Victorious Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon
India, Tamil Nadu, Chola period, 9th–11th century
Gift of Mrs. Carol Brewster (86.81)
The goddess Durga is a considered to be a form of Shakti (cosmic feminine power). Her name means “invincible.” All the other male gods created her in order to subdue the destructive and evil buffalo demon Mahisha, whom the other gods individually could not overcome. Each god endowed Durga with a weapon, and she is usually depicted holding these items in her multiple hands, though in this large sculpture she holds only two. She thus became a super-powerful and invincible goddess. After a fierce and strenuous battle she eventually killed the demon and cut off his head. By her heroic action Durga restored the cosmic equilibrium and demonstrated that good overcomes evil.
In this sculpture, carved from extremely hard granite, Durga stands victorious on the decapitated head of Mahisha. In two of her four hands, she holds a conch-shell trumpet and a war discus. Her raised right hand makes the gesture of protection, offering reassurance for humans; her lower left hand makes the gesture of royal ease, as if to indicate the outcome of the contest with the demon was never really in doubt.
Durga is one of the most impressive and formidable goddesses of the Hindu pantheon––and also one of the most beloved. Her primary mythological function is to fight demons who threaten the stability of the cosmos. In this role she is depicted as a great battle queen with many arms, each wielding a weapon. She rides a lion (or tiger) which assists her in battle. Her most famous opponent was the demon Mahisha who assumed the form of a buffalo. Finally overcoming and killing Mahisha, the embodiment of evil, she restored equilibrium to the cosmos.
In the artworks displayed here, one sees Durga with her standard imagery: in two statuettes she attacks the buffalo demon, her numerous arms signifying her immense powers. She wields a multitude of weapons as she cuts off the demon’s head, but when he emerges unscathed from the buffalo’s severed neck––this time in human form––she stabs him with her trident. On the painted ceramic lid it is her lion that leads the attack. In other examples Durga is depicted in a non-combative pose, riding her lion or tiger, but still bristling with her armaments, proving she is always ready to defend against evil.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association