The first component of the name ‘’Rakta’’ means blood, while the second part bija refers to the word for seed. Hence, when taken together, this name can be translated to mean he for whom each drop of blood is a seed.
In the South and East of India, this entity is also known respectively as raktabhija and raktabij.
The tale of Raktabija can be found in the eight chapter of the Devi Maytram, a collection of ancient texts dating back to 400-500 CE, that relate the exploits of the goddess Durga in her various aspects. This particular part of the Devi Maytram relate how during the course of a ferocious battle against the armies of the usurping demon kings Shumba and Nishumba, the goddess Durga succeeds in slaying the fearsome Asura warrior Raktabija who was hitherto considered invincible.
Raktabija was a member of the race of the Danavas and Asuras which inhabited the netherworld Patalas and were always in constant opposition to the Devas or gods. Through the performance of various harsh and severe penances, this Asura succeeded in obtaining a boon from the supreme creator deity Brahma that ensured every drop of blood that spilled from his body and touched the ground, would generate a thousand clones of him, all of which were endowed with his formidable strength and ferocity. It so happened that a time came when the twin kings of the Asuras , Shumba and Nishumba, obtained a boon from Brahma that assured them that death would never befall them, save by the hands of a woman. These two Asuras were so confident that no woman capable of killing them could ever possibly exist, that they begun to embark on a campaign of terror against their arch enemies, the Devas. Leading their armies into battle, they attacked Indra, the king of the Devas and drove him out of his abode in the celestial realms, or Swarga Loka. Once this had been accomplished, Shumba and Nishumba demanded that the sages who had hitherto dedicated sacred sacrifices to Indra, should now conduct them in honour of their new masters instead. Shortly after securing this honour for themselves, Shumba and Nishumba subsequently commenced similar attacks on other gods like Kubera, Yama, Varuna and Vayu, successfully routing them and claiming the domains of these deities for themselves.
Utterly defeated, the Devas fled to Mount Meru in search of Shiva, one of the three deities that belonged to the Supreme Trinity of gods that dominated all aspects of the divine. Desperate to seek his aid, the Devas were disappointed to learn that the god was deep in meditation. Afraid of incurring his wrath by disturbing his meditation, they sought aid instead from his spouse, Parvati. Determined to restore the divine order that Shumba and Niushba had usurped, she agreed to their request. From her fore head sprung the goddess Durga, while Parvati herself turned entirely pitch black, henceforth earning for herself the name Kalika. Ready for war, Durga set forth to overthrow Shumba and Nishumba . Eventually, the asura Shumba learned of her dazzling beauty and despatched an envoy to ask for her hand in marriage on his behalf. However, his proposal was rejected by the goddess who insisted that only the one capable of defeating her in battle would be permitted the great privilege of taking her as his wife. When words of this strange condition reached Shumba, he resolved to cub the arrogance of Durga and despatched a certain warrior of his by the name of Durmochala to seize her. Unfortunately for Shumba’s desire to marry Durga, Durmochala was quickly slain by Durga. Further efforts to seize Durga were subsequently led by the asura generals Chanda and Munda. They also suffered defeat and death the hands of Durga who summoned into existence the goddess Chamunda to destroy both Chanda and Munda. At last, furious at his losses thus far, Shumba personally led a massive army in battle to vanquish Durga. Vast and eager for vengeance, this army of asuras besieged Durga and Chamunda on all sides, threatening to overwhelm them. However, this dire situation was rapidly reversed when Durga begun to receive reinforcements from the gods Indra, Brahma, Isha, Vishnu and Kartikeya. From these deities, emerged the Matrikas or the embodiment of their female energies. Armed with an array of weapons, the Matrikas begun to rout the hoard of asuras and sowed terror in their wake. Enraged by the humiliating defeat that Durga and allies had inflicted on his warriors, Raktabija resolved to enter the fray and personally defeat the goddess. Marching towards the Matrikas, he proceeded to attack them. Responding to his assault on the Matrikas, the Matrika of Indra or Indrani, unleashed the thunder bolt that she wielded, hurling it at the asura general. When this divine weapon struck him, inflicting a wound, his blood gushed out. Each drop that split from his body and touched the ground, subsequently spawned a thousand duplicate Raktabijas. Promptly proceeding to join their progenitor’s attack against the Matrikas, these duplicates of Raktabija soon begun to hurl their weapons at the Matrikas. Indrani responded to these fresh assaults stemming from Raktabija, by repeatedly striking him with her thunder bolt, each time causing countless more duplicates of Raktabija to spring from the great asura’s wounds. Vaishnavi, the female Matrika that had emerged from Vishu, proceeded to join the attack on Raktabija and hurled her discus at him. From the wound that she inflicted on him, yet more versions of Raktabija were generated. Alarmed by the power of this asura, some of the other Matrikas, namely Kumari , Varahi and Maheshvari, proceeded to attack and wound him with their weapons even as he lashed at them with his club. But with every drop of blood that their weapons drew, more Raktabijas were spawned, threatening to overrun the very world with their teeming numbers. Witnessing the seeming invincibility of this asura, the gods begun to fear that Durga would be unable to defeat Raktabija. Durga however, was not dejected by Rakatabija’s propensity for continuously spawning countless duplicates of himself. Becoming wrathful when Raktabija’s clones begun to mockingly laugh at her predicament, she responded by frowning in fury. Concentrating all her power in this manner, Durga subsequently summoned into existence the terrible goddess Kali. Filled with an insatiable rage and hunger, Kali immediately begun to roam the battle-field, devouring the myriad duplicates of himself that Raktabija had spawned by grasping and shoving them into her gaping maw. At last, when she had destroyed every last one of Raktabija’s offspring, she struck the demon in his side, drawing blood. This time however, Rakatbija was deprived of the opportunity to unleash more of his duplicates against his enemies. Before a single drop of his blood could even spill on the ground, Kali greedily lapped it all up with her lolling tongue. At last, ravenous to consume all the blood that still remained within his body, Kali lifted the helpless asura into the air in order to more thoroughly consume Raktabija’s remaining blood. When Kali had completely drained Raktabija of all his blood, she hurled his lifeless corpse to the ground, thus demonstrating her victory over him.
Kali's battle against Raktabija can sometimes be found depicted in 18th century Indian paintings. More contemporary paintings of this scene by modern Hindus can also be found.
- Destroying Raktabija, http://polymer.bu.edu/~scala/franci.html
- Devi Mahatmya:Chapter 8:The Slaying of Raktabija, http://www.geocities.com/prithwis/dm/dm-Day05.html
- Nation Master, Encyclopedia:Raktabija