Amazing modern (A)art(i) for Friday – Devi’s Day.
Durga as Mahishasura Mardini – the Destroyer of the Buffalo-Demon. Dawon, Her Lion Vahana [vehicle/steed] is looming behind. And Mahishasur, of course, is the exsanguinating horned figure under Her Feet and Spear.
To quote from one of my previous works via way of explication –
“To this conflict, then, came the buffalo(-headed) demon, Mahishasur – a shape-shifter whose beguiling ability to assume an array of (often more innocuous) forms with his exterior nevertheless belied a fixed and abhorrent internal consistency and perverse ‘purity’ of ‘purpose’ to see the Gods cast down.
Prideful and pugilistic, the demon Mahishasur resolved to do this via the by-now time-worn (aha) approach of first performing sufficient rites and rituals of austerities to beseech Brahma to grant him a boon of ‘immortality’/’invincibility’, in order to make himself ‘inexorable’ in his insurgency against the Divine Order and any such Divine Warrior as might endeavour to stand in his toxic way.
However, the ‘rules’ and nature of Hindu ‘divine legalism’ I suppose one might call it, do not allow for any being to be granted such inviolate and perfected implacability. There always must be some exception, some loophole – some ‘chink’ in the otherwise plenipotentiary armour granted to them by Brahma, via which they surely shalt crumble apace.
Mahishasura, however, was not nearly so thoughtful or creative as these others of his kind – and was beset, among other shortcomings, with a chronic overabundance of arrogance and misplaced pride. Nor had he read Lord of the Rings. He therefore selected as his boon from Lord Brahma, that “no man” would be able to vanquish him – thusly phrased because he was disdainful of women, and did not either believe or realize that a woman could ever be a threat to one as self-regardedly mighty as he. (As it happens, Mahishasur turns out to have a “weakness” of “women” in an additional sense as well – that directly contributes to his downfall … but more on that later at the appropriate time)
For a time, this boon allowed Mahishasur and his armies to prosecute their ADharmic and Devacidal acrusade with quite marked success – meeting The Gods in the field and routing Them, eventually coming close to overrunning The Heavens themselves and forcing The Gods to retreat off into the Mountains (which are,of course, HER Realm! – Parvati, ‘Of The Mountains’) in order to contemplate making some form of heroic final stand against the onrushing dark.
As should always be done in such circumstances, The Gods turn to piety – invocations of sternest wrath and vengeance, and the pooling of Their collective essences and empowerments to endeavour to find some solution that will carry the day (in more than one sense of the term). Perhaps, in the manner of many a soldier in what they perceive to be their last moments, They thought of Their Ma (- particularly relevant to the place that They were in). And SHE Answered.
However it transpired, They suddenly found amongst Them, the most Glorious Yet Serene Wrath Of The Gods Made (Wo)Manifest. A most exquisitely beautiful Devi, both radiantly regal and rapturously deadly. (Eighteen Armed) Salvation, in other words – for Gods as well as Mortals and indeed for Worlds Entire.
SHE took to the field of combat, rallying The Gods behind Her, and singlehandedly (well … you know what I mean) laying waste to entire enemy formations and their heavy machinery of war (indeed, there’s a particular Shakta Hymn – the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram, that I occasionally play for people. About the fourth verse or so, they tend to be like “this sounds beautiful. What’s it mean?” At which point I provide the translation of said verse, which is largely about first Devi and then also Her Vahana ripping the faces off the enemy war-elephants, and related acts pertaining to the subjugation and devastation of the demonic foe).
Of course, especially given the craven nature of the demons, She was not simply attracting attention for Her incredible combat prowess, and the steady whirlwind of severed heads and lacerated limbs, fountains of gore and earth-shaking fury which accompanied Her implacable advance across the battlefield.
As mentioned above, She is also indescribably beautiful. And, as is ever the case with the certain sort of male who is utterly dismissive of women except perhaps as trinkets, as pretty-looking things to be possessed in the manner of objects, trifling amusements, or as currency … Mahishasur saw this incredible conflagration of (if She had so willed it) Universe-Destroying potency carving Her way towards him – and rather than doing something sensible or even simply perceiving that Annihilation had literally arrived, he instead basically just thought “nice looking woman .. I shall have her”, and proceeded to make a rather indecent proposal in The Devi’s direction.
Evidently, in his overwhelming arrogance, Mahishasura had forgotten the terms of his bargain with Brahma – that only a woman could destroy him … and that not just any woman, but the Destroyer of Worlds and the Unmaker of the Cosmos Itself (at the appointed time) stood before him, bedecked with a most charming smile.
Devi’s response to his insolence was remarkably civil, given the circumstances – as, instead of simply slaying him then and there where he stood, She effectively invited him to partake of a more honourable (for him, anyway) single combat – a Challenge. She did so by stating that She would not allow Herself to be joined with any man who could not best Her martially.
And, with his thinking perhaps I would surmise impaired by a lack of full blood-flow to his brain for some reason (thus causing him to, you know, somehow not notice the blood of a pretty sizeable portion of what had up until just recently been his army spattered about Her), Mahishasur chose to accept Devi’s Challenge.
Not least because I opened this piece with mention of the Theonym of Durga – Mahishasura Mardini – it should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever to the reader to hear that Lady Katyayani eventually killed Mahishasur. Although the “eventually” is not there to indicate any enlengthening of proceedings through Mahishasur staging a valiant-if-futile defence or anything like that. As he couldn’t. Nobody, and nothing could have withstood the onslaught that then ensued. For this was not even, except in exterior forms perceived by the entranced witnesses through their eyes, a “combat” or a “duel” – as that would imply the contest of two opposing forces with at least some active input, interaction, and perhaps counter-attacking from the other party.
Instead, this was simply an Inevitability. With the only ‘delay’ in the death of the demon being comprised of said Finality taking a certain apportionment of extra time and miniscule effort to properly lay waste to Mahishasur in both form and spirit – and in so doing, deliver a most powerful message to any other would-be (usurper-)masters of the universe down the ages.
The Sanction meted out against Mahishasur, then, went well beyond the “clinical” (although both the precision and the overall objective of the protection and maintenance of health with which Her blows were delivered does render this a useful term of description for what had then ensued) , and into the outright ‘cinematic’. By which I mean, She beat down upon him so incredibly severely that She – and this is probably one of my favourite details of the ‘duel’ – basically wound up tap-dancing on his head (so to speak – there is also a visual metaphor going on here); a studious and emphatically necessary brutality which persists to the point She literally manages to pulverize the spirit out of him – it leaves via the now-severed neck of the buffalo-form, and then frantically attempts to adopt some shape or guise that would enable it to flee to persist with its evil elsewhere and elsewhen. For renunciation of its evil is not in its nature; meaning that the cessation of its abomination can only be accomplished via the cessation of its very being.
Something which Devi then finally delivers via the points of the Trishula – the Trident (or ‘Three-Spear’, ‘Three-Point(s)’) that represents mastery over the three worlds (and of the three energies), and which is capable of destroying utterly whatsoever may find itself in the Trishula’s path (other than Shiva & Shakti, Whose imperial emblem, ensign, escutcheon, and ekpyrotic tool it is) including the universe itself at the End of Time.
Interestingly, the Trishula is also keyed to the area of the body commensurate with the Ajna Chakra [more commonly referred to as the ‘Third Eye’] which She is also directly associated with – the implication therefore also being that the destruction of Mahishasur was thus an act of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘true-seeing’, while also situating it in the broader context of similar such ann-eye-hilation instances from Hindu mythology, as well as the broad power of Mahadev and Durga as Tryambakam – ‘Three-Eyed’.”
Artist is Amol Hirawadekar
जय जय हे महिषासुरमर्दिनि रम्यकपर्दिनि शैलसुते
Jai Mata DI !