The Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Durga Mahishasuramardini), 12th century
India (Himachal Pradesh, probably Chamba)
Brass; H. 22 1/2 in. (57.2 cm)
Funds from various donors, 2008 (2008.271)
A tour de force of medieval metalworking in the northern Indian tradition, this shrine may be linked stylistically to art production of the Chamba kingdom in the western Indian hills. The Chamba Valley has a long and accomplished tradition of casting metal images of deities that is best witnessed in the seventh-century inscribed icons at Brahmur, the ancient capital of Chamba State. In this representation, the Hindu goddess Durga has an abundantly formed figure, and her head is adorned with a high-form chignon with a tripartite diadem set against a large-petaled flower mandala, a signature motif of images from Chamba Valley.
Durga is shown slaying the demon Mahisha, who has concealed his identity in the form of a buffalo. Comprehending his disguise, the goddess slays the buffalo with her trident, whereupon the demon reveals himself in anthropomorphic form and pleads for mercy. This is an ancient and much-favored subject that has been depicted in sculpture since the Kushan period in the second to third century. The combatants are framed by a highly elaborate shrine evoking the temple architecture of Himachal Pradesh: leogryphs surmount elephants, makaras issue from moldings, and demigods preside in the heavenly heights amid tapering towers and pavilions. The icon is a portable "heavenly palace" in which the epic drama of the precarious victory of order over chaos is enacted for the daily wonderment of devotees.