Durga as Mardhini

This is Durga from Himachal Pradesh. This folk bronze is about 10 cm in height. A label at the bottom reads ‘DURGA KASHMIRI 10 CENTURY’. The reference to the 10th century triggered my research.

Durga’s face is worn. The features were not strong or pronounced to start with. See her breasts, for example. She is four-armed with her lower hands holding a Trishul and the tail of the animal she is standing on.

Now to the interesting part. At first look one thinks the animal she is standing on is her vahana, a lion, making her Simhvahini. A second look and then second thoughts. Why would she pierce the animal’s head with the Trishul and why she is trying to subjugate the animal by holding its tail? When you notice the horns it is evident the animal is meant to be a buffalo. The Vigraha is Mahishasuramardini, Durga vanquishing the demon Mahisha who appeared in the form of a buffalo.

Notice the absence of her vahana, a lion, and the fact the Durga is not pulling Mahisha out of the buffalo’s body as is common. J N Banerjea in his book ‘ The Development of Hindu Iconography’ notes in the early forms (5th-6th century) of Mardhini, her Vahana is absent and Mahisha appears only as a buffalo. And that early iconography is what we have here.

The form, the wear and the patina support early medieval date assignment.

This iconography is quite rare. I examined 50+ Mardhini bronzes published in the books Antiquities of Himachal and Unknown Masterpieces of Indian Folk and Tribal Art. All those 50+ bronzes predate the 17th century. I found only one with similar iconography as in this example.

One of the features of Himachal bronzes is the sparing use of material. That is the case here. Notice Durga’s scooped rear head (back view) and the thin casting.


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