This brilliantly painted brass statue represents the ten-armed Devi – Goddess, killing the buffalo-demon Mahisha. This powerful image of the Great Goddess charging at the buffalo-demon with her trident is superb in portraying motion and force with which she overpowers him. Unlike routine representations, in whichever medium, that delineate the demon as half buffalo-half man, often the demon emerging in human form out of the decapitated figure of the animal, this statue represents in simultaneity the demon’s anthropomorphic as well as animal forms independent of each other. Like Apasmarapurusha – human figure representing inertness, in Shiva’s Nataraja iconography, the buffalo lies motionless and completely inert under the feet of the Devi’s mount, almost like its base. On the other hand, the demon in his anthropomorphic form, as if completely baffled and dismayed by the Devi, has meekly submitted to her. Notably, out of the Devi’s ten arms just two are engaged in killing Mahisha, as if not more than just a grain of her power was required to annihilate him. Alike, the Goddess is engaged in battle with the most mighty demon of the day but her face is not turned to him, or is rather turned into direction other than his, suggesting that the evil’s eradication is just her side-target, the world’s weal, to which her face is turned, being her primary.
The Mahishasura-Mardini form of the Devi, now popularly known as Durga, prevails over her all forms, votive or aesthetic. The Devi’s form as Mahishasura-Mardini, which blends sublime force and commitment to a divine cause with the beauty of a feminine form having exceptional agility and brilliance, is unique also in its aesthetic beauty and is the most widely represented theme of aesthetic arts. Thus this ten-armed statue, carrying in various hands spear, wheel, mace, arrow, sword, shield, conch, bow and a demon head, is in adherence to both, ritual as well as aesthetic tradition. The statue has been raised on an oval lotus base on which lies the buffalo representing the demon Mahisha born of a she-buffalo. While the Devi charges at the demon’s anthropomorphic form her mount lion charges at the animal and completely overpowers it.
As the tradition popular in public mind has it, a demon by the name of Mahisha, meaning buffalo, once ruled the earth. By his great penance he had won from Brahma the boon of invincibility against all male. This turned him into a highly ambitious and arrogant ruler. After grabbing the entire earth he invaded heaven and defeated Indra and all gods and evicted them of Indraloka – their abode. Gods approached Brahma for rescuing them and learnt from him about Mahisha’s immunity from death at the hands of all males, gods, men or beasts. On Brahma’s revelation that a female alone could kill him, after due deliberations gods decided to create a female power out of their power and with their own attributes as also bestowing on her the absolute divine beauty and female graces, such as made her represent also the absolute womanhood on the earth. Thus, the Great Goddess, out of gods’ power and with their attributes and weapons, was created. Finally, sage Narada disclosed to the newly created Goddess the sad plight of the gods and the errand for which she had been created. The Goddess delightfully accepted the prayer of gods and later in a fierce war killed the buffalo demon Mahisha.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.