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Goddess Durga Rides Lion or Tiger – Which is the Vahana of Goddess Durga?

Many people have doubt as to Goddess Durga rides a lion or tiger. Frankly, lion or tiger should be of no matter to a devotee. It is not the animal that matters but the symbolism. Lion is mentioned as the vahana or vehicle in the Devi Mahatmya – the story of Goddess Durga is based on it. But Devi Mahatmya was composed during the sixth century AD. Goddess Durga was worshipped for several hundred years before the composition of the scripture.

History

The lion first appeared along with Goddess Durga during the late Kushan Period (2nd Century BC to 3rd century AD).

Lion is the king of animals and Goddess Durga is the primordial Goddess. She is the all-powerful and her mount had to be of similar qualities. Thus, lion was chosen.

The forest tribes of Bharat who worshipped Goddess Durga from time immemorial associated her with tiger.

Large relief panels began to appear from the 5th century AD in which Goddess Durga is depicted along with lion.

Calendars with image of Goddess Durga that were widely printed during the 20th century AD, made lion popular among the general public.

What do scriptures say?

Matsya Purana narrates about Lord Brahma giving a boon to Goddess Parvati. As boon, she asks the tiger to be made chief of her ganas or attendants.

As mentioned earlier, in Devi Mahatmya, which is part of Markendaya Purana, lion is the vehicle.
Shilparatna, an ancient treatise on iconography, clearly states that the right leg of Goddess Durga should be placed on the back of her lion.

Today

Today, Goddess Durga is widely depicted with lion especially in eastern parts of India. Even in South India, lion is the vahana or vehicle of the goddess.

In western parts of India, both lion and tiger are found but mainly it is tiger. Goddess Amba, who is widely worshipped, in Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra is depicted riding on a tiger.

In North India, both tiger and lion are used. It often depends on the discretion of the artist.

In Northwest India, Goddess Durga is popularly known as 'Sherawali.' Sher means 'lion'. But Sherawali is often depicted riding a tiger.

Symbolism

Tiger and lion as mount have the same symbolism – ferociousness, strength, speed, mercilessness and brutality. All these characteristics are needed to fight the Adharma or evil. Mother Goddess is merciless like the lion or tiger when fighting evil.

And such a fierce animal is tamed by Mother Durga and made into her vahana or vehicle. This show she is the omnipotent force in the universe.

The brute animal strength is conquered and tamed by Goddess Durga. She is the mother who has the capacity to annihilate the animal present in all human beings. Whenever the beast in the human being becomes powerful enough to challenge Dharma, Mother Goddess overpowers it and tames it. She crushes it under her feet.

Related
Symbolism in Peacock the Vehicle or Vahana of Hindu God Muruga