The Durga or Agni Suktam is an ancient hymn Of Rig Veda. So is this hymn addressed to Agni deva or Durga maa? If it is addressed to Agni deva then why it calls Agni as destroyer of hurdle as Durga maa?
First of all, the phrase
Durga Suktam is not part of the text (Rig Veda).
The entire DurgA Suktam is found in the MahAnArAyana Upanishad (MNU), section 2 and not in the Vedas. It has seven mantras in all.
And, of the seven mantras, only five are found in the Rig Veda, the remaining two are not.
The mantras that are from Rig Veda are:
jAtavedase sunavama somam, arAtiyato ni dahAti vedah, sa nah parshat ati durgAni.... naveva sindhum durita ati agnihi ||
to the one who knows all births, we prepare and offer the Soma; may he burn up completely the wealth and knowledge of our foes. May he lead us to happiness overcoming all states of grief; May Agni carry us as in a boart across a river preventing any wrong-doing or stumbling (durita).
Rig Veda 1.99.1
Agne tvam pAraya navyo asmAn..... tokaya tanayaya sham yoh ||
O Agni, worthy of praise (navya), lead us beyond (ati) all difficulties (durgA) by happy means (svast); be awide and broad dwelling with many felicities for us. Grant peace and well-doing to our disciples and successors.
Rig Veda 1.189.2
The remaining three that i have not given (translations of) are Rig Veda 5.4.9 (vishvAni na durgahA...), Rig Veda 7.63.1 ( pritanajitam sahamAnam ugram..) and Rig Veda 8.11.10 ( pratno hi kam idyo adhvareshu....).
Now, all these mantras have Agni as their Devatas. So, they are dedicated to Agni.
Among the two mantras that are found in the aforementioned Upanishad i am giving here only one fully:
tAm agni varnAm tapasA jvalantim, vairochanim karma-phalesu jushtAm, durgAm devim sharnam aham prapadye, sutari tarase namaha ||
I take refuge in Her, Goddess DurgA, who is with lustre of Agni and is radiant from askesis. She is the power belonging to the supreme (virochana) who manifests Himself manifoldy. She is the power in actions rendering their results efficious. You are skilled in saving; you take across the difficulties well. Salutations to you.
The other mantra from MNU gives the DurgA gAyatri mantra viz
Om KatyAnaya Vidmahe kanyAkumari dhimahi tannoh Durgi prachodayath.
These seven mantras are popularly chanted together during Pujas as DurgA Suktam, although five of them are dedicated to Agni only.
Goddess DurgA is commonly interpreted as "one difficult to attain" or "one who overcomes all difficulties for the devotee".
In Vedas, Agni is often described as the leader in our journey towards perfection. And, the epithets to Goddess DurgA are very similar to those of Agni as mentioned in the given five Rig Veda mantras.
Durga suktam - This is a prayer to the Fire God Agni occurring in the Maha Narayana Upanishad. Section two. Page -93
Durga is used here as a word for difficult problems in almost all the stanzas. The salutation to Durga is given only in the second stanza
जातवेदसे सुनवाम सोममरातीयतो निद्हति वेद : |
स न: पर्षदाति दुर्गाणि विश्वा नावेव सिन्धुं दुरितात्यग्नि ||1|
Jatavedase sunavama soma marathee yatho nidhahadhi veda,
Sa na parshadathi durgani viswa naaveva sindhum durithathyagni. 1
May we offer oblations to soma to jata-vedas. May the all knowing one destroy what is unfriendly to us. May he , the divine fire that leads all , protect us by taking us across all perils even as a captain takes the boat across the sea. May he also saves us from all wrongs.
तमग्निवर्णा तपसा ज्वलन्तीं वैरोचनिं कर्मफ़लेषु जुष्टाम् |
दुर्गा देवीम् शार्ङामहं प्रपद्ये सुतरसि तरसे नमः ||2||
Thaam agni varnaam thapasa jwalanthim vairochanim karma phaleshu jushtam, Durgam devim saranamaham prapadhye, sutharasi tharase nama. 2
I take refuge in her , the goddess Durga ,who is fiery in luster and radiant with ardency , who is the power belonging to the supreme who manifests himself manifoldly , who is the power residing in actions and their fruits rendering them efficacious (or the power that is supplicated to by the devotee for the fruition of their work). O though goddess skilled in saving , thou takest us across difficulties excellently well. Our salutations to thee.
In this verse we get a clear reference of Durga the Goddess .According to Sayana the word Durga literally means inaccessible.In the previous verse the same word in neuter was taken in the sense of a difficult place or difficulty. In this one , the word is in in feminine form as Durga , the name of the goddess Durga is , therefore , the deity who removes difficulties from the path of her votaries.
अग्ने त्वं पारया नव्यो अस्मान स्वस्तिभिरति दुर्गाणि विश्वा |
पुश्र्च पृथ्वी बहुला न उर्वी भवा तोकाय तनयाय शंयो ||3||
Agne thwam paaraya navyo asmaan swasthibhirathi durgani viswa,
Pushscha prithwi bahula na urvee bhava thokaaya thanayaya shamyoh. 3
O fire though art worthy of praise. With happy methods take us beyond all difficulties. May our home town and home land become excessive and may the plot of the earth (for growing the crops) also be ample. Further be thou pleased to join our children with joy.
विश्वानि नो दुर्गहा जातवेदः सिन्धुं न नावा दुरिताति पर्षि |
अग्ने अत्रिवन नमसा गर्णानो ऽसमाकम बोध्य अविता तनूनाम ||4||
viśvāni no durghahā jātavedaḥ sindhuṃ na nāvā duritāti parṣi |
aghne atrivan namasā ghṛṇāno 'smākam bodhy avitā tanūnām ||
Over all woes and dangers, Jātavedas, bear us as in a boat across a river. Praised with our homage even as Atri praised thee, O Agni, be the guardian of our bodies.
This verse no 3 is also found in RV 5.4.9 Rig-Veda Mandala 5 – Sukta -4 – Verse 9 -
Explanation -According to Vedic tradition a particular sacrificial fire consecrated for the worship of the divine is called Durga and by extension of the word applies also to the power of creative and evolutionary energy which is associated with fire in many vedic stanzas pertaining to Agni. It is therefore difficult the separation odf conception of durga and fire conceived as universal energy in this sukta. The predominant idea here , however ,is that the supreme represented as “Durga Devi” is the savior of man in his trouble and mundane life bestower of highest bliss.This idea is fully developed in Puranic works dealing with the deeds and worship of Durga , the divine mother of the universe.
Conclusion – By looking at the verses and at the commentary , we can see that its pretty much difficult to separate The idea of Divine Mother (creative energy) Durga and the vedic sacrificial fire called Durga. So we can say that this Sukta can be used as a prayer for Durga Devi as well as particular sacrificial fire consecrated for the worship of the divine is called Durga. So Both are true.