Madhu and Kaitabha are described in Swami Vijñanananda’s translation of the the Devi Bhagavatham as Daityas, Danavas and Asuras, though my studies upto now, show that these were not synonyms.
They were born out of the ears of Vishnu.
These were the days right after one of the Pralayas. So the whole world was submerged by water. Vishnu (s’auri) was deep in YogaNidra.
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The boys had lots of fun playing in the water and one fine day they were struck by the fundamental question…, who are we, what caused us and what caused this world around us. They quickly came to the conclusion that it was Adi Sakthi who was the primal cause of everything and meditated on Her.
As soon as they realised this they heard the vAk bIja mantra (of dEvI saraswati) and they chanted it with great devotion and s’raddhA (dedication).
Delighted with their s’raddha, She offered them a boon and what they wanted was a boon to die of their own free will – icchAmRtyu. Once they got it they were first thrilled and later proud and finally such an arrogant pair that they decided to do away with Brahma, and take over his padmAsana.
Brahma had no intention of giving over to this pair, and considered his options, given in the s’AstrAs. (Rama was considered an expert in all the four listed below.)
The brothers were in no mood for discussions, the question of gifts did not come up, he could not sow dissension between them and if he praised them they would take it as weakness equal to surrender. But to punish someone you need to be strong and Brahma could not do this by himself. So he decided to enlist the support of his father Vishnu.
(Bheda is a bit like the good old British – ‘divide and rule’.
If Brahma, is Vishnu’s son having been born from his navel, then so are Madhu and Kaitabha, for having been born of his ears. BTW, Brahma means great and represents knowledge, madhu means sweet and kaitava means deceit. madhu and kaitabha attained power by concentrating on vAk or speech, incidentally considered the wife or s’akti (competence) of brahma and they wanted to take over his place on the lotus-seat! – Satya).
Vishnu was deep in Yoganidra on the ananta the serpent with a thousand hoods.
(ananta means endless, infinity or eternity. Thousand is a poetic reference to a large unspecified number. – Satya)
Brahma had a hard time trying to rouse Vishnu, with his prayers and he realised that Vishnu was under the deep influence of nidra dEvI and decided to invoke the dEvI herself.
(Both Devi Bhagavatham and Srimad Bhagavatham are full of wonderful prayers., I am not going to reproduce all of them here but I recommend them to all devout people to either read the original sanskrit or the translation.
I would like to draw your attention to this line from Brahma’s prayer to the Devi -
The Sânkhya philosophers say (that the Purusa (the male aspect of S’akti) is the pure, conscious being and that Thou art the Prakriti, without any consciousness, material inert, Creatrix of the universe; but, O Mother! art Thou really inert like that? Never like that; had it been like that, how is it that Thou hast made Bhagavân Hari, the receptable of the world quite unconscious like this? O Bhavâni! Thou, being beyond the Gunas art displaying like a dramatic performance these various dramatic plays by the conjunction with the three Gunas. - Satya)
When Devi Yoganidra, of the tamo guNa left Hari (Vishnu), he woke up.
At this point the RSis of the Naimis’Aranya interrupted Suta. How could anyone or anything be higher than puruSottama s’rI mahA viSNu?
Suta said, “That is a tough question. Some believe in the supremacy of Vishnu, as others in the supremacy of Siva. Some followers of the Veda worship the sun, morning, noon and evening (tri-sandhya). Others worship Agni, Indra and Varuna.
Those who are great scholars, declare
- and verbal testimony as the three modes of proofs.
- The Naiyâyik Pundits add to the above three, a fourth proof which they call upamâ, resemblance, or similitude
- and some other intelligent Pundits add another fifth proof called Arthâpatti, an. inference from circumstances, presumption, implication. It is deduction of a matter from that which could not else be; it is assumption of a thing, not itself perceived but necessarily implied by another which is seen, heard or proved;
- whereas the authors of the Purânas add two other, called Sâksî
- and Aitijhya, thus advocating. seven modes of proofs.
Now the Vedânta S’âstra says that the supreme being (Param Brahmâ), the Prime cause of the Universe, cannot be comprehended by the above-mentioned seven proofs.
Therefore, first of all, adopt reason leading to certain knowledge, the Buddhi, according to the words of the Vedas and discriminate and discuss again and again and draw your inference about Brahmâ.
And the intelligent person should adopt what is seen by perception as self-evident and what is inferred by the observance of good conduct. The wise persons say, and it is also stated in the Purânas, that the Prime Force is present in Brahmâ as the Creative Force; is present in Hari as the Preservative Force; is present in Hara as the Destructive Force; is present in Kurma (tortoise) and in Ananta (the thousand headed Snake) as the earth supporting Force; is present in fire as the Burning Force, is present in air as the moving Force, and so is present everywhere in various manifestations of forces…
Therefore the wise man, knowing this firmly, should serve in every way the Highest S’aktî. O Munis! This is the settled conclusion of all the Sâstras. I have heard of this great hidden secret from Bhagavân Krisna Dvaipâyan. He heard it from Narada, and Nârada heard it from his own father Brahmâ. Brahmâ heard this from Visnu.
Now that Vishnu was awake, he understood the situation from Brahma and challenged the brothers madhu and Kaitabha to a fight. They fought long and hard for 5000 years during which the brothers could take turns to rest, but Vishnu did not get any time to rest or think. Then he called for a short break on the grounds that he was fighting one against two. With his yogic powers he understood that they had a boon of icchAmrutyu from the Devi Herself and prayed to her for help.
She adopted the form of the dark beauty Kali and distracted and confused the brothers with her glances and smiles. At that time Vishnu offered the brothers a boon for their valour. Full of pride, intoxicated with attraction, the brothers offered him a boon instead! He peacefully asked them to die at his hand. Then they asked him a boon that he should only kill them on a solid surface seeing that the pralaya waters were everywhere.
Then Vishnu grew huge and indicated his lap as a place where the brothers could have their heads cut off. For some time the brothers and Vishnu went on growing bigger and bigger till the brothers gave up, lay on Vishnu’s lap and had their heads chopped off by the discus – Sudarshana Chakra.
The ‘meda’ or fat from the brothers filled the ocean and became the solid earth which was thereafter called medini.
Then Suta concluded saying, “You have heard about the Devi and her greateness. Therefore this Supreme S’akti should be worshipped anyhow; either in Her Saguna form or in Her Nirguna state.”
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