure that he has heard something wrong or at least something impossible.
“Even the Devas cannot hope to fight against Shumbha, my Lady!” Shumbha said swallowing as he watched the Goddess, “Surely a promise made by you when you were a child and made without considering the repercussions would hardly be valid!” Sugriva said a little desperately.
The Goddess firmly shook her head, “Fight with me and defeat me!” She said. “If however your Lord is afraid of me or my weapons, ask him to go back to the Patala!” Goddess Ambika said calmly.
Sugriva knew that talking anymore with the Goddess, was pointless and hastily made his way back to his king.
“Speak!” Shumbha told Sugriva impatiently when he found his minister silent.
“The woman is haughty and she has come here for a fight!” Sugriva told the king.
“WHAT?” Shumbha asked shocked.
Shumbha sighed and told his king all that had happened with the Goddess.
Shumbha was troubled. He just could not believe that a woman would so haughtily come for a fight against him. Even the Devas had no hope of winning against him. But this woman….
Shumbha turned to his brother Nishumbha looking at him inquiringly.
Nishumbha frowned and then looked at Shumbha, “Send Durmalochana! He will defeat her and bring her here!”