Mahisasuramardini: The Warrior Goddess

Changing sculptural representations of the Warrior Goddess from fierce to benign.

American Institute of Indian Studies

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies

Atirancanda-mandapa, Durga chasing Mahisasura, panel in front of cave, detail (ca 700-728 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

The Devi Mahatmya, 7th century text describes the power and magnificence of Shakti, the creator Goddess. She is 'Mahisasuramardini' the warrior goddess who bears weapons and fights demons and restores order in the universe.

Mallikarjuna temple, Mahamandapa, bracket detail: Mahisasuramardini (ca 740 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

The legend starts with Mahisasura, the buffalo headed demon challenging the gods and the Durga fights him riding a lion. Thus called Mahisasuramardini, the vanquisher of Mahisasura.

Mahisamardini cave, Mandapa, north wall, Mahisamardini panel (ca 630-668 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

This legend could be seen in various panels in early Indian temples. The form however changes. In some panels of early period, she is seen riding the lion like a warrior.

Atirancanda-mandapa, Durga chasing Mahisasura, panel in front of cave, detail (ca 700-728 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this panel the asura i.e. the demon with buffalo-head turns away from the attacking lion on which the goddess rides.

Mahisamardini cave, Mandapa, north wall, Mahisamardini panel (ca 630-668 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this panel the Goddess is riding the lion and attacking the demon. She has eight arms with a different weapon on each.
The demon also seen holding a club.

Mallikarjuna temple, Mahamandapa, bracket detail: Mahisasuramardini (ca 740 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this 8th century panel from Karnataka, the goddess with many arms riding the lion is attacking the Demon.
The Devi Mahatmya tells the story of her victory over Madhu, Kaitabh, Raktbhij, and many other demons.

The panel shows people trampled and killed during the war as the goddess treads on her lion.

Bhimesvara temple, North kapili, Mahisamardini (ca 700-725 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this 8th century panel from Andhra Pradesh has Durga severing the head of the demon. She is not riding the lion but has a foot on him. While the lion attacks the demon.

The demon is annilated and his severed head lies on the ground in this panel.

Banabhatta, a 7th century poet in Candisatakam, describes the goddess as she kills the demon. He glorifies the goddess, her feet, her strength, her weapons and her heroism.
The panel represents the victory of the eight armed goddess Durga over the demon.

Mata temple, Prasada, north wall, base, Mahisamardini in niche (ca 951-999 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this panel the goddess has two chauri i.e. fly whisk bearer on her sides, while she puts her foot on the demon and attacks with the trident.

In the 10th century panel, the goddess slays the buffalo and destroys the spirit of the demon while the lion bites the buffalo.

Carved rock, Mahisasuramardini (ca 600-699 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

Here the form changes as the goddess is no more riding the lion. The goddess holds the trident and is attacking the demon who is now in a human form.

Papanasesvara group, Temple No. 2, South shrine, north wall, Mahisamardini (ca 975 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this 10th century panel from Andhra Pradesh, the goddess holds the trident but the warrior like look is missing.

Its interesting to see the diminutive form of the demon.

The lion is not attacking the demon and looks tamed.

Cave I, Mahisamardini shrine in west, wall, Mahisamardini (ca 500-599 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

The goddess is bedecked with jewellery and has a serene look. The form of the goddess is calm and placid.

The powerful demon as seen in the earlier panels here is small and has been conquered.

Cave 21 (Ramesvara), Chaple to left of entrance, Mahisamardini panel (ca 400-525 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

The goddess has two attendants on her side with weapons. She is composed and no more the warrior chasing demons.

Causath Yogini temple, Standing female divinity: Sri Teramva (Late 10th century CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

In this 10th century sculpture from Madhya Pradesh many armed Durga is seen slaying the buffalo demon.

Adi Varaha cave (Paramesvara...), Antarala, south (back) wall, Durga standing on buffalko's head (ca 672-700 CE)American Institute of Indian Studies

This panel from Mahabalipuram has Durga in a tribhanga pose i.e. tri-bent posture.

The lion and a deer can be seen on the top of the panel. This is a rare representation of the Goddess and her mount.

The goddess is standing on the head of the buffalo demon. The panel also depicts two devotees sitting below.

Nityesvara temple (facing east), Ardhamandapa, north wall, Kostha with Mahisasuramardini image (1130 CE (before))American Institute of Indian Studies

In the 12th century panel Mahisasuramardini is a benign goddess standing on the head of the buffalo. Her legend of a demon slayer remains but now her form is docile. She grants wishes to her devotees. She is the creative force, 'Mahalakshmi', destroyer, 'Mahakali' and sustainer, 'Mahasaraswati', collectively called Tridevi.

Credits: Story

Dr. Shatarupa Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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