Durga and Mahishasura
[This Story is from [Devi:5.2.1-5.18-70]]
A detailed story of how the Goddess Durga slew the buffalo-demon Mahishasura.
Long ago, an Asura named Rambha was the King of the Asuras. While walking in the streets, he saw a beautiful she-buffalo, and was immediately smitten with desire for her. The son born of this union was Mahishasura. After Rambha, Mahisha became the King of the Asuras.
As is the custom of the Asuras, Mahisha also wanted to prosecute war upon their cousins, the Devas. However, in order to secure victory over their powerful foes, the Asuras needed to become stronger. To this end, Mahishasura repaired to the mountains, dedicating his time to rigorous penance, directed the creator of all creatures, Lord Brahma.
At last the Lord appeared before the demon and said, “Child. Your prayers have pleased me. Ask of me that which your heart desires.”
The Asura promptly said, “Lord, let me become immortal. May I have naught to fear from death!”.
The Lord smiled and said, “It is not possible. It is an inviolate principle that all creation must have an end. Immortality is not in my power to grant. Anything else, other than this impractical request, ask, and it shall be yours.”
Mahishasura said, “Since it is not possible for me to be immortal, may I not die at the hands of Men. May I not die at the hands of my foes, the Devas. May I not die at the hands of the great Trinity. If death has to approach me, may it approach me only through a woman. Woman is weak, woman is powerless. How can a woman kill me, the all powerful Mahisha? If you grant me this boon, I shall be as good as immortal.”
The Lord said, “O best among the Asuras. You shall become all powerful among men and Gods. You shall lead a long life, but it shall come to an end, through the means of a woman. There is no escaping fate. You shall not die, except at the hands of a woman.”. After granting the boon, Brahmadisappeared.
Mahisha returned to his kingdom. Free from fear of death, he began amassing a great army. A braveRakshasa named Sikshura was the commander-in-chief of his army. Asiloma, Utharaka, Bidala, Bashkala, Trinetra, Kalabandhaka were some of the great warriors in this mighty army. They began invading all the neighboring kingdoms. This army of oppression blew away all opposition, and soon, Mahisha became the overlord of the entire earth.
Once the conquest of earth was accomplished, Mahisha called a council of his generals and spoke to them thus: “Friends, Now our army has proved its mettle in combat and has gained enough experience to proceed towards our main purpose. For eons, our cousins, the Devas, have occupied the heavens, spending their days in ease, while we, who have as much a right to rule, have been banished to the dark dungeons of the underworld. This injustice shall not go unavenged. As you know, Lord Brahmahimself has guaranteed me victory over our foes. Death cannot approach me through the Gods. Let preparations be made. We shall march on Amravathi, the capital of Indra at daybreak.”
The assembled Asuras welcomed this pronouncement with shouts of joy. At the dawn of the next day, Mahisha performed a great Yagna (sacrifice), honored his perceptor Shukra, sought his blessings and ordered his army to march towards the heavens. He also sent an emissary ahead of the army, to issue a formal declaration of war to the Devas.
When Indra heard the message conveyed to him by the emissary, he convened a private council of the principal Devas, including Yama, Vayu, Varuna and Agni. He said to them, “Mahisha, the son of theAsura Rambha is marching to conquer us as I speak. He has offered us two choices, either to meet him in the battle-field, or to accept him as our overlord and become his servants. What is your opinion?”
The consensus was far war, for how could the proud Devas even contemplate surrendering to their foes without battle? However, before a firm decision could be taken, the opinion of their Guru needed to be ascertained. Accordingly, a servant was despatched to invite Brihaspati to the council.
As the illustrious son of Angirasa entered the council, all the Devas stood up as a mark of respect to their perceptor. Indra went forward to welcome the Guru and had him placed on the highest seat in the hall. After washing the feet of the Brahmana and offering him worship, Indra said, “O Guru, You must be aware that Mahishasura is about to invade our peaceful environs. He has sent us a challenge via an emissary. Just as Shukra is advising the Asuras and protecting them against harm with the his yogic powers, please protect us with the power of your penance. Without your protection, we cannot hope for victory.”
The Guru said, “Fear not. Victory does not always go to the mightier force. It is not guaranteed by superior intellect, nor by any incantation. Only the Gods can guarantee victory to those whom they favor. Go to Brahma and beseech his favor. With him on your side, you will be able to face the mightyAsura army.”
Accordingly, all the main Devas went to Brahma-loka, the abode of Lord Brahma and prayed him to help them against the Asuras. Lord Brahma said, “I have given him boon that he has nothing to fear from anyone, save a woman. I have no power to harm him. Let us go to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva and ask him for his help in this war.”
Accordingly, the Devas and Lord Brahma went to the abode of Shiva and prayed to the Lord to protect Indra and his kinsmen against the marauding Asuras. Lord Sankara (Shiva) then suggested that the help of Lord Vishnu should also be taken. Accordingly, all of them went to Vaikunta and secured Lord Vishnu‘s help.
The two armies met in the battlefield. We have already listed the chief warriors on the side of theAsura army. On the side of the Devas, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva fought, mounted on their respective vehicles.
In one corner of the field, a fierce battle took place between Yama and a Rakshasa named Tamra.Yama fought with his famous Thanda (staff) and repeatedly hit the demon with it. However, the power of Mahisha was also present in his generals, and Tamra was not affected by it at all. He took up his bow and arrows and sorely harassed the Devas, including Indra. At last, the Asura was rendered unconscious by divine missile.
When Mahishasura saw that one of his favorite warriors had fallen on the battlefield, he took up his great mace and renewed his assault upon the Devas. By a demonic power known as shambari (शाम्बरीं), he created thousands of clones of his own self. These thousands of clones then attacked the army of the Gods, who were struck with fear when they beheld this demonic feat. Till this time, the Trinityhad not taken an active part in the battle. Indra then beseeched them to save them from the assault of Mahishasura.
Immediately, the Trinity appeared in the battlefield, arrayed for war. When the Asuras beheld them, impelled by a desire to win glory, Asiloma, Trinetra, Bashkala, Andhaka and many others gave battle to the foremost among the Gods. When Vasudeva (Vishnu) saw that the Devas were being sorely harassed, he faced Mahisha in battle. He hit the Asura on the head, with his famous mace, known as Kaumodaki. Stunned by the force of the blow, the King of the Asuras fell down in a swoon. However, he quickly regained consciousness and discarded his form as a Buffalo. He assumed the form of a Lion. Angered, Vishnu tried to behead him with his discus. However, thanks to the boon of Brahma, the discus was powerless against him. He bull-rushed Vishnu and knocked the Lord down. Stunned by the force of the blow, and realizing that his efforts against the Asura were futile, the Lord retired from the battlefield and took refuge in Vaikunta, his abode.
When they saw that Vishnu had disappeared from the battlefield, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma also realized that their efforts would be futile. Struck with fear, they also left the battlefield, abandoning the Devas to their fate. The Devas were disheartened. Indra tried to rally them around, but fear had already entered their hearts and they could no longer fight as effectively as before.
Indra tried to attack Mahisha with his supreme weapon Vajra, but thanks to Brahma‘s boon, the missile made nary a dent on the demon. The Asura assumed the form of a giant buffalo and harassed the Gods with his horns and hooves. Unable to withstand such an unorthodox assault, the Devas andGandharvas fled from the battle in disarray. All the brave Devas abandoned their posts and ran away, including Indra, Kubera, Yama.
The invincible army of Mahisha entered Amravathi unopposed. The Asura installed himself on the great throne of the King of heaven. He appointed his trusted generals in the posts occupied by the principal Devas. As far the Devas, they fled from heaven and spent many years wandering in the mountains and forests.
At long last, unable to bear their misfortune any longer, they approached Lord Brahma and prayed him to suggest a way for them to regain the kingdom.
The Lord said, “O Devas, what can I do. He has my boon that death cannot approach him through you or via the Trinity. Indeed, he is immune from death from any man. Only a woman can kill him. Let us all go to Kailasa, that foremost amongst the mountains and confer with Lord Sankara. Let us go along with him to Vaikunta and seek the advice of Lord Vishnu.”
Accordingly, the council of Gods was convened in Vaikunta. Indra said, “O eternal one, as you are well aware, we have been chased away from our kingdom by that evil Asura, Mahisha. Strengthened by the boon from the Grandsire, he is confident that death cannot come to him and has let loose a reign of terror. He can be killed only by a woman. But what woman is there who will be able to kill this evil demon?”
Vishnu smiled and said, “We tried to defeat him in battle. Not only did he survive, all of us had to ignominiously flee from battle. As of now, there is no woman who can be his death. Let a woman be created the best parts of all our powers. This lady shall be the death of Mahishasura.”
As Vishnu said this, a dazzling pillar of light emerged from the face of Brahma and shone in the sky. It was red like a flawless sapphire and was bright like the sun. Next, from the body of Lord Sankara, a silver colored flame emerged and joined that from Brahma. Vishnu also contributed his power to this group.
Similarly, Kubera, Yama, Agni and the other Devas, sent their power to join this bundle of light and energy. The collection had grown so bright that not even the Trinity could gaze at it without shielding their eyes. As all were watching, a beautiful woman was born the light.
Born of the best part of all the Gods, she is known as Mahalakshmi. Of unsurpassed beauty, she is three-colored, three-natured and had eighteen arms. She is eternal. She is the protector of the Gods. Though she appears in many forms, her true form is one and is beyond sensory perception.
Her face was created by the grace of Lord Shiva. Her eyes were an aspect of Agni. Vayu‘s power created her ears. Her nose was created by Kubera‘s grace. Her teeth were from Brahma‘s power. Her lower lips were created by Surya‘s lusture. Her upper lips were from Kartikeya’s (Skanda) grace. Her arms and shoulders possessed the power of Vishnu. Her fingers were created from the power of the Vasus. Her hips were created by Indra‘s lusture. Her thighs and knees were from Varuna‘s lusture. Her backside was of the earth.
Vishnu said, “Let us all give all our attributes and our special weapons to this great lady. Let us arm her suitably for battle. Let her be endowed with our strength, to slay the evil Asura.”
The King of the Ocean-of-Milk gave her clothes of red silk, and a necklace made of diamonds, and a crown jewel that shone like a thousand suns to the Devi. Vishwakarma gave her ear drops, shoulder ornaments and bracelets. Tvashta (?who is this) gave her jewels known as Nuparas which were decked with thousands of priceless gems. The King of the oceans gave her many necklaces and rings. Varunagave her a garland of ever-blooming Lotus flowers and a garland known as Vaijayanti. Himavan (King of mountains) gave her many priceless gems and a lion for her mount.
Now that she was decorated as befitting the queen of Gods, it was time to arm her battle. Vishnugave her a discus, the clone of his famed Sudarsana-Chakra. Lord Sankara gave her a trident, the spitting image of his own. Varuna gave her a conch to blow and strike terror in the hearts of her enemies. Agni gave her a powerful weapon known as Sathagni (शतघ्नीं), capable of slaying the Asuras by the thousands. Vayu gave her a quiver that will never run dry, and a matching bow.
Indra gave her his all-powerful Vajra (or an image of it). He also gave her the bell that belonged to his elephant Iyravata. Yama gave her a powerful Staff, made from his famed Kala-Thanda. Brahmagave her a Kamandal (water-vessel) filled with the water from the sacred Ganga. Varuna gave her his noose. Vishwakarma gave her an axe. Kubera gave her a cup filled with wine. Tvashta gave her Kaumodaki, the divine mace. He also gave her an armor that can withstand any missiles. Surya gave her his blinding rays.
All the Devas said, “Salutations O Mother. Salutations to you, who are our deliverance. O Bagavathi, we salute you. O Vaishnavi we salute you. You are the heaven, you are the earth, you are the eternal principle, you are the great eternal truth. We salute you. We salute her who is free from the cycle of life and death. Mother, save us from the ravages of the evil demon, that powerful Asura, Mahisha. He cannot be slain by anyone other than you. Have mercy on your pitiable plight. Kill him and restore us to our legitimate place in the heavens. You are our only hope!”
The Devi smiled and said, “O Devas. Have no fear. He has swelled with pride due to the boon fromBrahma, but his end is near. I shall march on his capital and utterly destroy him and his demonic forces.”
With these words, the Devi mounted the lion and marched towards Amravathi, the capital city ofIndra, where Mahisha had currently established his court. She let out a terrible roar that far surpassed that of her beast as she approached the city.
When Mahisha heard this this noise, he was struck with wonder. He turned to his advisors and asked them, “What is the reason for this uproar? Who dares to disturb the peace of my city?”
Soldiers were dispatched to discover the source of the deafening noise. They were ordered to capture the perpetrator and bring him before their King in chains. When the soldiers saw the Goddess, fearlessly advancing towards them on her lion-mount, they were struck with fear and ran back to their king.
They said, “O King, There is a beautiful woman outside your gates. She is traveling on a huge lion. Her beauty is divine, she is decked in expensive jewels and clothes. She is not human nor an Asura maiden. She might be an Apsara. She has eighteen arms, and she is carrying terrible weapons on all of them. She is has made the terrible noise that you heard a while ago. We do not know who she is. We are not sure why this lady has come to your realm.”
Mahisha turned to his prime-minister and said, “Hearing about this woman has filled my mind with desire for her. Go with a small division of our army and woo her on my behalf. I shall make her my queen. If she resists, imprison her, but do not hurt her, for she is to be mine.”
Accordingly, his prime-minister took a small band of soldiers near the Goddess and said to her, “O Lady! Who are you? My King, the great Mahishasura has sent me to invite you to his palace. He has triumphed over the Devas. He cannot be killed by any man. He has obtained many boons from the creator. He has heard of your divine beauty and he wants to meet you. He is capable of taking any form. If you desire, he shall take a human form to please you. Please accompany me to the city. Or if you so desire, I shall bring him in person. State your wish.”
The Goddess said, “Know me to be the mother of the Gods. I am both their creator as well as their creation. Capable of destroying all Asuras, I am called Mahalakshmi. I have come here to kill your King, the evil Mahisha. I have not brought any army to battle him. Alone, I shall dispatch him to the abode of his ancestors!”
The minister replied, “Devi! I am amused at your bravado. There is no comparison between the mightyMahishasura and thyself. You are after all, a woman, and have spoken words of falsehood as befitting a woman. It is impossible that you will even be able to last an instant in battle with a man, let alone the great Mahisha! You are young, barely in past your childhood. The great king of the Asuras desires you. Accept his embraces and you shall be the happiest creature in all the three worlds. Forget your foolish words and consent to be his queen.”
The Devi let out a roaring laugh and said, “By your idle words, you have proved your lack of intellect. How can a King be any better when his ministers are such idiots? You are well aware that your King is fated to die at the hands of a woman. Well, here I am, a woman, equipped for battle by the Gods. I challenge him to battle. If he is willing to flee to the safety of the nether-world and restore the heavens to Indra, I shall spare his life. However, that does not seem likely. To me, it appears that your King must be a coward, for who else but a coward would desire death at the hands of a woman? Go to your king and tell him that Durga challenges him to battle!”
The minister thought, “I cannot battle this woman. If I loose, I shall lose my good name. If I win, I might harm her and that shall certainly anger my king. The best course is to report back to the king.”
He went to Mahisha and said, “O King, I spoke to the lady outside your gates. She refuses to accept your proposal. She is desirous of meeting you in battle. She says that she has been created by the Gods for your destruction. I did not want to battle her for I did not see any way to capture her without harming her. You alone can suggest a way out of this predicament.”
Mahisha then turned to his favorite general Tamra and said, “Go to this woman and humble her pride. Do not harm her. Use your warcraft and the art of illusion to imprison her without causing any injury to her.”
Impelled by his fate, Tamra saluted his master and went forth, fully armed for battle. As he approached the Goddess, he saw that she was being worshiped by all the Gods. He went before her and spoke soft words to her: “Discretion is the better part of valor. Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, force must not be resorted to. O Lady, do not be so stubborn. The whole world knows that my King is without equals. He is smitten with desire for her and seeks to wed you. You will be his queen, just say the words.”
Devi laughed outright at him and said, “O Tamra, Looks like your end is near. Go back to your dim-witted leader and tell him that I am not in search of a husband. The Lord of the Universe is my husband (This would mean Shiva, also referred to as Mahadeva). He is the creator of all. He is the energy behind the functioning of the universe. He is without beginning, without end. He is omniscient and omnipresent. He is complete. He is holy. He is capable of manifesting everywhere. He is at peace. He is the creator and protector of the world. Am I mad that I shall forsake him for this oaf, this buffalo Mahishasura?. I shall make him (another) mount of Yama (Note: Yama has a buffalo as his mount.)” With this, the Devi let out a roar, that was like the sound of the destruction of the universe at the end of time.
Frightened by that noise, Tamra returned post-haste to his King. Mahisha convened a council to discus his options. An Asura named Durmukha said, “O King, It appears as if we will be defeated in this war. However, we cannot withdraw now, for our glory is at stake. Even when we confronted by Vishnu andIndra, we conquered them in battle. What would the world say if we ran away from fear of a mere woman? Regardless of what the outcome of the war may be, we have no option but to wage war.”
The Asura Bashkala said, “Let us not grow despondent. Enthusiasm is the most important asset for a warrior. Once fear enters a warrior’s mind, defeat is certain. O King, allow me to battle this woman. If fate is willing I shall return after conquering her.”
Both Bashkala and Durmukha went to battle, accompanied by many of their kinsmen. Bashkala wielded his deadly mace and attempted to strike the Devi down. Devi countered him with her own mace and struck him down. When the Asura got up from the impact of the blow, she impaled him with her trident and killed him.
Seeing his friend die, Durmukha grew very angry. He rallied his soldiers, who were showing signs of panic, and personally led the attack on the Goddess. The Devi and the Asura battled each other with terrible weapons, including the mace. Finally, Devi broke his bow with her sharp arrows. She then shattered his chariot with her unerring missiles. Frustrated, the demon tried to knock Durga off her mount. Despite a hard blow to its head, the lion stood its ground. Angered, the Devi struck off his head with her sharp sword.
When the news of the death of Bashkala and Durmukha were brought to him, Mahisha was extremely angry. Sikshura, his commander, promised the King that he would personally take care of the problem. He went forth to the battlefield, accompanied by Tamra.
This was the most vicious battle till date. Ambika (Devi) caused a chariot to appear and fought from it. When Tamra hit her lion with a iron stick, the Goddess beheaded him with her sword. When Sikshura tried to kill her with his sword, she stopped him in his tracks with five sharp arrows. The first arrow knocked his sword away. The second cut off his hand. The other arrows beheaded him. Thus the greatest of Mahisha’s generals were slain by the Devi.
When Mahishasura heard this news, he sent the remainder of his great warriors Asiloma and Bidala accompanied by his army to attack the Devi. The Devi slew him with seven sharp arrows. Thence she Asiloma attacked her lion with a mace. The lion tore his chest with its sharp claws. Then the Asuraclimbed on top of the lion and tried to hit the Goddess. The Devi promptly beheaded him with her sword.
Mahishasura came out in person to confront the Goddess. He changed his form into that of a handsome man and said to her, “O thou of the beautiful eyes, I have been slain by the arrows of lust emanating from thy person. I have never begged anyone for any favors. I am begging you to accept me as your lover. All the Gods know of my prowess in battle. I am your slave to command. Satisfy my longing”
Bhagavati (Devi) said to him, “I am the eternal bride of the ParamaPurusha (lit. Ultimate-Man). I am his life-force and I create the universe. He is my other half. I am merely another aspect of the eternal principle. Just as a chunk of iron is animated by a magnet, he animates me. If you wish to live, make peace with the Devas and either retire to the earth or to the Nether-world. Else, you must face me in battle.”
Mahisha drew forth his bow and arrow, and the battle begun. For every arrow shot by the Asura, the Devi broke them up with her steel-tipped arrows. At this, the Asura, abandoned his man-form and took up that of a lion. He then tried to gore the lion of the Goddess to death. Angered, the Devi struck him with steel tipped arrows, shaped like serpents.
The Rakshasa took up the form of an elephant and uprooted huge rocks. He hurled these rocks at the Devi. They were also smashed to smithereens by the steel-tipped arrows of the Goddess. Her lion attacked the elephant-shaped Asura and tore at his forehead. He then shape-shrifted into a giant serpent. The Devi then attacked him with her sword.
At this, the Asura took his natural form, that of a buffalo and tried to gore the divine mother to death. She struck him with her trident. He fell down in a swoon but recovered shortly. He then kicked at the Goddess. He also let out a deafening roar to intimidate her.
Deciding to end the battle there, the Goddess then summoned her discuss (given to her by Vishnu), that was an clone of the Sudarsana-Chakra. She launched it at Mahishasura and beheaded him. Thus, the terrible buffalo-demon, who had terrorized the Gods with boons obtained from Lord Brahma, met his end at the hands of Durga.