This miniature, a fine specimen of medieval Pahari art-style, portrays Durgacombating a demon in direct fight without any helpers. Which demons Durga killed during her cosmic interventions had been well established long ago in various Durga legends. Hence, the portrayal of an anonymous demon is a little strange. While rendering a legend, the artist could well identify the demon he aimed at portraying but he preferred instead an anonymous demon figure. Obviously the artist desired to portray Durga in her cosmic role against evil in general and not against a named demon in particular. He wished to see the mother of the universe in her widest role. By specifying the demon he could only squeeze her role into a particular event or legend. The artist has, however, given some hint which legend he wished to depict in this excellent miniature. Puranas have recorded three major appearances of Durga for effecting cosmic intervention and annihilating evil forces. Once she emerged to assist Vishnu when he sought to annihilate the ferocious demons Madhu and Kaitabha. She did not combat the demons in direct battle nor killed them. She only assisted Lord Vishnu. She made her second appearance to kill Mahisha, the son of demon Rambha born of his buffalo wife. This time Durga combated the demon unassisted and in direct fight. Before Durga killed him, he entered the body of a mighty buffalo to hide and delude the goddess, but she did not fail in identifying him and killed him. The third time, she appeared to annihilate Mahisha's ministers and army chiefs, Sumbha, Nisumbha, Raktabija, Chand, Munda and their great army. She too was assisted by Kali and Saptamatrikas, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Brahmani, Indrani, Varahi, Narsimhi and Maheshvari. Obviously, the episode depicted in this miniature relates neither to Madhu and Kaitabha nor to the annihilation of Mahisha's ministers and army chiefs. It is none else but Mahishasura Durga is combating with, though, it seems, the artist has deliberately excluded its buffalo part by which the episode related to his annihilation is popularly identified. He has, however, depicted the demon in green-black complexion, which defined the body colour of Mahishasura.
A demon by the name of Mahishasura won from Brahma the boon that no male, a god, human being, demon or beast, would ever kill him. Having become, thus, near invincible, he began inflicting all round atrocities and ousted even Indra and other gods from Indraloka. Finally, gods decided to create out of their respective powers and attributes a female form. After she was created they gave her their weapons and prayed her to annihilate Mahishasura. This female form was Durga. Mahishasura, hearing of her beauty, sent his ministers, one after the other, to convince her to become his wife. Durga killed them all. Finally, Mahishasura, riding a chariot, himself came to fight. When he was almost subdued, he hid himself in a buffalo's body but could not escape Durga's eye and was killed.
The painting is a characteristic rendition of the theme. Durga, riding a ferocious lion, confronts the demon riding a chariot driven by two horses. Both Mahishasura and Durga have ten arms. Mahisha's all ten arms are carrying in them one weapon or the other. Durga does not have such weapons in her all arms. Two of her arms have in them a water pot and a conch, the auspicious symbols. In her other arms she is carrying the weapons gods had given her. In between them the artist has depicted furious war and exchange of heavy arms and the arrows and discuses in particular are seen scattered all over. Durga is in her steel-grey armour and a helmet. The artist has painted his theme against a turquoise-green plain background for its better projection.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.