Poor Durga, pushed aside. No longer as attractive as Kali, the strong woman of the pantheon is often ignored in the Western claiming of Kali. Everyone is more concerned with her most famous offspring, Kali. But Durga offers her own considerations, and her own offerings to the world.
Durga was often associated with Devi, both perhaps created (or set free and given form?) by the energies of the male deities, both better than all of them. Both are personifications of ultimate power, able to control and conquer, and ultimately more powerful than any male.
Durga is pure power, as is Devi. They revel in their power over the gods, they are the embodiment of pure shakti. Yet they are also inactivity, the lack of shakti, if they chose to be. They can cause deep sleeps, and hide the world. They have their side of hiddenness, they hide their world, they hide consciousness. They could be seen as the enemy of the Brahman, the coatings of the world that have to be transcended before you can reach enlightenment. But if there was not this coating, then what would be the challenge? How would an individual prove himself worthy of enlightenment, test himself in the fires of reality until he was a tempered blade fit for the knowledge?
Durga is the ultimate empowered woman, the ultimate test is to pass her. Among other things, her name even means fortress. The test is to find a way into that fortress. The female predator, she kills those who are unworthy, suitors who try to tame the untamable. They all pay the price for trying to mess with Durga, she won't put up with anyone trying to harness her. Although perhaps Siva succeeded in controlling her.
In some traditions Durga is equated with Parvati, helping us get over that troubling little question to our western minds of out of whose head did Kali really pop. But this is such a different Durga, a poor tamed Durga, mistreated by her husband, and wishing to go back to her family, just like all Indian wives, shoved into unfamiliar territory with their marriages. But this is not Durga Demon-Killer, this is the tamed and controlled Durga Housewife.
Yet even if we see Durga as the uncontrollable Demon-Killer, she does not allow a model of empowerment. There may be this great empowered woman set up as a goddess, but she is most emphatically not a model for women. She is something to herself, empowerment only in the realm of female godhood.
The untamable woman is not something we can accomplish. She is set aside as something different, beyond our ability to emulate. Her perfect power and ease in defeating lovers, gods, anyone who stands in her way, is something no mortal can achieve. The vengeful and fearsome aspect of Durga has been applied to some politicians, and strong Indian women who broke free of the usual, but becoming Durga is a Herculean task, and not everyone can manage it, in fact very few can. Durga is the woman we want to be. But we can't, none of us are powerful enough, strong enough, or ultimately, ruthless enough.