The Journey of ‘Mahisa-Mardini’ Durga

By Anita Bose

Durga pujo festival is just round the corner. And a population of 300 millions Bengalis will be celebrating the festival across the globe. Anita Bose who is based in Thailand, writes about Goddess Durga’s global connections.

Bangkok National Museum & Statue Of ‘Mahisa-Mardini’ Durga:

I have been volunteering in Bangkok National Museum for several years and my guests Indranil Halder from Australia and Akash Balmaki from India were stunned to see a familiar small figurine at the Bangkok National Museum. The accompanying tablet informed, this was a 7th century statue discovered from Java, Indonesia. The name of the figurine also surprised me. The hand-long (ek-hath, hand being a unit of measurement for assessing height or length) laterite stone sculpture which is minimally attired. In those days, women did not cover themselves fully in Asia.The sculpture depicts the Goddess holding the asura in one hand and is standing atop a buffalo. Her posture is not the artistic kind we see these days. Instead, she is portrayed as confident and brave. This buffalo-demon slaying Goddess or ‘Mahisa-Mardini’ is the most popular form of Durga in undivided Bengal (West Bengal & Bangladesh).

Durga Connections:

Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in ancient India, that is the centuries around the start of the common era. Bengal was introduced to the divinity of Durga through the vernacular interpretation of Valmiki’s Ramayana by Krittibas Ojha (15th-century).

According to legend, Lord Ram went to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife, Sita from the demon King Ravana. Before the commencement of the battle, Rama wanted to seek the blessings of Durga but he realized, the season of spring (Basant) is the conventional period when Durga is worshipped. However, he was desperate for her blessings and decided to opt for ‘Akaal Bodhan’ and invoke Durga in the month of Ashwin, an uncustomary time for the puja. His devotion and sincerity pleased the Goddess, who appeared before him and blessed him. This myth, introduced by Krittibas, somehow became very popular and since then, Bengalis stuck to ‘Akal Bodhan‘ and, Durga is ushered in autumn annually and her arrival is celebrated with reverence and gusto.


The Goddess was remained a popular deity across many countries in the entire Asian continent and many pundits, including Swami Vivekananda, have discussed her wide-scale presence and acceptability in their writings. His disciple Sister Nivedita attended the International Science Congress held at Paris in 1900. After listening to discussions by sociologists and anthropologists, she wrote in her book, ‘Footfalls of Indian History,’ the classical postulation of the Queen being the sovereign ruler is older than the notion of a male ruler. Similarly, female divinity is far more ancient and was conceptualized much before the male gods came into being. This is felt even to this day.’

In the prehistoric Indian culture of the Indus Valley which arose in the latter centuries of the 3rd millennium BCE, in most village cultures, small terra-cotta figurines of women, found in large quantities, have been interpreted as icons of a fertility deity, whose cult was widespread and extended as far as the Mediterranean area and in Western Asia from Neolithic times (c. 5000 BCE) onward. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that the goddess was apparently associated with the bull — a feature also found in ancient religions farther west.

I stood transfixed in the Bangkok National Museum hall that displayed historical art and artefacts collected from Java island. One side of the wall displayed Agastya and a huge statue of Vighnanashak (the one who squashes all impediments) Ganapati. On the other side, the idols of Durga, Lakshmi and Sri Krishna were all placed in a row. I had been nurturing my inner urge for a long time to find that ancient Bharatvarsha or Bharat. I do not know how far, I will be able to reach among the masses with my individual quest, but for the past five or six years, I have been trying with utmost sincerity to find the amazing link between Durga and Bengal.

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My journey continues!

Now, I am going to share some of my experienced so far. India has a glorious maritime heritage. Bengal, being situated on the western coast of the Bay of Bengal (on the east coast of India) had close maritime contacts with the countries located on the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal and played a conspicuous role in the maritime activities of India. Now it has also been established as historical fact that traders from Bengal had close maritime contacts — commercial, cultural and political -with the countries of South-East Asia. Once when renowned linguist Acharya Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to Indonesia, he learnt that ‘Bharatiya’ meant two parts – one was ‘Kling’ or Kalinga (ancient Odisha) and the other one was Bangli (Bengali). Contemporary Phuket in Thailand is a very popular tourist destination. One place close to Phuket is named Bangli! To find the reason why it is named thus, we will have to recede several centuries.

This Bangli, Bangla and Mahishasuramardni – all have a lait motif binding them together. I have seen exquisite statues of Shiva and Parvati with the Taurus as their ‘vahana’ (vehicle) on display at Feemai Museum in Thailand, Champashak Museum in Laos, sometimes in the form of temple relief and sometimes as sculptures. I have witnessed giant-sized statues of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma as exhibits and scenes from the Puranas on temple walls. I have visited Indonesia, an Islamic state and there at the museums at Jakarta, Surabaya, Mojokerto, Yogyakarta, I have seen hundreds of Durga, Ganesh and Lakshmi statues and this reminds me of Swami Ji’s words.

In Bengal, we get Goddess Durga with many arms in Rajshahi district (Bangladesh) and Dinajpur in North Bengal. In fact, all pious and faithful Hindus revere and worship Goddess Durga. Durga Puja for the Bengalis is much more than a festival – it is an amalgamation of fervor and fun. It is a carnival and an emotion that marks the time of happy tides. Durga Puja is intertwined with the Bengali ethos and is a high point of Bengali way of life, culturally and socially.

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The worship of Durga in the form of daughter or Mother was incorporated in the Bengali society by the famous Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha in his version of the epic, Ramayana. It is believed that the first Durga Puja in Bengal was celebrated more than 500 years ago in 1480 AD at the temple of King Kangsa Narayan of Taherpur in Bagmra Upazila of Rajshahi district in Bangladesh. The king’s learned ‘Kul-purohit’ Ramesh Shastri guided him to perform all the rituals of the puja. ‘Durga Puja Tattwa’ compiled by Pandit Raghunandan is still considered an important seminal work.

Historical records suggest initially, Durga Puja was held in the houses of royalty and wealthy landlords. In 1600, the famous ruler of Bankura, Bir Hambir of Malla dynasty initiated Durga Puja in 1600 AD. In 17th century Kolkata, Durga pujo also had patronage from East India Company. After this, the puja became widespread and many aristocratic families sponsored the puja with great pomp and splendor. The 20th century witnessed the emergence of community Durga Puja (Barowari puja) which was organized publicly in the continent of Asia, Americans and Australia and now National Geographic has acknowledged it as the grandest public festival in the world.

Every Bengali’s blood across the globe curdles hearing the somber beat of the ‘rana dundubhi’ (military drum) on the dawn of Mahalaya annually, when Chandipath (a holy scripture) blares from radio sets and reverberates in the air. In that catastrophic war, Durga got atop the buffalo and pressed its neck with her left foot and crucified him with her spear. Asura emerged from the buffalo when Durga’s left foot’s big toe pressed the buffalo’s neck –

“Tatah sohapi padakrantastuya nijamu jawotoh/ Adhanishkranto evyamth devya virjen sangbritah.”

This is the form of Durga worshipped in Bengal and my heart gets filled with excitement for the festival to start.

Happy 2023 Durga Pujo Festival!