Part of the Mahishasura series that Mehta painted in the 1990's, the work is a dynamic visual representation of the mythic battle between the Mother Goddess, Durga, and the Buffalo-Demon, Mahisha. Flat planes of contrasting color seem to war against each other, heightening the intensity of their physical impact. Dramatic in its juxtaposition of opposites: good and evil, male and female, death and life, red and green, the work is charged with the visual and symbolic tension that is the hallmark of Mehta's work.
The legend of Mahishasura has its roots in early Hindu literature. The Brahmin Demon-King, Rambha, gleans a boon from Agni. He begets an invincible son through his union with a She-Buffalo. The result is Mahisha- a composite of the divine, human and bestial. Mahisha conquers Gods and Demons alike. Sovereign of the world, he is surfeited with excess. The Gods, in trepidation, merge together to form Durga, in order to destroy this Buffalo Demon. Her beauty captivates Mahisha, who sets out to woo her. Appearing at first to respond, Durga later spurns him. The result is a battle, which lasts thousands of years. Ultimately, however, Durga vanquishes him, marking the triumph of Good over Evil. (Kamala Ganesh, Tyeb Mehta Paintings, New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery, 1998.)
Mehta's fascination with the Mother Goddess began in the 1980's in his depictions of a 'howling' Kali. In the 1990's, however, another facet of the Goddess emerged in his work: that of Durga. The traumatic images of death and slaughter associated with the negative forces of Kali have given way, in this painting, to the positive energies of Durga. Needless to say, the myth in Mehta's work serves a symbolic significance. Who is Mahisha and what is the Evil he represents? Interpretations vary, what is constant is the awareness that in unearthing an ancient myth, Mehta is dealing with a 'battle' that is 'cosmic' in scale, but also consistently human and relevant.