Durga Mahishasuramardini – Pallava dynasty (7th century AD)


This relief is part of a Shivaist cave in Mahabalipuram. The cave of Mahishasuramardini was created in the middle of the 7th century AD but it is unfinished. Mahishasuramardini is a nickname for the goddess Durga which means “killer of the buffalo demon”. The cave possess three cellae. The central one, the most important one, is dedicated to Shiva. The two others are unfinished but we think they are dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma. In the room giving access to the cellae there are some sculpted panels, and one of them depicts Durga Mahishasuramardini.

Durga is a victorious goddess, made magnificent by the myth of this fight. She is a very important goddess in Hinduism. Durga even had a separate cult during the Middle Ages almost as important as Shiva and Vishnu.

This panel shows us a battle. Durga is depicted as a woman with a bow on a lion, which is her animal. She is going after the buffalo demon who represents stupidity and nastiness. In this artwork, the buffalo demon is defeated, which we know by his posture. He is in a split and trying to run away. His companions are dying or are already dead. The goddess Durga is helped by some gana, secondary divinities that look like gnomes. On the opposite wall, there is another panel depicting the god Vishnu sleeping on the snake Ananta. There is a parallel between those two panels. The sculptors juxtaposed stillness and movement, wanting to show all the facets of the divine action. The treatment of bodies is relatively simple because of the material, the postures are sober, and there is a economy of means. All of these characteristic are typical of the elegance of Pallava’s images. The South of India always preferred these slender forms and refined and elegant bodies.


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