Durga in Indian art: some painting and sculpture depictions

Durga is an important deity from the Hindu pantheon. She is revered as a destroyer of evil. She is  a Goddess or a devi. The word devi in Sanskrit means divine or heavenly and a shining presence. The concept of devi first appeared in the Vedas in 200 B.C. but gained focus in Puranic literature with texts like the Devi Mahatmya. Goddess Durga reigns supreme and is the divine feminine as Devi in Hinduism and a divine mother as Mata. The legend of Durga appears as an avatar of Parvati, who is angry, ferocious and has eight to ten arms, holding weapons and skulls, riding a lion or tiger. She is a warrior goddess  who kills Mahisasura whom the male Gods were unable to control. Durga is a unified form of all Gods.She is one who saves a devotee from durgati or misfortune. Her mythology is described in the Devi Mahatmya, a part of the Markandeya Purana from the 4th to 6th century.

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Durga on amulet, Rajasthan.

By Vassil – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1877832

The nine manifestations of Durga or Navadurga are worshipped during Navaratri in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu calendar; Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta,Skandamata,Katyayani,Kaalratri,Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri. Durga is associated with two mountain ranges, the Himalayas in the north and the VIndhyas in central India. She is Paravati in the Himalayas; daughter of the mountains. Durga images have been found in Afghanistan(ancient Gandhara) and also in Tibet.

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Navadurgas, painting, Banaras.

By No machine-readable author provided. Elishams assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1939544

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Mahavidyas and Navadurgas on Amber Fort palace door, Rajasthan,16th cenury.

By Adamina – DSC05814Uploaded by Ekabhishek, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12020687

Durga is Sachika in the Jodhpur area of Rajasthan. She is called Sharika in Kashmir, Meenakshi in the south, Kamakhya in the east. All over India local goddesses are identified with Durga. She is Chandi in Punjab and Haryana. In Kerala she is Bhagavati and worshipped as Bathukamma in Telangana. The Devi Mahatmya is a religious text which describes the Devi as the supreme power and creator of the universe.  This text is used by Shakta groups (who worship the Devi as supreme), Vaishnavas, Shaivas and others.The other important texts are the Devi Bhagavata Purana and Devi Upanishad, important texts of the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. In fact the earliest evidence for the feminine aspect of God appears in the Rigveda as Devi suktam. Hymns to the devi or Goddess appear in the epic Mahabharata too. By the 3rd or 4th century, the devi became an important aspect of Hindu tradition. The mahadvidyas are a group of ten aspects of Adi Parashakti (Durga) in Hinduism. The mahavidyas include Buddhist goddesses too and are important aspect in Shaktism; and include Kali, Tara,Tripura Sundari,Chinnamasta,Dhumavati,Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala.

The Shiva Purana says Lord Shiva invoked Durga from his left half to create and together both created Shivaloka. As per the Devi Mahatmya ,Mahisasura, son of demon Rambha unleashed terror on earth and defeated the Gods. The Gods then approached Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Together they created a woman on whom they bestowed weapons and she was Durga.  The demon’s entire army was challenged by Durga. Mahisasura attacked Durga as a buffalo-demon whom Durga kills with a trisula(trident) after a fierce battle.

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Sculpture of Durga, Kashmir, 9th century.

 By Image: http://collections.lacma.org/sites/default/files/remote_images/piction/ma-31961402-O3.jpg Gallery: http://collections.lacma.org/node/176350, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27253189

 

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Devi mahatmya manuscript, 17th century.

By Image: http://collections.lacma.org/sites/default/files/remote_images/piction/ma-31973441-O3.jpg Gallery: http://collections.lacma.org/node/171565, Public Domain,

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27229319

The Devi Mahatmya has three episodes. In the first Durga is the sleep state or yoga nidra of Lord Vishnu. The demons Madhu and Kaitabha are threatening to destroy the cosmos. Brahma calls upon the Goddess to emerge and she comes out through Vishnu’s eyes,mouth,nose, arms and chest. Thus Vishnu becomes awake and vanquishes the demons. The second episode is the story of Durga as Mahisasuramardini. The male Gods have been defeated by demons or asuras whose leader is Mahisasura. A strong rage or the tejas of all the Gods takes the form of a woman, Durga who rides lion and is armed with weapons given by the Gods and slays the buffalo-demon, Mahisasura. In the third episode too, the Gods are defeated by the demons or  asuras  Chanda and Munda and Shumbha and Nishumbha. This time the Devi or Durga emerges from the skin of Parvati who is the consort of Lord Shiva and during the battle from her forehead emerges Kali with a tongue dripping with blood and who wears a necklace of skulls and who finishes off the evil beings.

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Sculpture of Durga, Karnataka,13th century.

By Image: http://collections.lacma.org/sites/default/files/remote_images/piction/ma-34340591-O3.jpg Gallery: http://collections.lacma.org/node/236874, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27303644

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Kalighat painting, Kolkata (previously Calcutta)19th century.

By Unknown – The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41948601

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Wall relief at temple at Aihole, Karnataka,  7th-8th century.

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19877840

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Goddess Kali and the saptamatrikas in battle, from a Devi mahatmya manuscript, Mysore.

By Unknown – LACMA[1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2374850

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Durga fighting Shunga and Nishunga,painting from Devi Mahatmya, mid 19th century.

By Punjab Hills, India – from a Devi Mahatmyahttp://www.asia.si.edu/collections/singleObject.cfm?ObjectNumber=F1907.602, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18230079

 

 

In the 10th or 11th century another text the Devi Bhagavata Purana and the Shakta poem Soundaryalahiri became important. Thus Devi or Durga as Lord Shiva’s consort, mahisasuramardini, cosmic power, divine feminine became an important part of Indian religious tradition and culture.

The Devi Bhagavata Purana looks upon the Devi or Shakti as the creator of the Universe and as the Brahman or ultimate reality. This text celebrates the divine feminine and is a mix of mythology, metaphysics and about the conflict between Gods and asuras or good and evil. Durga is described as the eternal truth, the nirguna or formless, saguna, with form, the unchanging reality or purusha and the changing reality or prakriti and the very soul of living beings.

Soundaryalahiri is a poem written by Adi Shankara and sage Pushpadanta about the beauty and grace of Goddess Parvati. It is tantra text book with instructions about pujas, offerings and various yantras.

The matrikas are seven female divinities, together called saptamatrikas; Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Indrani, Kaumari,Varahi and Chamundi. They assist Lord Shiva to battle Andhakusura and assist the devi in their fight with demons.

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Saptamatrikas ,red sandstone, Madhya Pradesh, 9th century.

By Ms Sarah Welch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44761691

Every year during the month of Ashwin(which falls during late September and early October),Durga Puja is celebrated in many Indian states especially West Bengal, Asom, Odisha, Bihar,Tripura,Meghalaya and Jharkhand. Durga Puja celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo-demon Mahisasura. She is worshipped as destroyer of evil and protector of her devotees with great pomp and festivities.

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Durga puja idols, Kolkata,21st century.

By Aryan paswan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21249252

 

References:

  • Pal, Pratapaditya,ed./Goddess Durga : the power and the glory, Mumbai: Marg Publications,2009.
  •   wikipedia.org

Posted by : Soma Ghosh

 

 

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This entry was posted in Ancient Indian history, art history, asian art, Durga, Durga Puja, sculpture of india, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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