The Devi Mahatmyam relates the story of how the Devi
- in the form of Vishnu Maya, killed Madhu and Kaidabha
- in the form of Lakshmi, killed Mahishasura
- in the form of Saraswati, killed Shumbha and Nishumbha
In South India, this text is known as Devi Mahatmya. It is known as Chandi in West Bengal and as Durga Sapthasathi in the northern parts of the country including Varanasi. It consists of Chapters 74 to 86 of the Markandeya Purana and has 700 stanzas.
The stories of Devi Mahatmya are as told by Sage Markandeya to Sage Baguri. He tells him that one king called Suradha, who was driven out of his kingdom by his own people met one Vysya called Samadhi who was also driven out of his home by his family. They discover that both of them worry about the welfare of those that had driven them out of their respective homes. It appears to them that this is unnatural. So they approach Sage Sumedhas who was also living in the forest. The sage tells them that all this is the illusion created by the great Goddess called Vishnu Maya. They became curious and want to know about this great mother Goddess. He then relates to them the story of Devi Mahatmya, which consists of three stories in all of which the mother Goddess kills the enemies of Gods.
The first story is that of Madhu and Kaidabha. They take birth from the earwax of Lord Vishnu while he was asleep and start troubling Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma prays to the Goddess to help him continue his work of creation. The goddess appears and takes the form of Lord Vishnu and kills both Asuras after wrestling with them for thousands of years. Since both these Asuras were of tamasic origin, she also had a tamasic form.
The second story is that of Mahishasura. This asura, who had the form of buffalo, drove away the devas and Indra from their homes. They all go and approach the holy trinity for the redressal of their grievances. This made those three gods very angry which manifested in the form of Lakshmi who had the innate power of all of them and further strengthened by the powers and weapons of all the devas. Lakshmi than killed Mahishasura.
The third story is of how the Great Asura brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha were killed by the Saraswati. This time the gods approach Goddess Uma who was wandering in the Himalaya Mountains and told her of their sufferings. Out of the body of the Goddess came Koushikhi or Chandika. She was black in colour. She along with the powers generated by various Gods killed Shumbha and Nishumbha.
Sage Markandeya then tells of how, the king Suradha and Vysya Samadhi did penance on the goddess and got the boons that they wanted. In the twelfth chapter, the Goddess tells that for one, who reads or hears, these three stories, there is nothing impossible to obtain including salvation.
It is believed that just possession of this book has helped many great people to fight evil spirits as well as getting the blessings of the Goddess herself. Several such folk stories abound all over India. One of those famous one in Kerala was how one great Manthrika called Kalluru Namboodhiri was asked by a king called Shakthan Thamburan, to enter the Kodungaloor Bhagawathi temple at night after the festival and bring back his ring from the closed sanctum sanctorum. He did this easily by taking with him a copy of Devi Mahatmya.