Shumbha, Lord of the Asuras had proposed to marry Goddess Ambika. She taunted him to prove that he was stronger than she, an incarnation of goddess Durga. Shumbha sent his army headed by able commanders to defeat Ambika. But she, along with Kaali Ma, destroyed the entire army.
It was a slap in the face of the mighty Asura who had made himself master of the three worlds by driving away the devas from Svarg-lok and extending his sway over the world of men. Ambika had to be humbled, he decided. He would vanquish her and bring her to her knees.
Accordingly, he set out at the head of his vast army. Ambika greeted the Asura hordes with a twang of her bow. The sound resonated through the earth and heavens, and goddess Kaali Ma roared in support. This further infuriated the Asura. He unleashed the full force of his army on her. It was an awesome display of power.
Each of the chief gods — Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva — sent help by way of his Shakti (divine force), but Shumbha was not unduly worried. Had he not already defeated the Devas? What could the Shaktis do?
A new Goddess emerged from Ambika. Her name was Devi Chandika.
Chandika sent a terse message to the Asura king: “Withdraw into the nether world where you belong, or die!”
Shumbha responded by encircling Chandika with several divisions of his army.
The Shaktis rushed to her aid: Brahmini, who had come there in a chariot drawn by swans, cast a spell on the Asuras by sprinkling water from her kamandalu, making them weak and vulnerable; Vaishnavi flew in on Garuda, the eagle, and threw her disc at them. Maheshwari, riding on Nandi, the bull, threw her trident at them. Aindri, the Shakti of Indra, was riding on the elephant, Airavat. She threw her thunderbolt on the besieging army. Varaahi, the Shakti of Varaha, an incarnation of Vishnu, had come in the form of a female boar. She, and Narasimhi, the Shakti of Narasimha, another incarnation of Vishnu in a half-lion, half human form ran through the Asura ranks, creating panic and havoc. Reeling under the attack of the Devis, the Asuras seemed on the verge of defeat.
And then, Shumbha unleashed his secret weapon, Rakta-Bheej.
Rakta-Bheej was invincible through a boon. If even a drop of blood from his body fell on the ground, another Rakta-Bheej, full grown and fighting fit, would spring forth from it. That is why no one till now had been able to defeat him. The blood of the clones too produced other clones.
As the ferocious Asura fought, Chandika tried to stop him with all sorts of weapons. Blood gushed from his wounds but as each drop touched the ground, a Rakta-Bheej clone sprang from it. Soon there were thousands of these clones running on the battlefield. The tide of battle started turning in favour of the Asuras.
Then Chandika said to Kaali Maa: “Not even a drop of his blood should fall to the ground!”
Kaali stretched her tongue and it darted all over the battlefield at lightning speed, catching every drop of blood that fell from Rakta-Bheej’s body or the bodies of his clones.
No longer able to multiply himself, Rakta-Bheej, in desperation, charged at Chandika, only to meet with death at her hands.
The next to be killed was Nishumbha, brother of Shumbha. The Asuras were beaten back. But were they defeated? No! Shumbha, the most formidable Asura of them all, remained. It was only a matter of time before he made his next move.