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Durga and the Demon Mahisha (updated)

Mysore (officially renamed as ‘Mysuru’) is the third most populous and third largest city in the state of Karnataka, India. It is a popular destination for Ashtanga Yoga practitioners who flock to attend the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute where he taught until his death in 2009. Students now study under the guidance of his grandson, R Sharath Jois and his daughter R Saraswati Jois.

The name Mysore is an anglicised version of Mahishūru, which means the abode of Mahisha. Mahisha refers to Mahisha-asura, a mythological demon who according to Hindu mythology was killed by the Goddess Durga.

The Story

The demon king Mahisha would make preparations for war to expand his kingdom. Empowered by a gift from god that no man could kill him, Mahisha's power and might was unparalleled. He ruled all over the earth for many years. However Mahisha did not just conquer kingdoms, he destroyed them. People feared him but did not know what to do to escape. Anyone who stood up against Mahisha was mercilessly killed.

Mahisha was not satisfied after conquering the earth. He set his sight on the heavens. He invaded the heavens and defeated Indra, the king of the heavens. Indra’s army was defeated and the devas were all driven out.

The people prayed fervently to Mahadevi – the great Goddess to come and protect them. They knew that because of the divine gift that Mahisha had received, only the goddess could overthrow him and restore harmony.

One day, as Mahisha sat proudly on his throne on earth, he heard footsteps which made the earth quake. Mahisha looked around to see who was making this commotion. "Who dares to make this terrible noise in my presence?" he said angrily. Mahisha then rushed towards the roar that was filling the sky. Then he saw her.

At first all he saw was blinding white light. As the brightness dimmed, Mahisha saw the "goddess" Durga. Her divine form was majestic. She sat on a lion and upon seeing Mahisha, she let out a chilling roar. The roar was so loud that the earth trembled. Ocean waves crashed up towards the skies and the earth shook. Mahisha's heart nearly stopped.

Durga's face was gentle and patient, but try as he might, Mahisha could not shake out the feeling of dread when he saw the Goddess.

Then began a great battle between Durga and Mahisha. The battle was so fierce and frightening that even the kings looking down from the skies shut their eyes. The battle raged on for nine days. In the dawn of the tenth day, Mahisha knew that he could not keep this up any more.

Finally, Durga let out a huge roar and jumped from her lion. She leapt on Mahisha and pinned him down. She used so much force that Mahisha was unable to move. Durga then looked at him and with a flash, brought out her trident. Before Mahisha could even understand what was happening, it was over. Mahishasura was no more.

It is important to realise the significance of the battle between the "Goddess" Durga and the Demons. Although this is told in the form of a story and has religious significance, at another level it also denotes the everyday battles that we face in life. This battle is between the divine and demoniac tendencies prevalent in each one of us. Each day we make choices out of our free will that determine our mental and spiritual evolution in this cycle of life and death. The demons are nothing but representations of our own evil tendencies.

Through the years Durga has become a symbol of hope for a lot of women from the sub-continent. When she slayed the demon Mahisha using her trident, she told every one of her devotees that she has given them all that they require to slay their own demons. Durga used her trident to slay Mahisha. The three spikes of Durga's trident symbolise will, strength and courage. Durga has blessed her devotees with the same three qualities. She won't appear and destroy your demons, but you have to trust that the three qualities to slay your own demons already exist within you.

Durga Drawing - Mahishasur Mardini by Arijeet Chanda

Other artwork borrowed from,

Ref: Vanamali, ., 2008. Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother. 2nd ed. Inner Traditions International (21 Aug. 2008): London.

Mani, Vettam, 2010. Puranic Encyclopaedia (English and Spanish Edition). 2nd ed. B01182H010: Mumbai.

Unknown, ., 2008. The Devi Bhagavatam, Vol. 3 of 3 (Forgotten Books). 1st ed. Forgotten Books (23 Jan. 2008): London.

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