Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay, published in the year 1823, carries an article ( page 79) titled “On the institution and ceremonies of the Hindoo festival of the Dusrah” written by Major-General Sir John Malcolm, G.C.B. & K.L.S.in the year 1799, in the form a letter to someone.
In that piece of correspondence, he tries to explain the significance of Dussehra and Durga Puja as narrated to him by some Brahmins.
"A prince named Soorath was expelled from his kingdom by the rakshahs or demons. He for a long time wandered about in the woods, and happening to meet with a bankrupt merchant, they proceeded to relate to a hermit their misfortunes. This holy man gave the two unfortunate wanderers a long discourse on the vicissitudes of fortune, all of which he traced to Yoga Maya. The prince asking who she was, ‘She is’ said the recluse, 'the great goddess in whom are immersed the powers of creation, preservation, and destruction ; in other words, she is the eternal and illusive principle, she takes all shapes in order to enable her to destroy the demons, and protect the good and peaceable inhabitants of this earth.
"'In former days (continued the hermit), when the world was covered with water, and Vishnoo the omnipotent reposed on the great serpent Andi-Shashah (Ananta), two demons arose from the wax or dirt (myle) of his ears. They attempted to murder Brahmah, who called upon Yoga Nedra: this goddess, who is described as a personification of abstraction and delusive sleep (and ono of whose titles is the Great Darkness), instantly removed her influence from Vishnoo; who, seizing his chackra or discus, struck off at one blow the heads of the two demons, Mudh and Kythab, who had carried on a war against the gods for 5000 years.
After the death of Mudh and Kythab, Mheisasoor, or Buffalo-shaped (called the demon of vice), waged a successful war against the gods for 1000 years. Indra, Sooray, Cbandra, Agnee, Vayoo, Varoon, Pavana Kooverah, Yama, and the whole conclave of deities, were so distressed by the superior force of this terrible enemy, that they made their common complaint to Brahmah; this god proceeded with them to the celestial throne of the all-powerful Vishnoo, who was enraged at the tale of their sufferings.
His eyes, flaming like the fiery eyes of Siva, darted irradiant glances, which mixing with those proceeding at the same time from the eyes and bodies of the other incensed gods, combined to form a female of exquisite beauty, in whom the goddess of sleep predominated. The newly created goddess (Doorga) was a composition of all the deities who aided in her formation: from Siva she acquired her majestic head and flowing hair; from Vishnoo her arms and spirit; from Indra her breasts; her emanations from Varoona; Pavana gave her legs and waist; Brahmah her feet; her thumbs were from Sooraya; her nose from Kooverah; her fingers from Vayoo; Agnee gave her a third eye, and from the other gods she derived her remaining features; but, above all, she partook most of the qualities of Siva, who gave her his trisool, or trident, and infused all his fire into her third eye.
"' The armour and ornaments of this goddess were as generously bestowed as her qualities: the god of the winds gave her a bow and arrows ; Indra his thunderbolt; the god of the infernal regions his danda, or mace, and sword; Brahmah bestowed on her the cammundalum, or drinking skull; the Milky Ocean gave her a necklace of pearls; Viswakarman, the artificer of the gods, presented her jewels; Sumoodra, or the sea, several precious stones, and some offensive weapons; for her conveyance, Mount Hima gave her a lion; Kooverah (Plutus) bestowed on her a rich and beautiful drinking-cup; and the great serpent, Andishasha, a garland of snakes. Besides these, every god, according to his means, presented her with various gifts.
Thus armed and ornamented, the goddess sallied forth to fulfill her high destiny. She soon met with Mheisasoor, and a terrible conflict ensued. Mounted on a lion, she slew immense numbers of his demons ; but her followers fell in crowds before the paws, tail, and horns of the buffalo god. At length the goddess and the demon of vice encountered each other. Dreadful was the conflict! As Doorga aimed a terrible blow at him, the buffalo took a human form, in which he was slain, but reappeared in that of an elephant. He next assumed the shape of a lion, and then his original body of a buffalo.
The goddess, oppressed with heat and thirst, and fainting with fatigue, indulged in a draught of wine, exclaiming to her enemy, who shouted victory, "O Mheisasoor! roar as loud as you may till my cup is finished." Having drunk, her strength was redoubled; she seized her sword, and with one blow severed from his body the head of the demon. The dewtas, or minor deities, who had been spectators of the wondrous strife, sung aloud the praises of the goddess Doorga. In her next incarnation she also destroyed the two great malignant demons, Sambha and Nesumbhe. This was, however, in another avatarom, and must not be confounded with the appearance of the mother of nature, as Doorga, or virtue, for the destruction of Mheisasoor, or vice, as these were her acts as Kali, Chamunda, in her inferior manifestations as an infernal goddess.
In her combat with the giants, who were impelled by their evil spirits to action, she appeared with a countenance inspiring terror, and her eyes red, glaring with blood; she was wrapped in an elephant's hide, and, not satisfied with the usual means of destruction, she grasped men, elephants, and horses, with her hands, and swallowed them up like grains of barley!!! Kali was, however, in this action severely pressed by the strength and increasing number of her enemies; but the gods who watched the conflict sent her seasonable aid. Sacred birds, animals, and shells conveyed her female allies (for they were all of that sex) to the field.
The war, after some terrible battles, in which the goddess gave astonishing proofs of her courage and prowess, terminated by her slaying the two demons, Sumbha and Nisumbha, and eradicating the race of rakhush, or demons, from the earth. The being who had conferred on mankind this great benefit was called the Omnipotent, and was worshipped under various names. But some reformed sects of Hindoos, making objections (and apparently not without reason) to her sanguinary proceedings, refuse adoration to Budra Kali, and the Vishnoo Hindoos celebrate this festival in the name of Suruswatee and Lachmee, the wives of Vishnoo and Brahmah, and goddesses of wisdom and of wealth, who, though they had been allies of Kali, were not polluted, like her, by drinking blood, After this war Kali retired to a mountain, but foretold her return to punish evil spirits, which would in her absence reappear. On her departure, however, the goddess enjoined her votaries, when they commemorated her victories, to represent her with red teeth, and to offer her red flowers. They were also commanded to offer prayers to her on certain days, which they were told would propitiate her favour, save them from their enemies, and secure to them health, wealth, and good fortune.
This is the substance of what the holy man related to the wandering prince, Sooradha, or Soorut; who in consequence devoted himself in sincerity of heart to prayer at the shrine of Doorga. He was rewarded by becoming in another birth Saverna Menoot, and it was during the period in which he governed the world that the sage Makundrah related these wonders to the Prince Jayanee. The latter, on hearing the narration, instituted the festival in question, and fixed the dates for its observance agreeably to those named by the goddess, as the best to obtain her aid and favour. Future ages have continued to solemnize this festival by prayer, festivities, gymnastic exercises, and every kind of warlike sport.
Not that we need to learn the story from the British, but the point to be noted is that they made elaborate effort to understand the customs and traditions in India, and recorded all that they had heard or understood. Sometimes, they heaped scorn on the heathen practices and paganism of the natives, but quite often they recorded their observations dispassionately.