Mahisasuramardini : images from Indian sculpture

     Durga is a revered Goddess and worshipped all over India. She is a form of Shakti, one of her forms is mahisasuramardini.  Durga has been depicted in India in sculpture , miniature paintings, wood carvings , puja idols and metalware. Durga slaying the Mahishasura is a prominent theme which was sculpted in various caves and temples across India.   Mahisasuramardini is one of the various forms of Durga or Shakti which indicates activity and capacity. all activity emanates from adya shakti(primordial energy), manifestations of the universal energy. The Indus valley civilisation has unearthed number of female figures in terracotta  representing  Mother Goddess. In the Vedas too number of goddesses are mentioned in different capacities. The Mahisasuramardini is one of the manifestations of the Divine mother whose [primary aim is to combat demons who threaten the cosmos. she has many arms and each has a different weapon. She rides on a lion and defeats the buffalo demon Mahisasura who has been given a boon that no-one can defeat  him except a woman. He defeated all gods in battle. the Gods got together and put all their energy which got transformed into a beautiful, strong woman. This legend is found in various texts like Devi Bhagvata purana, Varaha purana, Vamana purana. the legend varies in different texts In Devi Bhagavata Purana the Gods headed by Brahma and Shiva approached Vishnu after being defeated by Mahisasura. Out of the energies of Vishnu, Brahma and all other Gods a female deity was created who was given weapons from all of them to use in battle against Mahisasura. Images of Mahisasuramardini vary across the country in the number of arms and the way in which the demon is being killed. The ten armed devi has a trident, a sword,a chakra,a saktyayudha, an arrow, a bow, a trisula, a vajra, an ankusa and a bell.  When she engaged in battle she had absorbed the energy of the Gods and they witnessed the mighty cosmic battle in awe.The sculptors across India have referred various texts and sculpted various forms of the Goddess. Some images appear in different forms; one in which the buffalo is seen on the knee of the Goddess, some in which it is lifted up by the left hand with the tail/hind leg and the right hand pierces the snout with  a trisula; in some the buffalo is held by snout and or caught by a noose. In some images the devi is standing on the severed head of the buffalo and  the Goddess has four arms with discus,conch, abhaya and katihasta. Sometimes a trisula replaces the abhayahasta.  Sometimes two devotees and seen on either side of the six arms and lion is present. Some images have eight arms . Sometimes demon is a combination of man’s body and buffalo head and caught with noose or caught by horn, in kneeling in front of the Goddess or fighting with her. Sometimes demon is seen emerging from the severed neck of the buffalo or the Goddess is pressing on the chest of the demon. Images are found in Mathura,Orissa,Bhita, Bhumara in Madhya Pradesh, Ellora, Alampur, Chidambaram. Other main representations are seen at Mahabalipuram, Ellora, Hoysaleswara,Halebid and Udaigiri   .


Mahabalipuram, 7/8th century, Tamil Nadu.

By Nicholas and Co [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    In the relief the Goddess is an a lion,eight armed, shooting arrows at the demon. Her other hands hold  a disk, bell, sword, conch, noose etc. The ganas of Shiva surround her holding weapons. This image is from a town in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district, a port city  during the rule of the south Indian  dynasty of the Pallavas. There are groups of sanctuaries carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries which are excellent examples of Pallava art including rathas(temple carts), mandapas,rock reliefs. The relief mentioned here is of mahisasuramardinini

Hoysala architecture in Chennakesava temple at Belur in Karnataka has a stunning sculpture depiction (1268); the image of the Goddess is a symbol of energy and full of metaphysical meaning. The right leg of the Goddess is on the buffalo and the trident or trisula on the demon’s chest. An attendant is seen below near her feet. The Hoysala temple here stands on a stellate platform. The Hoysala empire existed between the 11th  and 14th centuries in present day Karnataka.The famous temples are the Chennakesava, Ishvara, Someswara,Kesava  among others.


Chennakesava temple, 13th century,Belur, Karnataka

Pic : Chaitanya Awasthi

      Ellora cave temples have a depiction of the devi in Cave 21 which is known as Rameswara and is from the 8th century B.C. She is seen standing in alidhasana and with  her right foot on a buffalo and seen wearing a jatamukuta, armlets,bangles,and a girdle on her waist. She is chaturbhuja ie. having four hands and holds a sword, trisula,shield and a buffalo head. There are two male attendants on either side with the weapons  sword, shield and mace. Ellora is located 28 km form Aurangabad in the present day Maharashtra. The caves were carved out of the Charanandri Hills between 5th and 10th centuries by the Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties. Out of the 34 caves 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina Caves.


Ellora cave, 8th century, Maharashtra.

By G41rn8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,



References :

Mahisasuramardini by Sanjaya Kumar Mahapatra, Agam Kala Prakashan, 2014.

Goddess Durga : the power and the glory, Marg Publications, Mumbai,2009.

In praise of Hoysala art, Marg, Vol XXXI, No 1, Mumbai.



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