The present study on the goddess Mahisasura-mardini places this female deity in the wider context of social structure and examines the process of transformation of an alien deity according to Indonesian ethos. It also examines the enigmatic character in the sculptures of the deity.
Indonesia lies along the equator between 4o N and 11oS and 95o and 141oE. The country consists of over 17000 islands of which 600 are inhabited. Out of the inhabited islands, the most important are Bali, Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra. This study covers only island of Java and Bali. It is because of Java was a centre of cultural and religious activities and Bali has large Hindu population. In Indonesia, the goddess Mahisasura-mardini, a form of Durga, is personified as wife of Bhattara Siva. In Bali, the deity is revered much and called as Devi Durga. The word Durga is composed of two syllables dur and gam. The meaning of dur is difficult and gam means to access or approach. Thus, literary meaning of the word Durga is difficult to access or approach (Monier-Williams, 1986, 487). After slaying the demon, the goddess was known as Mahisasura-mardini ((Skanda Purana, I, iiiu, 21 and 27).
For the first time, during 1903-1906, J. Knebel drew attention to the numerous images of the deity, offering a study based on 39 statues. After seven decades, Ratnaesih Maulana (1979) wrote a paper based on 87 sculptures, outlining general character of the deity in India and Indonesia. In 1992, Hariani Santiko published a monograph analyzing 76 images. Analyzing available epigraphical and other source materials, she has categorized two different cultural environments relating to the deity at different times. The following map shows the area covered by me during exploration:
II. Origin and Myth relating to the Goddess:
In India, the worship of Mahisasura-mardini originated from the cult of mother goddess, traceable since Neolithic period. The Markandeya and Matsya Purana mention the origin of Goddess Mahisasura-mardini. As a result of the meditation of gods led by Siva, the goddess appeared in the beautiful form, having three eyes, multiple arms, adorned with the crescent moon. All the gods later equipped her with their weapons and adorned with jewels and ornaments for battle against asuras. In the battle, the goddess struck the head of the asura, who was emerging out from the neck of buffalo. Moreover, Indonesian Durga Purana, composed from lontar, mentions her birth from Bhattara Siva and his wife Bhattari Uma.
Javanese myth gives due importance to demon King Mahisasura. The Javanese Serat Kanda 54 mentions the birth of demon King Mahisasura. On the mountain of Sela Kunin, there was an independent kingdom. One Mahesavati, the daughter of Suratani, was married to the king. From her two children were born: one was Mahesa Purusa in the form of a buffalo. Mahesa Purusa, after becoming older, killed all the buffaloes in the forest and added their females to his herd. Once he assaulted a female calf. The child of assaulted female calf was Mahisasura. Later, Mahisasura did penance in order to get powers to be able to avenge his mother and finally he succeeds in killing the old buffalo (Stutterheim, 1989, p.61). The Javanese version of the Virataparva explains how Siva kills the demon Mahisasura is described in Ch. 231 v. 96. However, sculptures of Indonesia attribute this feat to goddess Mahisasura-mardini.
III. Worship of Mahisasura-mardini in Historical Perspective:
It is very difficult to say when the worship of the deity began in Indonesia; we have earliest sculpture found from Central Java of 7th century A.D. According to Chinese sources, it was the reign period of Ho-ling i.e. Walaing rulers. During that period both Hinduism and Buddhism were prospering (Coedes, 1967, 79). A large number of images are found of 8th to 10th century from Central Java. During this period Hinduism was at the height of its glory. Timbangan Tungkal inscription dated 913 AD of Sanjaya rule invokes the deity along with Siva. It mentions as “Om namo rudradurggebyah swaha” means invocating Rudra (Siva) and Durga (Sarkar, II, 1972, LXXXII).
Some of the prasastis and old Javanese works mention the worshipping of deity. King Airlangga who ruled over Java during tenth and eleventh century worshipped the goddess. The Patakan inscription mentions that in order to face an attack, the king left his capital Watan Mas and reached at Terep hermitage to worship Bhattari arccarupa (image of the goddess). Later he succeeded in the battle. On back to his capital, Airlangga issued a prasasti Terep in 1032 that mention of a tax-free status to Terep hermitage. This prasasti, however, does not mention the name of the deity. No doubt, the image of the goddess was not other than Mahisasura-mardini (Santiko, 1997, 216). An inscription of 1486 A.D. also mentions the worshipping of this goddess. The actual words are “Carwananira, bhatari durgga” mean offering to Bhattari Durga (Brands, 1913, XCIII, b, verses 8-9).
IV. The Concept of Mahisasura-mardini:
In Indonesia, the goddess was worshipped with the concept of enhancing power and to prevail peace and prosperity in the state. King Airlangga worshipped the goddess to encounter an attack on his kingdom. Other concept of worshipping the deity was to attain supreme power to become “cakravarti” (an universal king). In Javanese tradition, a cakravarti king had tremendous power who was advised by a female (power), the prajapati (protector), and the purohita (as counselor). The temples of Java were built on the same concept. The kings built the temples to acquire supreme power to become an absolute ruler. In Javanese Saivite temple, Siva is depicted in the form of cakravarti (supreme god). The supreme god (cakravarti) is located at the center. He is assisted by female power in the form of goddess Mahisasura-mardini at the northern direction, to the south purohita in the form of Rishi Agasta and Ganesha to the west as prajapati.
Around fifteenth century, the concepts were transformed from benevolent to terrific form. In two inscriptions, belonging of fifteenth century, mention the threatening aspects of the goddess. It mentins tadahen denira bhatari Durgga (may they be eaten by Bhatari Durga) and tadahendenira dewi Durggastu (may be eaten by the goddess Durga so be it). In Indonesia three concepts of Mahisasura-mardini prevailed at different times. The first concept reveals as benevolent goddess. This concept can be seen in the Saivite temples. The second concept appears as mahasakti, a powerful goddess who took part in the creation of the universe as revealed in Kakawin Ghatotkacacraya. The third frightening aspect reflects from the Sudamala and the Tantu Pangelaran, as well as in relief at the Tegawangi temple (Sedyawati, 1994, 113).
V. Socio Cultural Impact of the Deity:
In some Javanese society, the goddess is worshipped by the Businessman and merchants to enhance power and wealth. Impact of Mahisasura-mardini (Bhattari Durga) in the Javanese society is reflected from Sultan court of Jogjakarta. The Sultan performs offerings to the deity at a certain point of time in order to prevail peace and prosperity in his state. The Javanese people fear in taking the name of the deity but they perform ritual to appease the goddess. Information from the royal court of Jogjakarta is that the people still perform Ruwat for appeasing the deity in order to seek her blessings. The Ruwat is performed in the form of Wayang performance. The royal court has puppet of Durga for a special performance only in the royal court.
The socio cultural impact of the deity is also reflected from the Wayang story namely Chandisaptaranga. The word is the composition of three words i.e. Chandi + Sapta + Ranga. In Javanese language, meaning of the word Chandi is temple; Sapta stands for seven and Ranga means Mountain. Thus the meaning of Chandisaptaranga is Temple of Seven Mountains. In this story a symbolic form is mentioned as Kalimatasa. This word Kalimatasa is a composition of three syllables i.e. Kali + Maha + Usadha. Kali is the deity, which is another form of Durga or Mahisasura-mardini. The meaning of Maha is great and Usadha means medicine. Thus the deity is known as “Great medicine.” This symbolic form of Kalmatasa was possessed by one of the Pandavas of the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira who was renowned for his holiness. In the Javanese society, Kalimatasa is considered as the most holiest entity having magic power. It is believed that the ruling people possess the power of Kalimatasa along with Kris. Thus in the Indonesian society goddess is known as “Great medicine” having tremendous powers.
VI. Ritual Connected with the Deity:
In Indonesia, Tantrism has been practiced since very early time. The Tantric ritual is related to the goddess Mahisasura-maridini or other mother goddess. The discovery of the statue of Chamundi from Singhsari reveals the fact that Tantrism was well practiced in Indonesia since 13th century A.D. (Santiko, 1997, 216-217). The Chamundi, another form of the Bhattari Durga, was sculpted for certain Tantric ritual. However, details of the performance of ritual are not known. The story of Calon Arang relates to Tantric rituals to the royal court.
The Balinese make two kinds of rituals. First kind of ritual is performed in a very simple way. The devotees visit the temple and make offering of canang and incenses. The canang consists of five different colours of flowers, cooked rice and a special grass placed in a plate made up of coconut leaves. In this simple offering, devotees visit to temple, put canang and burn incenses in order to seek blessings of the god. The priest, called as pamanku, gives holy water to the devotees and places bhasma (wetted rice) on the forehead as blessings of goddess.
The next offerings are made by the Balinese every fortnightly. The offerings made to the deity are called `Pasagehan’ and `Panyamblehan’. It has five important constituents (Pancamakara), namely wine (madira), ginger (mansa), onion (matsya), rice (mudra) and “Porosan” or betel leaves (maithuna). These constituents are used in India for some special Tantric practices. The Balinese also perform another ritual related to the deity in which they sacrifice animals such as chicken, pig, dog, and goats. In some cases, the buffalo is sacrificed at the time of the performance of ritual (Phalgunadi, 1995: 62-63).
VII. Iconographic and Stylistic Analysis:
In this research work I have made a thorough classification of the images of Mahisasura-mardini. They are the images with two, four, six, eight and ten arms. Prof. Ida Bagus Mantra has reported twelve arms of the deity, but I have not come across any image of this type. The eight arms images are the most popular one both in India ad Indonesia. In India, multiple arms were regarded as a simple and effective way of portraying the images having immense power (Dehejia, 1997, 140). The reason for this popularity of eight arms is very complex which I have classified and dealt in great detail in my longer report. At the end of the report, the typological classification of the images is presented in Table 1.
A. Statistical Analysis of Data:
A total number of 204 sculptures of the Goddess Mahisasura-madini were located from different parts of Java and Bali. Out of 204 images, 14 (6.86%) are reported in Gianyar area of Bali and 190 (93.14%) were collected from Java. The reason of the discovery of a large number of images from Java is that at the beginning a large number of images were produced with the advent of Hindus in Java. Out of 190 images, 14 (7.37%) are found from West Java, 97 (51.05%) from Central Java and 79 (41.58%) from East Java. Out of the total number of images, 6 (2.94%) images have two arms, 21 (10.29%) four arms, 21 (10.29%) six arms, 141 (69.12%) images eight arms and 6 (2.94%) have ten arms. These images are in sambhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga postures adorned with different kinds of beautiful jewels. Remaining nine (4.42%) images are half broken.
C. The Variety of Forms:
Two-armed type: This type of images is found only in Java. The sculptures of West and Central Java, belong to the period ranging from 8th to 10th century, are benevolent in appearance. All the images of this type show buffalo facing left side of the deity. In one sculpture, the deity is standing on the middle of buffalo. Her hands are folded in front of the stomach. The headgear is in the form of jatamukuta. Buffalo is shown timidly below the deity. The upper attires clinch to the body. Necklace, armlets, bracelet and elongated earlobes that hang over shoulders adorn the goddess. The lower garment is in different form reminding Indian dhoti. This dhoti is multilayered knotted at the center of the waist. Its style has similarity with the images of Gupta period. From her left hand, the goddess stretches a bunch of hairs of the demon. The goddess right hand holds tail of the buffalo (fig. 1).
Three sculptures from East Java belong to the period ranging from 10th to 14th century A.D. In one image, the deity wears skirt. The attributes in her hands appear like a plant or a lotus. The buffalo is timidly lying beneath the deity. The demon is completely absent. This stone sculpture is not gracious in appearance. It is probable because of later transformation in the concept of the deity as a guardian of the cremation ground (fig.2).
Four-armed type: This type of images is found both Java and Bali. The goddess is shown in slim body depicting sambhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga postures. In the West Javanese images, Buffalo is facing to the left side of the deity. The deity holds in her upper left and right hand conch shell (sankha) and flower like object respectively. In the lower left hands, she holds hairs of the asura. The right hand of the deity stretches the tail of buffalo.
The images from Central Java (8th to 10th century A.D.) represent a unique style. Broadly, this type of images can be classified into two categories. In first category, buffalo and asura are facing to the right side of the deity. The facial expression of the deity is graceful. In this type, sankha is placed at left upper hand and cakra in the right upper hand. The left lower hand holds the tail of the buffalo and right lower hand stretches hairs of the demon. In two images of this type, asura is absent. In the place of asura, a club is placed at right lower hand. Jatamukuta is conical in shape. The lower garment appears to be Indian dhoti. Different kinds of jewels including elongated earlobes adorn the images (fig.3). In second type, both asura and buffalo are placed to the left side of the deity. In this category, two images of the deity hold cakra in her upper right hand. However, the left upper hand bears either sankha or flywhisk.
The flattened images, found from East Java, are dated of 10th to 14th century. These images have cylindrical body adorned with wristlets or multiple bangles, armlets, earrings, necklace, and girdles. The objects holding in the upper left and right hand are sankha, cakra, rosary, bow and fly whisk. The lower dress clinches the lower part of the body, which has similarity with the images of Gupta, and post Gupta period. The conical shape jatamukuta adorns the sculpture. One image of this type has frightful face, depicting the goddess having bulging breasts and protruding eyes (fig.4). A large tongue is lapping out from the mouth. This reminds the image of goddess Kali of India. It is of late period around 14th or 15th century A.D.
The image found from Bali bears the character of Central Java type. The goddess bears in her left hand sankha and right cakra. Buffalo is facing left side of the deity. Asura is not depicted. The goddess is adorned with different kinds of jewels.
Six-armed type: This type of images can be classified into three styles. The first type belongs to Central Javanese style spanning of 8th to 10th century AD.The deity has beautiful, slim and graceful body. The sculptures display asura on the left side of the deity. Here the deity displays sankha in her left hand while in the right hand keeps cakra. Other weapons of the goddess are Khadga, bow, arrow, axe, shield and spear. The deity’s right lower hand is always pulling tail of buffalo. The sculptures are heavily bejeweled by necklace, armlets, bracelets, and hip-bands. In some cases, headgear displays two tired. In other images, the headgear is of three-tier. The lower garment shows graceful appearance. It clinches unto the feet.
The images of second type are found from East Java. They belong to 10th to 14th century A.D. In some cases, the figure of the deity is sculpted flattened. Facial expression is less graceful but reflects peaceful expression (fig.5). The asura, coming out from the neck of buffalo, is always depicted to the left side of the deity. Different jewels like necklace, armlet, and bracelet excel the beauty of the images. Earrings are elongated hanging on the shoulder. The lower garment is quite different from central Javanese statues. Here the deity is wearing sarong as lower garment, which is flanked at the lower end. Two-tiered jatamukuta gives a graceful look.
Third type of the images is found from Central, East Java and Bali. In this type, asura is not depicted (fig 6). In one case, the deity is sitting on buffalo in attacking posture, bearing in her hands, camara, lotus, bow, pasa, akshayamala, and tail of buffalo. The deity is bejeweled with necklace, armlets, bracelets, and anklets. Jatamukuta is somewhat pointed at the top appearing like inverted stupa. One image of this type, found from Pura bedugul Kana, Pejang, Gianyar, Bali, has headgear of different shape. The sirascakra, like bunch of flowers, is ornamented with the petals of lotus.
Eight-armed type: As in South India, such type of images is found in large number from different parts of Java and Bali. In West Java two types of images are found. The first type of images shows buffalo and demon facing left side of the deity (fig.7). The body of the deity is shown slim. It possesses sankha in the left upper hand while cakra in the right upper hand. The left lower arm is touching or holding hairs of asura while right lower arm stretches the tail of buffalo. Other attributes in the hands are shield, bow, dagger, arrow, sword, and club. One image from Bandung reveals a stylized sankha. In the second type of sculptures, buffalo and demon are depicted to the right side of the deity. The images have slim body. Objects in first left hands vary from image to image. In one image left hand has sankha and the right hand has cakra. An image, found in art shop at Labak bulus, Jakarta, has flywhisks in both upper hands.
A rare image of Mahisasura-mardini, found from Candi Bandungan in Semarang area, now displayed in Ronggowarsito museum, has unique style. The heavily bejeweled goddess is shown on the buffalo. The asura is absent. In her first and second right hands, she holds cakra and sword; the third hand is placed on the stomach and the lowest holds tail of the buffalo. The left hands of the deity depict shield, sankha, bow and the lowest hand is broken. An Indian Gupta style jatamukuta adorns the head. (fig.8). The sitting posture reminds one of the images of Buddhist Tara, the sakti of Avalokiteshwara (Padmapani) which were sculpted in India during the Pala period in Bihar-Bengal (8th to 10th century AD) and later (10th to 12th century AD) in Orissa. Tara is the goddess of compassion (karuna). In this posture one leg is drawn up and the other right one hangs down. It is known as Lalitasana (graceful sitting posture). In one sculpture, the demon is absent. It is a unique sculpture having large lapping tongue reminds the other form of Durga i.e. Goddess Kali. This reveals shows prevalence of Tantric cult in Java (fig.9).
The images from Bali do not have asura and buffalo faces left side of the deity. The deity displays in attacking pose. Generally, Balinese sculptors have followed the same principles on placing cakra and sankha in the hands of the deity. In one of the images kris is placed in the hand of Mahisasura-mardini. An image of Pura Batur, Samplangan shows the deity pulling the tail of buffalo by her third right hand (fig.10). The deity wears elongated earrings, armlets, wristlets, necklace, waistband and anklets. Inverted conical shape jatamukuta gives ascetic shape of the deity. These types of jatamukuta are found in the Gupta and Pala art of India.
Ten-armed type: A bronze image from West Java, displayed in the National Museum, Jakarta, is a masterpiece of art. The deity has benign appearance standing on buffalo in tribhanga posture. This image has resemblance with post Gupta art style. The image is adorned with necklace, bracelets, armlets and anklets. Beautiful elongated earrings touch the shoulders of the deity. The upper garment, in form of bodice, clinches on the body of the images. The most distinctive feature is a scarf like structure hanging on both sides of the legs. A three-tiered crown with prabhamandala adorns the image. From the right-sided neck of the buffalo, asura is coming out holding a shield in the left hand and a dagger in the right hand (fig.11).
One image found from East Java is in dvibhanga posture. General character of this image has similarity with Pre Gupta art style of India. Some of the attributes in the hands are not clear. The identified attributes are conch shell, shield, demon’s hairs, cakra, blade, club and tail of the buffalo. Necklace, bracelets, armlets, waistband and anklets excel the beauty of the image. Another image of the Mahisasura-mardini of Singhsari period found from Malang of 1300 AD, now available in the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, displays robust body in attacking pose. Here the goddess is represented in the form of Mahasakti (immense power). Necklace, bracelets, armlets, anklets, and elongated earrings adorn the image. To the left side of the deity, the demon is shown sitting on the head of buffalo. Upper garment appears to be a bodice. The lower attire is like sarong (fig. 12).
One a beautiful specimen in dvibhanga posture is found from Bali. The deity is well adorned with jewels. The asura is not found. The lower attire appears to be similar to dhoti depicted as Vishnu image on the façade of Udaigiri cave no. 6 of Gupta period (Huntington, 1985, 191, fig. 10.7).
VIII. Enigmatic characters of the Goddess:
The navasanga devata, a Javanese and Balinese concept, reveals the enigmatic character of the deity. It stands out for its compact, synoptic worldview entirely symbolizing the cosmos. The navasanga directional model of space provides the basic pattern of orientation for the human household, the village settlement, and the world as a whole, modeling all upon a divinely appointed order (Stephen, 2005, 127). The navasanga in Bali reveals the cosmological grid and is identified as a fundamental model of Balinese universe. In the diagram, six forms of Siva are shown at different cordinal points at East and West directions. Trimurti (Trinity) i.e.Brahma, Siva and Vishnu are shown vertically. The Balinese concept reveals congregations of three gods as Tiga Sakti. The Bhattara Siva is represented at the center as a highest deity in order to balance and control the whole cosmic zone. The concept of navasanga, as we know from recent usage, is certainly old. This concept is based on certain East Javanese candies (Kempers, 1991, 63). According to the Pedandas of Bali, in the sculptures of the Goddess Mahisasura-mardini holds the weapons in navasanga, which makes sculpture most divinely and symbolic. Actually Uma Durga in the form of Mahisasura-mardini was descended on the earth to remove darkness or prevail peace and prosperity on the earth.
The spinning discus (cakra) means for the dynamic or movement of life. Thus the most basic enigmatic character of the sculptures reveals the deity as most powerful and dynamic. Padma (lotus) symbolizes the gate of birth (Zimmer, 1962, 91 and Renik, 1986, 13) and purity. Most of the Javanese and all the Balinese images do not depict demon and buffalo seems to be the carrier of the deity. In Hinduism, buffalo symbolizes yama, the god of Death who rides on a buffalo. The Goddess standing on the buffalo thus symbolizes her victory over death. Javanese and Balinese epigraphical records also mention the deity as the goddess of death. It seems quite possible that devotees worship the image of goddess to get rid of death or diseases and achieve immortality (Huntington, 1985, 191).
CONCLUSION: In Indonesia, the images of Mahisasura-mardini are shown as having multiple arms, active, warlike mode, destroying demon. It reflects the concept of immense power. This iconographic concept, no doubt, is taken from India. However, the variations in style- absence of asura, displaying buffalo on left or right side of the deity and various changes in different attributes in the hands- reveal the fact the whole aspect of portraying the deity has undergone transformation as per indigenous ethos. A large number of images belonging to the period of 7th to 10th century A.D. displaying eight arms are the images of temples which were set up with the concepts of eternal power, prosperity and welfare in the kingdom. We have instance of worshipping the deity by King Airlangga who offered ritual in order to avoid external invasion in his kingdom. The image of Mahendradatta, the mother of King Airlangga, in Kutri, Bali in the form of Mahisasura-mardini was made with the objective of attaining moksha (liberation) from the cycle of rebirth. The sankha on the left hand and cakra on the right hand are attributes of god Vishnu and goddess Sri. Thus in some places the deity was worshipped for all-round prosperity and wealth. Some postures like abhayamudra, lalitasana and other hands postures reveal Buddhist characters in the sculptures of Mahisasura-mardini. The lalitasana posture generally reflects compassion, a characteristic feature of the Buddhist Goddess Tara.
The east Javanese images are mostly flattened and less refined. It is because of the poor efficiency in carving of the images by the sculptors and transformation in styles as per local belief. After late 13th century various Tantric cult like Chamundi, Bhairwa and Kali arrived in East Java. As a result, terrific form of images was made in the form of goddess Kali.
The images of Mahisasura-mardini found in Bali, do not display asura. It is noticed that Bali has yielded only one type of images having variations in the number of arms. It seems possible that there would be some principles or myth for making the sculptures. It can be also be surmised that the sculptors who made the images belong to the same school of art. According to Padandas, in ancient time the images of Mahisasura-mardini were worshipped in the temples. Some of the temples of Bali have the images of Mahisasura-mardini and people worships there and make their offerings. However, generally people know this goddess as Devi Durga and make their offerings at Pura Dalem as a terrific deity.
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