CHAṆḌĪ DI VĀR (the Ballad of goddess Chaṇḍī) or, to give it its exact title, Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī Kī by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and included in the Dasam Granth, is the story of the titantic contest between Chaṇḍī and other gods on the one hand and the demons on the other. The poem allegorizes the eternal conflict between good and evil. The source of the legend is "Devī mahatmya, " a section of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa, and the narrative follows, in the main, the classical detail though the dominant interest lies in the character of Chaṇḍī which, through the creative genius of the poet, attains reality and firmness belying its mythical origin. The Vār, in Punjabi, is one of the trilogy of poems about Chaṇḍī in the Dasam Granth, the other two being in Braj.
Chaṇḍī, the eight-armed goddess, consort of Śiva, the god of destruction in the Hindu mythology, is also known by the name of Durgā or Bhagautī. This last name has multiple connotations : it stands for goddess Chaṇḍī as well as for the sword, which, according to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, is the symbol of power (śakti) and ultimately of Akāl, the Timeless One Himself. Sikhism is strictly monotheistic and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, like his nine spiritual predecessors, promoted belief in the One Formless God, excluding all incarnations and images. He chose the Pauranic story of Durgā's valorous fight against the demons for its martial import.
The Vār opens with an invocation to God symbolized as sword and then to the first nine Gurūs or preceptors of the Sikh faith. This part of the poem with the subsequent addition of invocation to the Tenth Gurū, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, forms the opening section of the current Sikh ritual supplication, Ardās. The story begins with the demons overthrowing the gods and establishing their own sway where once the gods ruled. The Satyuga, the age of truth, is past and it is now the time of not-so-righteous Tretā. Great discords prevail in the world; Nārada - famous for his ability to stir up passions - is abroad. The gods in their helplessness turn to Mount Kailāsh where lives Durgā. Their leader, King Indra, supplicates the goddess for help : "Thy shelter we seek, Goddess Durgshāh!" Riding her demon-devouring lion, Durgā at once sets out to annihilate the evil-doers. A fierce battle ensues, and the heavens are torn by the beating of drums, blowing of shells and the piercing cries of war. The sun becomes invisible in the dazzling brilliance of shiny swords and spears. In the awesome confusion of battle, the warriors fall to the ground, in agony, like drunken madmen. Those pierced with spears lie motionless like olives on the branch of the tree. The fallen heroes look like so many domes and turrets struck down by lightning. The demons fight with dreadful determination and not one of them has been seen fleeing the field. Their womenfolk watch the bloody scene from their towers, amazed at the goddess's wondrous valour.
Durgā' s sword seems dancing in her hand raining death on the dauntless foe. The demons, full of wrath, close in upon her roaring like the black clouds. The mighty Mahkhāsur comes in great fury, but Durgā smites him with such force that her sword, breaking the helmet to pieces and piercing through the body of the rider, the horse and the earth, rests on the horns of the bullock (who supports the earth). The Queen, upon her stately lion, tears through the battle-ranks of the demons demolishing them with her deathly sword. "Durgā, with God's grace, has won the day. " Restoring to the gods their lost kingdom, she returns. But the troubles of the gods are not yet ended. The demons again rally under their chiefs, Śumbha and Niśumbha, and march upon the kingdom of Indra. The gods are again undone and are forced to seek Durgshāh's help. The goddess is ready for another battle.
Chaṇḍī - another name for Durgā in the poem - flashes upon the battle's dread array like lightning. Warlike heroes such as Lochana Dhūmra come forward to match the goddess's prowess, but they all fall to her fatal sword one by one. Śumbha sends out fresh armies to face the fight. The goddess meets them with an angry charge of arrows sending many a hero to eternal sleep. It is now the turn of another, Śraṇvat Bīj, who brings a mighty host of ironclad, vengeful soldiers. Durgā mounts the lion as she hears the fiendish din and, flourishing the mace of battle in her hand, leads her army on. But deathless is Śraṇvat Bīj. As the drops of his blood fall to the ground, hosts of demons arise from them to join the strife. Many more are born every instant than Durgā and the gods can destroy. The goddess, in a rage, remembers Kālī, who bursts forth from her forehead in a flame of fire. Durgā and Kālī both spread ruin in the enemy's ranks with their bloodwashed swords. At last, Śraṇvat Bīj is surrounded and "the swords around him look like a crowd of fair maidens eagerly gathered to see a newly arrived bridegroom. " Kālī drinks the blood falling from Durgā's blows so that no drop touches the earth, thus preventing the birth of more demon warriors.
Great is Śumbha's anguish when he learns of Śraṇvat Bīj's death. The wrathful demons prepare for revenge. The firm earth trembles under the marching heroes like a vessel upon stormy seas. But resistless is Durgshāh on the field of battle. She cuts up the foemen like a hewer cuts the twigs. Those who were never tired of fighting have had more than their fill today. Mounting his fiery steed comes Niśumbha with a heavy bow he had specially sent for from Multān. But before he can take aim, a deadly blow from Durgshāh's sword bears him down. The same fate awaits Śumbha. Seeing their chiefs fall in this manner, the demons raise a loud howl of woe. They leave their horses and fly with weeds of grass in their months in token of surrender.
Durgshāh restores to Indra his crown. "Hail to Jagmāt - the Universal Mother, " cry all the worlds.
Durgā emerges from this account triumphant, high-spirited and glorious. She is the symbol of divine power and justice. To the virtuous, she is a ready and kindly friend and protector.
In Chaṇḍī dī Vār, the different names used for the goddess are Durgshāh, Chaṇḍī, Devīta, Rāṇī, Bhavānī, Jagmāt and Māhā Māī - the Great Mother.
The chief point of Chaṇḍī dī Vār lies in its warlike temper which is evoked by a succession of powerful and eloquent similes and a dignified, echoic music of the richest timbre. The poem, though not the size of a true epic, has a remarkable breadth of sweep and intensity and a heightening rhythmical tempo with well-marked climactic patterns. On the reader's mind it makes a stirring and invigorating impact. Nihaṅgs, among Sikhs, especially include it in their daily devotion and derive much inspiration and spirit from reciting it.