One of the popular, pan India festivals is Navaratri.
Navaratri is the time when Goddess Durga was victorious against Asura Mahisha. Mahisha Asura is represented as Buffalo demon, Mahisha meaning Buffalo.
The word ‘Mahisha’ has two meanings. While Mahisha means a Buffalo, this word is also used to refer to the Supreme Lord, Maha Esha, Maha meaning great and Esha meaning Lord.
The Buffalo stands for Tamas, meaning inertia, laziness. The Asura Mahisha stands for Tamas.
The Supreme Lord is also said to be inactive, being above Prakriti and is called Mahisha, Mahesha. This is the reason why Shiva who famous epithet is Maheshwara, is said to represent the quality of Tamas in the Puranas.
Devi got the name Mahishasura Mardini, Mardini meaning ‘to destroy’, the destroyer of Mahisha Asura.
Mahisha Asura Mardini
Devi Durga is worshipped in this form of Mahisha Asura Mardini during Navaratri.
This story of victory of the Goddess over Mahisha Asura is described in detail in the Text – Devi Mahatmayam.
The story goes that a Asura by name Mahisha Asura who was in the form of a Buffalo grew very powerful and defeated the Deva. The Devas including the Trinity were helpless as the Asura had secured a boon from Brahma that he could be vanquished only by a woman. This made Mahisha Asura almost invincible.
At this time, all the Devas including Brahma Vishnu and Shiva combined their energies into a single ball of light. This light took the form of Devi Durga.
Devi Durga battled with Mahisha Asura for 9 days and on the 10th day, she killed Mahisha Asura.
An art work depicting the battle between Devi Durga and Mahisha Asura
Stotra by Shankaracharya
There is a famous stotra by name ‘Mahisha Asura Mardani’, composed by Adi Shankaracharya. This stotra is addressed to Durga Devi as Mahisha Asura Mardini.
Two stanzas from Mahisha Asura Mardani Stotram
Mahisha Asura Mardini form of Durga is much revered across the land. This story is found sculpted in temples through the land.
Sculptures of Mahishasura Mardini
In South India, the two ancient sculptures of Mahisha Asura Mardini can be found at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and at Badami in Karnataka.
In the Mahabalipuram Cave at Shore Temple, there is a lion sculpture with a depiction of Mahisha Asura Mardini culled inside.
Location of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Lion Sculpture at Shore Temple depicting Mahisha Asura Mardini
Mahisha Asura Mardani Cave – Mahabalipuram
Mahisha Asura Vs Durga Devi Fight – Sculpture – Cave Temple—Mahabalipuram
Similarly, in Badami too, we have the beautiful sculpture of Mahisha Asura Mardini.
Mahishasura Mardini Cave Temple at Badami
These sculptures at Mahabalipuram and Badami date back to over 1000 years.
In other places
Sculpture of Mahishasuramardini, Aihole, Karnataka
Sculpture of Mahishasuramardini, Elephanta, Mumbai
Sculpture of Mahishasuramardini, Thirukurangudi village, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu
There are statues and temples of the deity across the land.
A Statue of Mahisha Asura Mardini at a temple shrine in Assam
Durga Puja, the worship of Mahisha Asura Mardini during Navaratri period is observed across the country, and with extra vigour in the state of Bengal.