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Mahasura Attacks the Devi, Folio from a Dispersed Devi Mahatmya Series

Asian Art

This painting comes from a series illustrating the Devi Mahatmya, a text celebrating the deeds of the goddess Durga. In Hindu tradition, the greatest warrior deities are goddesses. Some of the warrior goddesses are beautiful, and others are hideous and frightening, but all are very strong and celibate. The goddess Durga was created specifically for the purpose of fighting demons; each of the male gods gave her one aspect of his power. She is usually shown with multiple arms—each of them holding a weapon donated by a male god—riding on a ferocious lion or tiger. She is lovely, but she uses her beauty to disarm her demon enemies, some of whom become smitten with her.

This painting shows a pivotal battle between Durga and a powerful demon named Mahasura. The demon, with an animal head and purple skin, appears three times, attacking the goddess with bow and arrow, sword and shield, and trident (this weapon is shown snapped in two, a sign that he will eventually lose). This repetition of the figure suggests that he exerted enormous energy in attempting to assault the goddess from every direction, while her single figure indicates that she barely needed to move to gain the upper hand.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor on paper
DATES ca. 1770-1780
DIMENSIONS sheet: 7 7/8 x 11 5/8 in. (20.0 x 29.5 cm) Image: 6 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. (17.1 x 26.7 cm.)
INSCRIPTIONS Inscription on reverse: Beholding the descending shula (missile) Devi released her shula, which becoming hundred fold, brought the great asura (Mahasura) to subjugation (S. Mitra) Recto, at top in yellow margin, in Devanagari script: 13
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Poster
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