A black stone stele of Durga Mahishasuramardini
A black stone stele of Durga Mahishasuramardini


A black stone stele of Durga Mahishasuramardini
Northeastern India, Pala period, 11th century
19 ½ in. (49.5 cm.) high
Christie's New York, Towards Enlightenment: Indian and Southeast Asian Art, 17 September 1998, lot 34.
Acquired by the current owner from the New York Art Market in 2000.

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Lot Essay

Mahishasura was a pious devotee of Brahma and was rewarded with a boon that no man or god would be able to conquer him. Thus invincible, he battled the gods and took over the heavens. Helpless against Brahma's boon, the gods appealed to the goddess Parvati, who agreed to harness the shakti of all female celestial beings to fight Mahishasura. She assumed the form of Durga and borrowed weapons from each god. After nine days of fighting, she vanquished Mahishasura and his army and restored the heavens to the gods.

This sculpture depicts the final moments of the duel between Durga and Mahishasura, the bull demon. Mahishasura's animal incarnation shows his war wounds – an arrow is imbedded in his side and his severed head lies next to his lifeless body. Durga braces her foot against the back of the bull as she grasps Mahishasura by his hair and drags him from the neck of the animal, her sword raised to dispatch him to the netherworlds - thus earning her moniker, Mahishasuramardini, "the slayer of Mahishasura." Her lion bites the demon's foot for a tasty morsel.

The worship of a mother goddess as the source of life and fertility has ancient roots, but the composition of the text Devi Mahatmya (Glory of the Goddess) during the fifth to sixth century led to the dramatic transformation of the female principle into a Great goddess of cosmic powers. Durga is the cosmic Magna Mater, and this popular iconic type encapsulates the struggle between the goddess and the demon Mahishasura, who symbolizes ignorance, disorder, chaos, and evil. Later textual sources generally refer to the subject as Mahishasuramardini. She remains the most important and popular form of the great goddess known generically as Devi or Shakti.

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