Navaratri is the time when Goddess Durga was victorious against Asura Mahisha. This victory is commemorated on Vijayadashami, the tenth day, after Navaratri.
Mahisha Asura is represented as Buffalo demon, Mahisha meaning Buffalo.
Mahishashura Mardini is the name of the Goddess who slew an Asura by name Mahisha. Devi Durga worshipped in this form is a fierce warrior.
The story goes that an Asura by name Mahisha Asura grew very powerful and defeated the Deva. The Deva including the Trideva were helpless as the Asura had secured a boon from Brahma that he could be vanquished only by a woman. This made Mahisha Asura invincible.
Brahma’s boon to Mahishasura
Manifestation of Devi Mahalakshmi
At this time, all the Deva including Brahma Vishnu and Shiva combined their energies into a single ball of light. This light took the form of Devi Mahalakshmi, an aspect of Goddess Durga.
The Deva sung many a praise on this form of Devi, and requested Her to save them from this powerful Asura, Mahisha Asura. Devi Mahalakshmi assured them that they need no longer worry, as the evil deeds of the Asura had reached its zenith, and that She would now annihilate this Asura and completely destroy his forces.
Devi’s March towards Amaravati and Letting Out a Powerful Roar
Assuring the Deva thus, Devi marched towards Amaravati, the kingdom of Indra, where Mahisha Asura had presently established his rule. When She neared the city, She let out a fierce roar which frightened all the Asura, including Mahisha Asura. He dispatched many soldiers to discover the source of this terrible sound. The Asura soldiers soon saw Goddess Mahalakshmi, seated on a lion, moving towards them. The fearful appearance of the Devi frightened all the Asura, who ran back to their King, and reported what they had seen.
Mahisha Asura Apprised about Devi
Mahisha Asura was bewildered by the description given by his soldiers on a woman who was extremely beautiful, with eighteen arms carrying weapons, seated on a lion, and who had made the frightening noise that everybody had heard. He sent his prime minister and some other soldiers to get a detailed introduction of this Woman Warrior who had suddenly manifested before them. He wanted them to bring Her to his court, as he was now under the spell of cupid, while listening to the descriptions of Devi’s beauty.
Devi’s refusal to accept Mahisha Asura
The prime minister approached the Devi and spoke to Her about the prowess and achievements of their king Mahisha Asura, who had defeated even the Deva. He requested the Devi to come along with them to their King’s presence, who was now smitten by the desire to marry Her.
Devi however refused to go along with them and said, “I am Devi Mahalakshmi, the mother and creator of the Deva. I have come here to kill Mahisha Asura.”
The Devi then challenged Mahisha Asura to battle, with Her.
The prime minster was frightened by the strong manner in which the Devi had spoken to them, and instead of fighting Her, decided that it would be better to report back to the king.
Mahisha Asura now summoned his general Tamara to approach the Devi, and bring her to his presence. Tamara was however struck with fear when the Devi let out another fearful roar, and retured back to his master who was now at his wits end regarding this unique woman warrior.
Slaying of Bashkala and Durmukha
Mahisha Asura sent his two powerful Asura, Bashkala and Durmukha to battle with the Devi, over power Her and forcefully bring Her to his presence. Devi however slayed these two Asura with ease.
She killed Bashkala with Her trident, and put to rest Durmukha by chopping of his head with Her sword.
Killing of Asiloma and Bidala
Mahisha Asura then sent his two prominent warriors Asiloma and Bidala, who were also promptly annihilated by Devi Mahalakshmi.
Mahishasura enters the Battle
Conversation between Devi and Mahisha Asura
Mahisha Asura now himself entered the scene, in the form of a handsome man, and spoke to Devi,
“Oh! One with beautiful eyes. I have been defeated by the arrows of Kama arising from your persona. I request you to please accept me. The Deva are aware of my prowess in a battle, but I am a slave at Your feet. Kindly fulfil my intense longing.”
Devi was however not impressed and said,
“I am the Queen of the Supreme Being, the Purushottama. I am His prana, life force, His Shakti. It is I who create the universe. He is my better half. If you wish to survive, make peace with the Deva, and at once retire to Patala Loka. Or else, face me in a battle.”
End of Mahisha Asura
Mahisha Asura was angered at the audacity of the One who He thought was just a woman. He immediately drew his bow and arrow, and a fierce battle ensued between Devi and the Asura. For every arrow shot by the Asura, the Devi broke them up with her powerful arrows.
Devi Mahalakshmi battled with Mahisha Asura for 9 days.
The Asura was left helpless each moment, as every plot adopted by him, was countered by the Devi. Every weapon used by Mahisha Asura was annulled by the skillful warfare displayed by Devi Mahalakshmi.
On the tenth day, Devi Mahalakshmi drew upon Her Sudarshana Charka, and beheaded Mahisha Asura. Thus this power Asura was killed by a woman warrior.
An art work depicting the battle between Devi Durga and Mahisha Asura
This story of victory of the Goddess over Mahisha Asura is described in detail in the Text – Devi Mahatmayam.
Significance of This Story
Mahalakshmi is a special aspect of Devi Durga, with 18 hands annihilated this Asura. These eighteen hands represent the 18 yoga, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, which help to over sloth, represented here by Mahisha Asura.
Mahisha Asura is depicted as Buffalo, Mahisha meaning a 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. In other words, She is the destroyer of sloth and inertia.
Mahisha Asura Mardini
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 in the form of a warrior 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.
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
Po Nagar Cham Temple complex, Nha Trang, Vietnam built during mid 10c to 13c in Champa architecture. It is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the Goddess of the country, identified with Hindu Goddesses Bhagavati & Mahishasura mardini
Thus we see that 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.
Access the Complete Navaratri eBook :