Mahagauri is the Goddess worshiped on the eighth day of the 9-day long festival of Navratri in India. Maha means extremely and gauri means white. She is worshiped by devotees to attain loyalty in relationships and create life-long bonds.
The story of Mahagauri has many versions. The most popular one goes like this. After killing all demons in the form of Kaalratri, Parvati was left with skin as dark as night. This made her husband Mahadev tease her with the nickname ‘Kali’ (dark-skinned). Agitated, Parvati applied to Brahma by undergoing a severe penance lasting many days, to regain her fair skin. Pleased, Brahma advises her to take a bath in the Mansarovar River in the Himalayas (some local variants replace the Mansarovar River with the holy Ganges river).
Acting on Brahma’s advice, she takes a bath in the river. As she bathes, her dark skin separates from her and takes the form of a female. This female is Kaushiki who goes on to slay the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. Shumbha and Nishmbha had gained a boon from Brahma, according to which they could not be slayed by a man, demon, God or deity. Parvati regains her white complexion and beauty, and comes to be known by the name Mahagauri, which means “extremely fair”.
In another story, Parvati wishes to beget Lord Shiva as her husband and as per Rishi Narad’s advise, she undergoes a severe penance deep in the forest to please Shiva. She forgoes all comforts, even food, and braves heat, cold, rain and storms for many years.
Her body is soon covered with dirt, soil, insects and dry leaves. Pleased by her devotion, Lord Shiva acquiesces and bathes her in the water of the Ganges that flows from his locks. She emerges in the form of Mahagauri, as white as a jasmine flower and clothed in white.
The Goddess in the form of Mahagauri has four arms, carries a trident and a damaru (a small two-headed drum) in two of them and is worshiped as the Goddess of kindness and morality. She rides on a white bull, is said to be nine years old (this being the reason why some parts of the country perform kanya-pujan, worshiping the unmarried girl) and is clothed and ornamented in white.