The Asuras were a race of demons who were characterized by their great physical strength and muscular build. They relied heavily on their strength in all matters of war, and were notorious for being ruthless in victory.
Mahishasura, or Mahishasur, was a freak even among the Asuras. His name meant 'Buffalo-Demon'. Right from his birth he had shown a terrible disposition and exceptional strength. Later, he had a procured a power that made him the strongest male in the world. He had received a very potent boon that made him far stronger than any male in the Universe, and even stronger than all the power of all the male warriors combined. He could not be defeated by any man. When he ravaged the Three Realms of the Universe, none could withstand his virulent ferocity. His body was full of bulging muscles which were hard as iron. No weapons could cause him any kind of injury. His strongest part was his massive chest and arms, which were so strong that even the weapons of the gods broke apart on hitting him. His brutal strength and impregnably hard muscles made it impossible for any warrior or weapon to stop him. He had an old grudge against the gods of Indraloka - the Celestial Abode - for their being Immortal, and now he enjoyed torturing them with his raw muscular power, since they could never die. He declared himself the master of the universe and started his atrocious rule.
Mahishasur was arrogant and cruel, and a hater and abuser of women. He raped the women and the girls wherever he took over a kingdom. After conquering Heaven, he abused and ravished all the Apsaras - the famed Dancing Girls of Heaven - who served there. His demon hordes followed suit and brutally enjoyed the Celestial Dancers. The Apsaras, though possessing strength of their own, were of a peace-loving nature and completely alien to war, and hence suffered their fate.
The humiliated gods retreated to a hidden haven, and their frustration slowly turned to anger. Out of their combined will, they created the goddess Durga, the champion they hoped would bring them salvation. Durga was evoked as a female form of utmost beauty, strength and sensuality. She was the most powerful form ever, and the gods sung her praise and begged her to save them.
She set out to battle Mahishasura alone, along with her ride, a great lion. Mahishasura, when informed of a lone woman coming to challenge him, casually ordered his generals to look into the matter. But the scenario changed when he got the news that his entire army had been massacred by Durga easily. He went forth to face her himself.
When Mahishasura faced the goddess, he was staggered by her beauty and attractive appeal. He was overcome by lust and expressed his desire to marry her. But Durga rejected his proposal with disdain and challenged him to battle. At this, Mahishasura decided to take her by force and attacked her.
Durga was a champion in all forms of armed combat (the reason why she is symbolically depicted as a multi-limbed figure in popular images), and had overcome the army easily. But with Mahishasur, it was evenly matched. Her lithe grace and dazzling skill was countered by the demon's bestial ferocity and monstrous strength. Moreover, her strikes with the weapons of the gods went futile against the demon's iron hard sinews.
After a long period of stalemate, the combatants forsook their weapons and met each other bare handed. With any other person, a bout of wrestling with Mahishasur would be a vicious path to destruction. But with Durga, it was another matter.
"Come, come, oh Mahishasur - show me those muscles - come here close and wrestle me!" - Durga cried out lustily and laughed. Mahishasur, the strongest and most muscular of all warriors in the world, faced Durga with great confidence. He was sure that a lady like this was meant for his pleasure, - and he planned to defeat her and carry her off for personal enjoyment.
Durga knew this very well, and therefore she wanted to teach Mahisasur a fitting lesson which will break his pride and shatter his image in front of the whole world.
She began dancing in a very seductive manner in front of him, and challenged him to a wrestling match as she danced on. Mahishasur was driven crazy by desire at the sight of her dance, and he dashed at the seductive form before his eyes madly. Durga simply let out a mighty laugh, and took Mahishasur's huge body and dashed it on to the ground. Then she laughed and put her left foot on his chest and pressed hard.
Mahishasur let out a great scream of pain. In anger and shock, he grabbed Durga's leg with his powerful arms, and pushed hard. - But Durga didn't even care, - she rubbed her foot even harder and crushed down on his chest again and again - simultaneously as she was dancing! It seemed as if she was enjoying this.
Mahisasur was now groaning in pain and screaming with every pressure of her foot. He fought back with all his strength, but no amount of thrashing could get him free from her hold. Throughout his life, - he had never felt pain like this before. Now a dancing girl was trampling his chest with her foot and it felt like his ribs would bend and break!
Thrashing about in agony, Mahisasur gripped Durga's shin with all his strength and pushed hard - but the dancing Goddess only laughed at his efforts and pressed him harder. His screams rent the sky as there were horrible cracking sounds coming from his muscular chest. Mahisasur, in desperate effort, puffed up his iron-hard pectorals large and proud - hoping that it would save his ribcage. But he was wrong.
Durga took her foot off Mahisasur's chest, and mocked his attempts to flex his muscles. Then, in a surprise move, she flipped him over with a kick, and stood astride his body with her two legs on both sides of his body.
Mahisasur was a huge demon, and his powerful torso was like a mass of rocky boulders that lay upon the ground. Now, Durga stood such that her calves pressed against his chest from the two sides -- and then she rose up on her toes - making her calves bulge out spectacularly.
Mahisasur let out a horrible scream of utter agony. Durga's calves were crushing his chest inwards like two wrecking balls. Again he gripped the bulging muscles of her legs and tried to pry them apart, but again he failed. Durga laughed at him derisively and shook him like a toy by flexing her calves repeatedly. Howling and begging for mercy, Mahisasur started vomiting blood profusely, still groping her legs in pain.
The battle was slowly drawing to a close. Mahisasur's screams were now horrible groans and gurgles as he vomited blood at Durga's feet. He tried to beg for mercy again and again, but the legs that were squeezing him hardly let him utter any words. Wailing in pain, he suffered the punishment for all the cruel deeds he had done in his life.
Durga released him from her terrible clasp, his chest crunched up like tinfoil now. Then, stepping on him with her left foot, she reminded him of each and every act of arrogance he had committed in his life.
Mahisasur stared in fright at the leg planted on his chest, - the attractive dancing girl whom he wanted to rape, but who was trampling him so easily. He listened to all his past crimes, and thought upon the fact that he - the unbeaten male fighter in the whole wide world, whose musclebound body even the gods feared - was now crying and lying broken under the foot of this beautiful goddess. The more he recalled his power, the greater was his humiliation.
On the other side of the ground, another dramatic spectacle had unfurled. Energized and enthused by Durga's stupendous actions, the Apsaras, so long made to suffer, had found a strange courage and turned on the surprised demons. They took the soldiers in their clasp and poured on terrible pressure, making them cry in pain. The Apsaras were Celestial Dancers, and now they followed Durga as they threw down the demon warriors and started dancing on their bodies, crushing them with the powerful footfalls. Guttural screams of agony rent the air.
Durga dominated Mahishasur's body, mind and soul. Mahishasur was gaping at her in wild terror and open lust, trying to fight back, feeling confused, agonized. His mountainous muscles flexed with desperate attempts. But she was not done yet. Jingling her anklet right in front of his eyes, she pressed on his chest again. He let out a loud cry, begging for mercy. She looked right into his eyes, and she knew. She ballooned her calf, pulsing it, showing off every bit of it. And then, with her lips lightly parting, she slowly pushed down. Rising over his screams, a horrible, wet, cracking noise sounded in the battlefield. And as the worlds looked on in lust and fascination and horror, slowly his shaking, continuous groan died away, and his massive form lay broken under her foot, lifeless and twitching.
Mahisasur was crushed. Durga stood over the vanquished body in victorious glory, with one foot upon the demon's broken chest and another on her lion, and the gods were saved from their peril. The entire world - humans, demons and gods - witnessed this massacre of Mahishasur by the feet of Durga. In their admiration, they called her "Trampler of Mahishasur".
Before Durga took her leave from the gods, she promised to return and help them if the need ever arose again. Her legacy was kept alive by such female heroines as Mohini, Tilottama and Draupadi in later eras in the mythological timeline.
Folk Legends and Etymologies
Durga was described as a dazzlingly beautiful lady with the complexion of bright gold. Some legends say that the mountain Kanchanjangha (Sanskrit: Kanchan - Gold; Jangha - Calves) is named after the notable crushing of Mahishasur's chest between Durga's calves. They also say that the fertile hillsides of the Sivalik Himalayas were created by the flooding of those places by Mahishasur's blood, which he spilled out from his mouth as he was punished by the Goddess. There are also accounts where the fossil remains of the Sivalik regions have been interpreted by locals as the remains of the bodies of the demons felled by the Apsaras and the Goddess.
The famous Amarnath Lingam, a sacred geological formation that is worshipped by people as a living symbol of Shiva, also ties into the legend of Durga. The 'Lingam' is a genital iconography of Shiva, who is an ancient fertility god. It is said that Shiva, who according to some accounts is Durga's husband, had hidden himself behind the mountains and spied on her when she was mangling Mahishasur between her calves. The sight had aroused him so much that it had manifested as the Amarnath Lingam. Durga's final killing of Mahishasur is fabled to have occurred during early autumn. In reality, the Amarnath Lingam waxes in height before the onset of autumn (May to August), and wanes thereafter. This would correspond to the prolonged torture of Mahishasur by Durga's legs, and the subsequent killing later on.
When Mahishasur was being trampled by Durga, he was continuously begging her to spare his life. Durga did not have any intention to show mercy to him. But in a curious turn of fate, this changed. As the Demon vomited up blood, copious amounts of it fell on her foot coming out from his open mouth. This, by Divine custom, was akin to the highest order of offerings, although offered unintentionally in this case. Anyhow, as a result of this, Durga granted him his wish and agreed to not kill him. But as a punishment for his sins, he had to remain forever under Durga's feet and endure his maiming. His life would not escape, but he would be constantly pressed by Durga's ankleted foot - a humiliating reminder that the warrior had met his defeat under the feet of a dancing girl. This is why Durga earned the name Mahishasura-mardini and Danava-dalani because the words 'dalan' and 'mardan' mean pressing/crushing by foot, or trampling.
Some more modern versions show her using the Trident or Trishula, which is the signature weapon of Shiva. As Shiva is described as Durga's husband in comparatively modern narratives, this is most probably a modification on the original story by later chroniclers who belonged to an increasingly patriarchal society.
Sura-Lalanaa Tatatheyi Tatheyi Krta-Abhinayo-[U]dara Nrtya-Rate....
9.1: (Salutations to the Goddess) Following the Rhythm of the Great Battle, the Celestial Dancers are Dancing the rhythm of Ta-Tha-Theyi, Ta-Theyi, and expressing the sentiment of the battle with their Dramatic Acting.
Sahita-Mahaahava Mallama-Tallika Malli-Tarallaka Malla-Rate
Viracita-Vallika Pallika-Mallika Jhillika-Bhillika Varga-Vrte |
Shita-Krta-Phulla Samullasita-[A]runna Tallaja-Pallava Sal-Lalite
Jaya Jaya He Mahissaasura-Mardini Ramya-Kapardini Shaila-Sute || 12 ||
12.1: (Salutations to the Goddess) Who is Accompanied in the Great Battle against Excellent Wrestlers (Fighters), by Girls who appear Tender like Jasmine who are Fighting against the Enemies.
12.2: Whose Accompaniments are Composed of Girls from the Bheel Tribe who are Tender like Creepers of Village Jasmine and buzz like Swarms of Bees (or Crickets).
12.3: On Whose Face Plays a Smile Created by Joy which appears like Dawn Shining forth with Red Colour and Blossoming the Excellent Buds.
12.4: Victory to You, the Destroyer of the Demon Mahishasura, Who has Beautiful Locks of Hair and Who is the Daughter of the Mountain.
Symbolism and Significance
The motif of Mahishasur is the buffalo. In popular representations, Mahishasur is either supplanted or complemented by a large buffalo which is supposed to be his altered form or his 'familiar'. On the other hand, Durga is accompanied by a large lion, but in contrast to Mahishasur, the lion is not a rigid motif of Durga.
Mahishasur was guilty of three main things -
- Pride in his muscular body, especially chest - the seat of ego in traditional iconography. Indeed, he made it a personal practice to never wear armor to battle, since his muscles were stronger than any metal and the sight of his bare body drove his enemies to fear.
- Arrogant and cruel behavior towards everyone and ruling through fear
- Rape of hundreds of women that showcased his misogyny and love of imposing himself on his inferiors
So Durga defeated and punished him in a threefold manner -
- Physically - by pressing and crushing his chest completely with her feet and between her calves.
- Mentally - by toying with him and taunting him again and again with the entire world watching, she humiliated him in public sight.
- Sexually - because she, by her seductive dance and physical display, was turning him on immensely throughout. She repeatedly showed off her legs and calves to him and jiggled the muscles provocatively, teasing him to try and get her. And then while killing him, she was using those same legs to pour the pressure. This was humiliation at its most eloquent. Her appeal was so overpowering that Mahishasur had ejaculated and vomited blood at the same time - suffering acute pain and sexual defeat by her. His semen and blood mixed - and symbolized how Durga made him cum even while inflicting terrible pain on him. Mahishasur represents the bane that is resolute stagnancy and inertia, and Durga represents fluidity and motion. When Mahishasur dies, the spilling of his heart-blood represents the fact that all selfish hoarding must be returned to the world in time, and the spilling of his semen symbolizes the passage of energy and inheritance from generation to later generation, as opposed to constancy.
Another message of the story is that the answer to a crime must be given in the same mode. In this world, physical threats need physical remedy, mental threats need mental remedy, and spiritual threats need to be remedied spiritually. Durga dominated the body of Mahishasur with her own body, his mind with her own mind, and his spirit with her own superior spirit of conquering. It is also significant that she broke the parts he were most proud of - his arms and chest - with those parts of her that he was most attracted to.
Durga was thoroughly reimagined and modified in the later Vedic age in her origins and aspects as the society grew more and more patriarchal. Her original powers and liberties were shorn and rewritten, and a more fabricated nature came into existence. A version known as the 'Nine Durgas' or Nava-Durga emerged over time, and continue to be a important part of religious lore to this day.
The first form of Devi Durga is Shailaputri. She is the daughter of the King of Mountains – Himalaya. King Himalaya and his wife Menaka perfomed many austerities and Divine Mother was pleased with them and came down to Earth as their daughter – Shaila means mountain and putri is daughter. So Divine Mother took birth as the daughter of the Mountain. Her vehicle is the Bull and in Her right hand She holds a Trishul (Trident) and in Her left hand a Lotus flower.
In Daksha’s yagya, Divine Mother in the form of Sati gave up Her body. After that, She took the form of Shailaputri, and once again joined Lord Shiva as His Divine consort. Shailaputri is the first of the nine Durgas and She is the Goddess of Inspiration.
The meaning of the word “Brahma” is tapasya (austerities). In this form, Mother holds a japa mala in Her right hand and a kamandalu (water pot) in Her left hand. To obtain Lord Shiva, Goddess Brahmacharini did tapasya following the advice of Narada Muni. Divine Mother is Maha Shakti (Divine Energy). To obtain liberation, a seeker worships Divine Mother (Shakti) in the form of Brahmacharini, and She grants him Brahma Gyaan (knowledge of Brahman). Therefore, Her name is Brahmacharini
The third form of Mother is Chandraganta. Chandra means moon and in this form Mother is cool like a moonbeam. She provides the highest peace (param shaanti) and supreme welfare (kalyaan kaari). Her form is like gold and Her vehicle is the lion (dharma). She has ten hands and holds various weapons such as kadga (sword of wisdom), baan (sharp arrows), trishul (Trident), and padma (Lotus of Peace).
The fourth form of Goddess Durga is Kushmanda. At the beginning when there was no creation, there was darkness everywhere. Kushmanda gave rise to creation and She lives in the realm of the sun (Surya Loka). The energy in all of creation is Kushmanda. This form of Mother has eight hands and therefore She is often called Ashtabhuja Devi. Her vehicle is a lion (dharma) and in Her hands Mother holds a water pot (kamandalu), arrows, the revolving discus (chakra), club, lotus flower of peace, a pot filled with immortal nectar and a japa maala.
The fifth form of Goddess Durga is Skandamata. Mother Durga married Lord Shiva for the purpose of blessing the Devas with a commander-in-chief. In the war between the forces of duality (asuras) and unity (devas), the devas (forces of unity) needed a leader. Shiva and Parvati’s son Kartik who is also called Skanda is the commander of those Divine armies. As Skandamaata, Durga Devi is seen as the Mother of Skanda and She holds him in Her lap as She sits on a lion. She has four arms. The upper hands hold a lotus in each and with one of the lower hands She grants boons and with the other holds Kartik in Her lap.
Mother Katyayani is the sixth form of Durga. Maharishi Katyayana was a great Seer who performed strong tapasya in his ashram. One day Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar came to his ashram to enlist his help for the purpose of killing Mahishasura. All the Gods came and from their bodies, their own energies and pure lights united to give rise to a beautiful form of Goddess Durga. This happened on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin. Maharishi Katyayana was the first to worship this Goddess Durga, and therefore She was named Katyayani. He worshipped Her on the 7th, 8th and 9th days of the bright fortnight of the month of Ashwin (Fall Navaratri). On the tenth day (the day of Victory), Goddess Katyayani vanquished Mahishasura.
Katayayani means the Goddess who is Ever Pure. Mother Katyayani has four hands. In her upper-right hand she displays the mudra that grants freedom from fear and in her lower-right hand she displays the mudra bestowing boons. In her upper-left hand she holds a sword and a lotus flower in her lower-left hand.
Mother Kalaraatri is the seventh form of Durga. The reason she is called Kalaraatri is that she is the destroyer of that kaal (time) who destroys everything. Kalaraatri means the Dark Night (surrendering the ego). Her color is dark and her hair is unbound and flies wildly in all directions. She wears a garland of lightning and from her body emanates a light that is strong like a fire.
Her vehicle is a donkey. In her upper right hand she holds a mudra to grant boons and in her lower right hand she grants fearlessness. In her upper left hand she holds a club and an iron knife in her lower left hand.
The eighth form of Mother is Mahagauri. Devi Parvati was dark colored and Mahadev used to call her “Kaalike”. She did tapasya and Mahadev was pleased with her tapasya. He showered Ganga water upon her and she became “white”. Therefore, her name is Mahagauri.
Her vehicle is a bull. In her upper right hand she shows the mudra bestowing boons and in her lower right hand she holds a trishul. In her upper left hand she holds a drum (damaru) and in her lower left hand is the mudra bestowing boons.
Siddhidaatri is the ninth form of Durga and Mother is given this name because she grants perfection (siddhi daan) to devotees and spiritual aspirants. It was with Siddhidaatri’s Grace (anukampa) that Lord Shiva got the Ardhanarishwara form. Her vehicle is a lion and Her asana is a lotus flower. In her upper-right hand Mother holds a club and in her lower-right hand is a discus. In her upper-left hand she holds a lotus and in her lower-left hand is a conch.