The story or katha begins with the concern of Naradmuni for the grief and suffering on earth. Once while travelling from heaven to earth, he saw that the mortal beings are dealing with problems and are sorrowed with difficulties. Their suffering pained the rishimuni and he immediately decided to visit Lord Brahma and ask him if there is any remedy for the pain of the humans. Naradji soon paid a visit to his father Lord Brahma and told him what he saw in the mortal world. He then asked the Lord if there was any means by which human beings could be relieved of their pain and suffering. Lord Brahma was overwhelmed with the worries of Narad rishi and narrated him a story which was the answer to his son’s queries.
Once upon a time there was a Brahmin by the name Anath who was a fervent worshipper of Goddess Durga. He was blessed with a lovely daughter whom he named Sumati. This girl was very virtuous and ever since she was a child she participated in the rituals of worshipping Devi Durga along with her father. She grew up into a beautiful young lady and became a devotee of Goddess Bhagawati. However, she was not as staunch as her father and once engrossed in playing with her friends forgot to attend the puja. This made her father furious and in his fury he said that he will marry off Sumati to a poor and ailed man as a punishment for her negligence. This decision of her father grieved her but she was an obedient child and said that she would do as he says, but it is her fate that will decide her marriage. She also added that man may wish for many things but what he gets is decided by God’s will. Man does his duty and accordingly God grants him fruits for his action.
These words and reaction of his daughter infuriated the Brahmin even more and finally, he married Sumati off to a man suffering from leprosy, and while sending her off, he asked her to deal with the result of her negligent act. He almost challenged her saying that he would see how she leads her life directed by her destiny.
The words and behavior of her father broke her heart and she felt unfortunate to have a father like Anath and also a leper as her husband. She, however, remained with her newly wedded husband and travelled into the jungle to spend the night. She grieved her situation and with fear and sadness spent the night amidst fierce animals.
Owing to her early virtuous activities and having pity on her present situation, Goddess Bhagawati came to her and told her that being pleased with Sumati’s deeds she has appeared to fulfill one wish of hers and asked her to express it. This made Sumati very happy and she wanted to know who Goddess Durga was (till then she was unaware that the Goddess had herself appeared in front of her), and what deeds of her were so pleasing that she granted her a boon. Sumati also asked Goddess Durga to relieve her of her miserable state.
Thus, Devi Durga disclosed her identity to the Brahmini and said that she was Adi Shakti (the Supreme Being) and when someone’s virtuous deeds delighted her, she made their wishes come true. She also related Sumati’s previous birth story to her and told her that she is reaping the fruits of good deeds done in that life. She told Sumati that in her previous life she was a devout wife of Nishad, who was a hunter. Once Nishad was involved in an act of theft for which he was imprisoned, and along with him his wife too was put in prison. The soldiers punished them by not allowing them any food or water. This happened during the time of Navratri, and therefore, her punishment turned into a Navratri fast which she unknowingly observed.
This deed of hers pleased Devi Durga and so to grant her a boon the Goddess herself appeared and asked her to make a wish. Even in this life Sumati was a devout wife and all she asked from the Goddess was to relieve her husband of his illness. Goddess replied by saying that her one day’s fast during the nine days long Navratri will cure her husband and make his physique beautiful and healthy.
Soon Sumati saw that her husband’s disease vanished and he turned into a handsome young man with a glowing body. She realized the power of the Goddess and praised her saying that Maa Durga removes pain, sorrow, disease and difficulties and also grants people with boon if their deeds please her. She also abolishes the bad people and is both mother and father to the entire universe.
Sumati then prayed to the deity and told her that when her father abandoned her and punished her harshly for her mistake, it was Devi Durga who removed her woes and blessed her. She bowed to the Goddess and asked for her blessings.
Lord Brahma kept narrating Sumati’s story to Naradji and said that the Brahmini’s prayers further pleased the Goddess and she granted another boon to her. This boon was that Sumati will be the mother of a son named Udalak who will be hardworking, intelligent and rich.
Even after these blessing, the Devi asked Sumati to make one more wish. The Brahmini was overwhelmed and instead of asking for a materialistic boon, she asked the Goddess to enlighten her with the rituals and ceremonies related to Navratri fast so that she could perform the puja, and also asked the deity to tell what blessings one could get by performing the fast.
Goddess Durga then went on to explain the ceremonials related to Navratri fast and said that from the new moon day of the month of Ashwin till the ninth day (during the Shukla Paksha), one should observe fast. If one’s health does not allow to carry on the fast for the whole day then they can have one meal a day. The foods one should have during these fasting days include milk, fruits and vegetables. A ‘kalash’ with whole grains should be put in a sacred place with the assistance of a Brahmin (priest) and it should be watered every day.
The devotees should also make clay idols of Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Maha Saraswati and adorn them with flowers and worship them daily. Every element of worship has a unique significance like amla brings happiness, bijora flowers are associated with beauty, jaiphul implies brilliance and banana brings wealth. If one performs the Navratri rituals this way, one is blessed with prosperity and good fortune.
During Navratri, ‘Havan’ should be performed with ghee, honey, jowar, fruits, coconut, kheer and sesame seeds to complete the puja rituals. The fast should be observed with full devotion and the Brahmin who helps in performing the ceremonials should be respected and given due ‘dakshina’.
Then the Goddess assured Sumati that all those who follow these rituals diligently are sure to reap the fruits of this fast as all their prayers are answered. Devi also told Sumati that these rituals can be performed in the temple or at home. Thus explaining these rules and rituals of Navratri fasting, the Goddess fulfilled the Brahmini’s wish and departed.
In this way Lord Brahma recounted Sumati’s story to Naradmuni and thus explained the significance of Navratri fast. He also told the rishi that all those who had kept fast on Navratri had been blessed with happiness and freed from their pains and suffering. Naradji was very contented after hearing this story and praised and thanked Lord Brahma for enlightening him.
The story associated with Navratri can be found in various Hindu religious texts like Markandeya Purana, Vamana Purana, Varaha Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Devi Bhagavatam and Kalika Purana. The story of Navratra is the symbolic message of the fact that however glorious and powerful the evil become, at the end it is the goodness that wins over all of the evil. The story is associated with Maa Durga and Mahisasura, the buffalo headed demon.
The story begins from the life of two sons of Danu called Rambha and Karambha who performed austerities by to gain extreme power and authority. When their prayers became deeper and austerities became exceptional, the King of the heaven God Indra got perturbed. Out of fear, he killed Karambha. Rambha, who came to know about his brother's death, became more stubborn to win over the Gods. He increased the intensity of his austerities and finally got several boons from gods like great brilliance, beauty, invincibility in war. He also asked a special wish of not being killed by either humans or Gods or Asuras.
He then considered himself immortal and started freely roaming in the garden of Yaksha where he saw a female-buffalo and fell in love with her. To express his love, Rambha disguised in the form of a male-buffalo and copulated with the female buffalo. However, soon after that a real male buffalo discovered Rambha mating with the she-buffalo and killed him. It was due to Rambha's inflated ego that killed him, out of which he has not asked his death to be spared from the wrath of animals. As the pyre of Rambha was organized, the female-buffalo, who was copulated with him jumped into the funeral pyre of Rambha to prove her love. She was pregnant at that time. Thus, demon came out of the with the head of a buffalo and human body and he was named Mahisasura (the buffalo headed demon).
Mahishasura was extremely powerful. He defeated the gods and the demons and acruierd power over the entire world. He even won over the heaven and threw devtas outside it. He captured the throne of Indra and declared himself to be the the lord of the gods. The gods led by Brahma approached Vishnu and Shiva and evaluated them of the situation. In order to save the Gods, the three supreme deities emerged a light of anger, which combined to the take the shape of a terrible form and this was Durga. All the gods then granted this Goddess of power with all the supreme weapons they had. This is why; Durga is called the brilliance of all the Gods.
When the goddess was seen by Mahishasura, he was mesmerized by her beauty. Her then fell in love with her and proposed to marry her. The goddess said she will marry him, if he defeated her in the battle. Then began a scary and terrible battle between both of then which continued for nine days. Finally, on the last day, Durga took the form of Chandika and stood over the chest of Mahishasura and smashed him down with her foot. She then pierced his neck with her spear and cut off his head off with her sword. It is the day when Vijayadashmi is celebrated.