Durga Battling the Buffalo Demon

India, Rajasthan. ca. AD 900
Sandstone
2001.1.6
Ester R. Portnow Collection of Asian Art, a Gift of the Nathan Rubin-Ida Ladd Family Foundation

This extraordinary stone relief depicts a serene and powerful goddess overcoming Mahisha, the buffalo-demon of illusion. As the myth tells us, Mahisha had defeated all the gods. In response, the gods chose to concentrate each of their energies into a single being, who took the form of the goddess (Devi) called Durga. Each of the gods presented her with his weapon-Vishnu the discus and mace, Shiva the trident, and Brahma the lotus. Here, the demon's neck is exposed as she attacks it, and the lion, the goddess' vehicle, bites him from behind as she holds him with her foot.

A worshipper would have encountered this image on the side of a temple, and would have meditated upon Durga's spiritual act of destroying illusion. She is smiling peacefully as she grabs his throat in one hand, and subdues him with the weapons held in others. Her triple pose (tribhanga in classical traditions) communicates gracefulness. Even the buffalo looks almost like a peaceful calf, suggesting the ancient Indian idea that to be killed by a god is the ultimate grace and gift.

Download a Carlos Conversations podcast in which Emory professors Joyce Fleuckiger and Laurie Patton, and Indian dancer Sasikala Penumarthi discuss The Power of the Goddess.