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Durga Battling the Buffalo Demon
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In this sandstone sculpture from around 900 AD, the Hindu goddess
Durga, from the Sanskrit word meaning “invincible,” is pictured at
the very moment that she defeats
a demon who thinks he has outsmarted the gods.
Mahisha had been a faithful devotee of
and from him had received a special boon — a promise that he could
not be killed by man or god. But he became greedy and intoxicated
with power, terrorizing people all across the land. The gods realized
that he must stopped.
and Shiva concentrated their individual cosmic energies to create a
new force, the goddess Durga. Being neither god nor man, she alone
could defeat Mahisha. Many gods contributed weapons to assist Durga
in her task.
When Mahisha heard news of this newly formed, radiant goddess, he
wanted to marry her, but she refused. She told him that she could
only marry someone who was strong enough to defeat her, and so the
two prepared for battle. As they fought, Mahisha kept changing form,
from lion to elephant, and finally to buffalo. Durga realized that
the weapons the gods had given her were useless, and that she must
use her own power to defeat the demon. She pounced upon Mahisha’s
back, and the mere touch of her feet paralyzed the demon. Only then
was she able to grab him by the throat and sink Shiva’s trident into
his heart, the moment pictured here.
Click on highlighted areas of the sculpture to learn more.
Durga’s triumph over Mahisha, representing the triumph of good over
evil, is celebrated annually in India, particularly in the West
Bengal city of Kolkata, but also by Bengali communities in the United
States. The Bengali Association of Greater Atlanta holds the largest
literally “the worship of Durga,” in the Southeast.
or on the sidebar to learn about Durga Puja.
Images of Durga may have as many eighteen arms! The Carlos
sculpture has six. Each would have held a weapon, a gift from one
of the gods.
Though some of the statue’s arms are lost, they might have held a
conch shell from Varuna, a thunderbolt from Indra, and a lotus from
Hindu gods are often pictured with animals called
from a Sanskrit word that means “that which carries.” Deities ride
their vahanas throughout the cosmos. Ganesha’s
vahana, or mount, is a rat; Shiva’s, a bull. Durga’s
vahana is a lion. Here, the lion helps to defeat the demon
Mahisha with a well-placed chomp!
Mahisha represents natural human desire that has become excessive
and distorted into greed, as well as the illusion that having
“more” will bring happiness.
One of the largest and liveliest of Hindu religious festivals, Durga
Puja is celebrated each fall, its exact dates determined by the lunar
calendar. Traditionally in India, sculptures of the goddess, called
are constructed from bamboo, straw, and clay from the
Ganges River and set up in temporary shrines called
in parks and other public places. For five days, Durga’s vanquishing
of the buffalo demon is celebrated with fasting, feasting, prayers,
Every fall a high school gymnasium just north of Atlanta is
transformed as the city’s large Bengali community celebrates Durga
Puja. A beautiful pandal is constructed with a
murti of the goddess vanquishing the demon. She is
surrounded by murtis of four other gods. Click on each
figure to find out more.
The elephant-headed god
is shown with his vahana, a
rat. Ganesh is known as the “lord of new beginnings” and the
“remover of obstacles” and, as such, is worshipped at the beginning
of any puja.
is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, and art. She is shown
dressed in white and standing on a lotus, both symbols of purity. She holds a
stringed instrument called a veena. Notice the book and inkwell near her feet.
She is accompanied by her vahana, a white swan.
A traditional hymn to Saraswati reads: May Goddess Saraswati, who
is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland
is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in radiant white attire,
on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white
lotus, who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May
you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.
The image of Durga in the Carlos Museum galleries, which probably
came from the exterior of a temple, is bare stone, allowing viewers
to appreciate the material and the artistry of the carving. In
Hindu worship, however, the goddess is adorned with clothing,
jewelry, and flower garlands.
But look closely and you will see that she is in exactly the same
position as in the Carlos sculpture, her right knee raised as she
holds the demon down with her foot. How many arms does she raise?
What weapons does she hold?
The beginning of worship is signaled by the blowing of the conch
shell, drumming, and the ringing of bells.
A priest draws on the eyes of the deities, inviting them to
inhabit the pandal.
Thousands of Bengalis in the Atlanta area, of all ages, dress in
new clothes and gather to welcome the goddess
Over three days, they celebrate with communal meals,
performances of music and dance, prayer, and ritual.
A priest leads the prayers and conducts the rituals, including
the offering of fire in the form of an oil lamp, to the
Fresh flower petals are distributed to devotees who hold them
in their hands as they recite prayers asking the goddess for
blessings in the coming year.
The petals are then gathered together and placed on the pandal
as an offering to the goddess.
In addition to flowers, fresh fruits and traditional Indian
sweets are offered to the deities and blessed.
The blessed ritual offerings, called Prasad, are then
distributed to devotees who accept and consume them as
blessings from the gods.
In India, at the end of the festival, the sculptures of the deities
are submerged in the waters of sacred rivers (visarjan). In Atlanta,
the murtis, which have been created by artists in India and shipped
to the US, are carefully stored and reused the next year.