The Great Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini)
Artist/maker unknown, India
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This painting, which originated in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, far from Nepal, demonstrates the popularity of the iconic form of Mahishasuramardini across the subcontinent. In this colorful illustration, the many-armed goddess leaps from her feline vehicle and slices through the neck of the buffalo demon. Splashing out through the blood, the demon emerges in his human form, although green and with horns. Across South Asia, the water buffalo is thought to embody ignorance, laziness, and pollution; it is associated with blood and is the vahana (vehicle) of Yama, God of Death. Although domestic water buffalo have long provided milk and agricultural power, ancient texts describe them as a nondomesticated species, representing the chaos of wilderness and the absence of cosmic order.