Ma Brahmacharini is the goddess who is worshiped on the second day of Navratri, the 9 day long festival in India that marks the battle between the good and evil, be it in the form of Goddess Durga vs Mahishasura or Lord Rama and the rakshasa Ravana. It is one of the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. In this avatar, Durga embodies tapa or penance. The name Brahmacharini is derived from two words – “Brahma” here means tapa or penance and “Charini” means an ardent female follower.
After she immolated herself in the sacrificial fire of the yagna, Durga took birth as the daughter of the King of the Mountains, Himavan. She was named as Parvati (after the Hindi name for mountains – parvat) or Hemavati.
When Parvati grew up, sage Narada – son of Brahma, paid her a visit. He told her that she did have a chance to marry her husband from her previous birth, Lord Shiva, if she followed a path of penance. Determined to marry Shiva in this birth as well, Parvati embarked upon an extremely difficult regime of penance and devotion. For a thousand years, she ate only fruits and flowers. Thereafter, for a hundred years she ate only vegetables, followed by three thousand years of eating only fallen leaves. She slept on the floor of the forest under an open sky for years in order to successfully complete her tapa. Thus, she earned name Tapascharini or Brahmacharini which means one who follows the path of Tapa.
Finally, she gave up eating fallen leaves as well, and continued her penance without food and water for many years. Due to this act of giving up eating leaves (parna, in Sanskrit), she came to be known as Aparna. Due to thousands of years of penance, her body became extremely weak and fragile. Her mother, Maina, was deeply pained seeing her daughter in such a state and out of sorrow, she cried out “O! Ma!”. Since then Parvati also came to be known as Uma.
The news of such long and hard penance reached everywhere. In the end, Lord Brahma appeared in front of Parvati and told her that no one had observed tapa the way she had. He also told her that only she could have undertaken such hardships as her love for Shiva was true and pure. He also blessed her that she would have Lord Shiva as her husband in this birth.
Following her penance, Parvati came to be known as Ma Brahmacharini. Later, Lord Shiva accepted Parvati as his wife. In this avatar, she holds a rosary in her right hand and a Kamandala (a utensil to hold the holy water) in her left hand.
Devotees worship Ma Brahmacharini on the second day of Navratra to provide them with the strength and determination to observe the nine-day fast while abstaining from food and sometimes even water.
This avatar of Ma Durga teaches penance, devotion, restraint and solitude. It teaches that one should not abandon his or her duties when faced with adversity. Devotees worship Ma Brahmacharini for virtue, peace, prosperity, happiness and nobility.