This is just absolutely exquisite. 14th century Nepali depiction of Devi Durga as Mahishasura Mardini [‘Slayer of the Buffalo[-headed] Demon’], in copper.
There’s a real glorious sense of motion to the sculpture, and you can just imagine how radiant this would have looked in the original bright (dare we suggest almost ‘saffron’) hues of the untarnished Copper of its forging.
For those unaware – Mahishasura was a particularly infamous adversary to the Gods; a demon-lord and sorcerer with designs not only upon the rulership of the Worlds, but also – as it transpired – upon Devi Herself.
He had acquired a boon which provided him with conditional invulnerability (there is no such thing as absolute invulnerability nor immortality conferrable via such means in our legendarium) – the weakness he selected being, per the popular account (and there is … another more rarely encountered one that is also subtly illustrated in this piece … that we shall not divulge here), that he should only prove vulnerable to death brought about by a female.
The misogynist demon, of course, thinking that no woman could pose a threat to him.
Which, really, is a rather spectacular case of … not knowing how Indo-European theology works, and with a particular emphasis upon the Shakta sphere – but, then, certain demons and demonically-inclined individuals often do seem to have quite some ‘blind spots’ when it comes to the Holy. It must surely take such to truly believe one can actually fight and win against the Gods.
In any case – Mahishasur managed a rather impressive scale of conquest against the Gods, to the point that the salient assistance of one of the mightiest War-Forms of the Devi was called for.
A circumstance we have covered capaciously elsewhere – with especial observation that the ‘conventional view’ (as found on, say, Wikipedia) of Durga only existing because of a ‘combined pooling’ of power of the male Gods … is incorrect. And with the greater insight being that the Shakti of Gods brought together in that Mountain of Fire that accompanies Her Divine Emanation – well, it was always Hers to begin with. As with the Weapons (various of Them, at any rate), we may truly say.
The results are … rather obvious. To all but Mahishasur.
Who, seeing a tornado of beauteous destruction hewing Her way through the demon armies toward him on the battlefield … decides that clearly the most logical thing to do here is make a most indecent proposition indeed. Toward the righteously furious Devi.
Devi’s Reply to this is swift and brutal (‘Ugran’, we may suggest); with Mahishasur’s calumnious sorcerous might no match for Her potency. He attempts to get away in a panic via shape-changing – and yet, this does him no good either.
The only pathway forward for him in life is toward inexorable, inevitable, downright implacable (Adrasteia, indeed) Destruction.
Just as it should be.
Now, when I went looking into it – the Met Museum’s description of the piece states that Devi is “transfixing” Mahishasur with Her Trishula, yet I’m not quite sure if that is correct.
It’s certainly possible that there is some other element not visible from this angle – but to me, it looks like the weapon projected to the proximity of Mahishasur’s throat and collarbone is only two-pointed.
With, in specia, those two points looking suspiciously like an Ankusha. That which we would, perhaps, translate as an ‘elephant goad’.
In Hindu iconographic reckoning, there is some saliency for an Ankusha to mean, effectively, a thing that ‘draws’ or ‘directs’ or ‘controls’ rather significant forces. Something that obviously has correlation with .. well .. an elephant-goad; yet in a metaphysical sense, we find it utilized to refer to, for instance, the thing that enables the adept to ‘control’ and ‘induce’ the flow of ‘energy’ in certain elements of ritual proceeding.
Those who’ve taken a look at our Ritual Guides series shall instantly recall the Ankusha Mudra (‘hand posture’) utilized in the Seven Rivers investiture for the Achamana (‘purification rite’) utilized before our major undertakings.
So … what is an Ankusha doing poised at Mahishasur’s throat?
Well, perhaps the clue lies in the other facet to proceedings – the manner in which Mahishasur is ‘caught’, having just escaped from his doomed buffalo form (the decapitated head of which lies in front of Devi’s Feet).
He makes as if to try and flee – both ‘physically’, in the sense of running away, and also in another manner via perhaps engaging in further shape-changing conduct to desperately escape Her Victory …
… and yet he cannot. He is, as the Met commentator put it – ‘transfixed’. Something that can quite clearly be seen in the facial expression which the artisan has managed to imbue the villain this piece with in earnest.
There are other things we might say about this most glorious of renderings for Her – but for now, I think that it is enough.
जय जय हे महिषासुरमर्दिनि रम्यकपर्दिनि शैलसुते
Jai Mata Di !