Perhaps the most favourite subject of the early Indian sculptor is Durga as Mahishasurmardini where she kills the demon of ignorance in the form of a mahisha or buffalo. The depiction of her in a 7th century cave at Mamallapuram is one of the finest jewels of Indian art.
In Indic thought, the only evil is that of our own confusion, or lack of knowledge of the truth. Deities such as Shiva and Durga are shown attacking and vanquishing the demons of our ignorance. The battle of Durga and the mahisha is one such depiction of the victory of knowledge over ignorance. She represents the vigour and energy within us, with which we would dispel our worldly illusions.
This is an animated scene on the Mamallapuram cave wall and, unlike earlier depictions of this subject, here the scale is naturalistic. The demon has a human body and the head of a buffalo. The natural poses of the figures, advancing from one side and pulling back on the other, enhances the drama and realism of the subject.
The self-assured ganas of Durga’s army of righteousness are unforgettable.
Text and photo Benoy K Behl