Why is Goddess Durga Known as Mahishasura Mardini?

Mahisasura Mardini - Goddess Durga

We have heard Goddess Durga’s stories from various Puranas and ancient Hindu scriptures. Especially during the Navratri festival, we hear and read so much about various forms of Adi Shakti and her strengths. One such form is Goddess Durga, the Mother of the universe and protector of Dharma.

The mother goddess is known to be the savior of all three worlds. Goddess Durga killed many powerful Asuras, Danavas, and Rakshyasa to save Gods and people from heaven and earth. One such powerful Asura was Mahisasura. Mother Goddess had to take the form of Goddess Durga to slay the Buffalo-headed demon, Mahisasura.

Mahisasura Mardini - Goddess Durga

Devi Durga is also known as Mahisasura Mardini, one who killed the Mahisasura. There is a famous Sanskrit strotram called “Mahisasura Mardini Stotram” based on Devi Mahatmyam that talks and praises Devi Durga for being Mahisasura Mardini.

Birth and Rise of Mahisasura

Mahisasura was a mighty asura born from the union of buffalo and Danava. He could change between many forms, primarily human and buffalo forms, at will. He was the grandson of Diti, the Mother of Asuras, and the Son of Rambha (Son of Danu).

According to the Puranas, Aditi, Diti, and Danu are daughters of Daksha, who married Sage Kashyapa. The Auras (Daityas) were born to Diti, the Devas (Adityas) were born to Aditi, and Danavas were born to Danu. But, their sons were always in conflict and battle for a higher place in the universe. Devas are on one side, whereas Asuras and Danavas are on the other.

Multiple Puranas talk about the Mahisasura and his birth, but they are slightly different. However, there are familiar stories in Puranas connected to Mahisasura, a powerful Asura killed by Goddess Durga. Stories of Mahisasura can be found in Puranas like Vamana Purana, Skanda Purana, and Devi Bhagavat Purana.

Once Devas killed all the sons of Diti. Mother of Asuras was deeply grief-stricken and bewildered. She asked her daughter to penance intensely and got a boon to have a mighty son who could defeat Indra. As a result of the intense penance, her daughter received a boon from Sage Suparshwa.

Suparshwa said: You will have a son with a buffalo’s face and a man’s bodily form. This son of yours named Mahiṣa will be extremely vigorous and mighty. He will harass heaven and Devendra along with his army. (Skanda Purana 1.14-16)

As a result, the son Mahisaura was born to her.

Another story regarding the birth of Mahisasura goes like this.

The two sons of Danu, Rambha, and Karambha, performed extreme penance to gain powerful siddhis. Rambha performed Tapasya on the Fire and Karambha in the water. As their intensity of sadhana grew, they grew strong and powerful; Lord Indra became insecure about their power. Out of fear, he killed Karambha by taking the form of a Crocodile.

When Rambha knew about his brother’s death, he became furious and wanted to take revenge and win over the Devas. Rambha continued his penance and prayed to Agni Deva. Rambha asked for a powerful son who could defeat all the Asuras and Devas. Agni Deva granted him the boon.

Rambha asked Agni, “If you are prepared to grant me a boon, let me have a son who is more brilliant than yourself and who will be the conqueror of all the three worlds. Devas or Asuras should not defeat him; he should be as mighty as the wind, handsome, and an expert archer.”

Agni replied: “You will have such a son by the woman who wins your heart.”

Rambha encountered a she-buffalo and fell in love with her. (She could be a daughter of Diti disguised herself as a she-buffalo). He disguised himself as a buffalo and mated with her. However, a male buffalo discovered the incident, and it killed Rambha. She-buffalo was pregnant at the time of Rambha’s death.

As the pyre of Rambha was organized by the Yakshas, She-buffalo jumped into the funeral pyre of Rambha to prove her love.

She burnt herself to death. From the middle of the fire, a very powerful Mahisasura was born. Rambhāsura also took a rebirth from the fire under the name Raktabija. The terrible Raktabija drove away the Yaksas and Killed all the Buffalos (Mahisa).

Raktabija and Mahisasura defeated all gods from heaven. Mahisasura became the King of the Asuras. Mahisasura, intoxicated with pride on account of the boon he had received, became the undisputed and sole emperor of the three worlds. He formed a strong council of Ministers and a powerful army guided by Guru Shukracharya. All the worlds were plunged into darkness.  

Birth of Goddess Durga

Mahisasura was extremely powerful, and he wanted to harass Devas in Indra Loka. He sent a messenger to Lord India so that he could submit his Kingdom and accept Mahisasura as an emperor. Indra responded to the messenger with complete disdain and his master Mahiṣa. The messenger returned and told Mahiṣāsura, who became very angry and decided to attack Devas and take control of the Deva or Indra Loka.

Devas took shelter in the mountains for hundreds of years. They decided to take revenge and kill the Mahisasura. All the Devas came together to pray to Lord Brahma and ask for help, as Mahisasura had received the boon from Brahma himself that no man could kill him.

Lord Brahma took all the Devas to Vaikuntha to meet Vishnu and asked Shiva to join them. In the presence of Trinity Gods, Devas asked for a solution so Mahisasura could be killed and liberate the three worlds from his unlawful empire.

Lord Vishnu said to them – “By the boon, a woman can only kill Mahisasura. If we can create a woman who is part of the Devas with their power and glory, we could kill him with her help. So let us try to create such a mighty woman, concentrating all our powers on her. After her creation, we must give her all our weapons.”

As soon as Vishnu spoke these words, the trimurtis became enraged. The faces became so horrifying that it was difficult to look at them. The Devas saw a great mass of blazing light coming from the bodies of Indra and the other enraged gods. The bright light looked like a burning mountain, spreading its flames in all directions.

This glowing mass of light took the shape of a woman. The radiance of Shiva became her face; that of Vishnu her arms, and that of Brahma her feet. Similarly, the radiance of Indra became the waistline. Thebraidss was formed with the light of Yama and the breasts with the light of the Moon.

The shanks and the thighs evolved out of the Varuṇa. Mother Earth became the hips and the loins, and that of the Sun became the toes of the feet. The fingers of the hands were shaped with the splendor of Vasus; the nose was made out of the refulgence of Kubera. The nine Prajapatis become the rows of teeth. The pair of eyes was formed out of the brilliance of Agni Deva.

In a moment, all these figures became one and changed into a woman with divine beauty and eighteen arms. This woman of exquisite beauty, combining all the powers and glories of all the Devas, was Devi herself. The devas gave her jewels and ornaments and gorgeous clothes.

She roared out loudly as if to shake heaven and earth. The Goddess’s deafening roar caused unrest throughout the universe.

Riding on a lion. she took her stand at the entrance of Devaloka and challenged Mahisasura. Mahisasura was extremely angry. He picked up his large weapons and, accompanied by Asuras, headed towards the sound.

When Mahisasura saw Goddess Durga for the first time, he fell in love with her. She said she would marry someone who could beat her in a fight. A fierce battle between the Asuras headed by Mahisa and Devas led by Devi begins. Mahisa is determined to defeat her. It was a brutal fight.

With the support of Devi, Devas became very motivated and killed many Asura soldiers, which made  Mahisasura furious. Out of anger, he attacked devas with his mighty weapons and arrows; Devas fled. They sought refuge in the Goddess, asking for her support to help them.

The Devi told her own Ganas to destroy the Asura armies quickly. She said she would fight Mahiṣa in the battle because he was very confident because of his strength. Then all of the Asura armies were killed by the Ganas of Devi quickly. Seeing his army destroyed by the Ganas of Goddess, he fought them back and defeated all of the Ganas.

In the meantime, the generals and ministers of Mahisa wanted to fight with Devi and stood in front of her.

Devi then rode on her vehicle, the lion, at the speed of the mind. She seized her dreadful bow of loud report like that of the cloud at the time of the world destruction. She made a twanging sound and discharged many arrows of adamantine strength at the speed of the wind. Goddess Durga killed the entire army of powerful asuras.

Mahisasura Mardini – One who Killed Mahisasura

When Durga killed his army, Mahisasura became a buffalo and started devouring the Gaṇas of Devi. He killed some with his snout and others by kicking them with his hoofs. The theenragedd demon also toppled down others with the impact of his exhalation. After killing Devi’s army, Mahisasura ran toward her lion to kill it.

Durga’s ride became infuriated and roared. Then the lion of great strength became furious. With his paws, he dug the ground and broke the mountains. As Mahisasura came near, he tore him up with his claws. The wrathful Chandika intended to kill him then.

In her excessive anger, Chandika bound the Buffalo-headed demon using ropes and nooses. The demon got himself released from the nooses and abandoned the guise of buffalo.

Mahisa then adopted the form of a lion. When Devi was ready to cut off his head, he became a man with a sword in his hand. With multitudes of arrows with sharp points capable of tearing vulnerable spots, Goddess struck that man with the sword in his hand. Then that man became an elephant with a trunk and two tusks. With its trunk, it pulled the lion. Thereupon, the lion splits its trunk using its claws.

Mahisa then transformed into a lion. When Devi was ready to cut off his head, he became a man with a sword in his hand. With multitudes of arrows with sharp points capable of tearing vulnerable spots, Goddess struck that man with the sword in his hand. Then that man became an elephant with a trunk and two tusks. With its trunk, it pulled the lion. Thereupon, the lion used its claws to split the elephant’s trunk.

Once more, Mahisasura transformed himself, this time into a large buffalo. The sight of this enraged Bhadrakali, and she started to drink the liquor and turned her eyes red. She laughed scornfully at Mahisasura. With his horns, he hurled boulders of rocks at Chandika. But she cut them down with her arrows.

Finally, the Mother of the universe, Goddess Durga, spoke to Mahisasura:

O foolish, you can be proud for a little while as long as I drink this liquor. After I drink this liquor, I will send you to Yama’s abode. After you have been killed, unassailable up to this point, and have been a thorn to the Devas, let the Siddhas, Sadhyas, and groups of Maruts return to their respective posts.

After speaking, the Goddess hit Mahisasura with her fist. Upon being hit, Mahisa became scared and ran away to the Southern Sea. The Goddess chased him on her lion vehicle.

Pursued by the Goddess, Mahisasura entered the waters of Dharmapuskarini. Agitated by the blow of Durga Maa, he remained hidden therein. Then Durga Maa came to the banks of Dharmapuskarini. But Devi did not see Mahisasura there.

An unembodied voice spoke to Goddess Durga Maa and told her about Mahisasura hiding inside the water of the Dharmapuskarini. Goddess asks her vehicle, Lion, to drink all the water and dry up the Dharmapuskarini.

Thereupon the dejected Mahisasura came out of the water reservoir. As the Asura approached her, the angry Devi placed her foot on the head of the Asura and hit his neck with her spear. Then Devi seized her sword and cut off his colossal head. Thus, Asura and Danava king Mahisasura was slain by Goddess Durga. He fell to the ground and died.

All the Devas, Yogis, Siddhas, Gandharvas, Yakshas, and Humans of heaven of earth eulogized Devi with prayers. Goddess Durga from this day is known to be Mahisasura Mardini – Slayer of Mahishasura.