The Mahishasura-Mardini form of goddess Durga prevails over all her other forms and this is the form most often depicted in votive art. In fact, it is in this form of Durga Maa that her aesthetic beauty, too, is most perceived, as the fierce form combines her beauty and sublime force. The artists had varied styles and adhered to diverse ritualistic traditions and this is seen in the variety of weapons that were depicted in the portraits - spear, wheel, mace, arrow and sword on her right and shield, serpent, conch, lotus and bow on her left.

The features of her face - sharp nose, fish-like eyes, well-defined rounded chin above a coiled necklace and a large angular crown have reflections of 10th-11th century Indian sculptures. Her costume and ornaments are in the typical traditional style as described in Durga Saptashati by Sage Markandeya. A ritualistic reading of this text is part of the Navaratri celebrations in the honour of goddess Durga.


There are two prevailing traditions with regards to the origin of goddess Durga Maa. According to one tradition, she has always existed. In the aftermath of the great deluge, Vishnu was floating upon a fig leaf as a child, bewildered at what next had to be done. It was Devi, according to this tradition, who appeared before him and helped Creation.

The other tradition, and more common one, relates to the destruction of Mahishasura at the hands of Durga Maa. In the texts, a demon called Mahisha (meaning buffalo) once ruled the earth. By great penance, he had won from Brahma the boon of invincibility against all males. This turned him into a highly ambitious and arrogant ruler. Having subdued all the earth, he decided to invade Indra's heaven. In the war that ensued Indra and all the gods were defeated and had to flee from the heavens.

The gods soon learnt from Brahma of Mahishasura's boon and that he could be killed after all, but only at the hands of a woman. After much deliberation, the gods decided to create a female power out of their own attributes and also bestowed on her divine beauty and female graces, such that made her represent absolute womanhood on earth. Her head was formed by the powers of Shiva, hair by that of Yama, arms, breasts, feet, toe-nails, fingernails, nose, teeth, eyes, brows and ear respectively by the powers of Vishnu, Moon, Indra, Brahma, Sun, Vasu, Kuber, Prajapati, Agni, Twilight and Vayu. The ocean offered her its glittering jewels and Shesha a necklace inlaid with celestial gems. In like manner, they all gave to her their respective weapons. Finally, sage Narada disclosed to the newly created goddess the sad plight of the gods and the great task for which she had been created. The goddess graciously accepted the prayer of the gods and later, in a fierce battle, killed the buffalo-demon Mahisha.


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