Today is Vijaya Dashami or Bijoya. Today is the day when the Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura or the buffalo demon, after a fierce battle that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. After killing him on the 10th day, Durga came to known as Mahisasuramardini or “she who killed the buffalo demon”.
The story of Mahisasuramardini (which you can read here or here) is perhaps one of the best known in Hindu mythology, and its associated imagery is one of the most recognisable.
I was introduced to the story of Mahisasuramardini by my grandmothers, and also my mother’s recitation of the Mahisasuramardini Stotram. Like most children of the 1970s, I was introduced to the popular imagery of Mahisasuramardini through Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tales of Durga” (see picture on the left).
It was this image of Mahisasuramardini that stayed with me till 1997 when I visited Mahabalipuram. I saw Indian sculptural art in a ‘natural’ setting for the first time, including this depiction of Mahisasuramardini. That was when I realised the immensity, beauty and power of the narratives I had heard and read from the time I was a kid.
That visit also marked the beginning of my interest in Hindu mythology expanding to include its representation in classical Indian art. And Mahisasuramardini fascinated me like no other, which, thanks to my travels in India, I came across in Aihole, Ellora, Patan, Vadnagar and Nalla Sopara. Artiistically and stylistically, each one of the relief sculptures were very different, and yet unmistakably that of Mahisasuramardini.
The door to the Amter Mata Temple opens noiselessly and I hesitate before stepping into a large courtyard. It is three in the afternoon on a windy day in December last year and the temple, which is in Vadnagar (Gujarat), is officially closed at that time. But the shopkeeper outside the temple urges me to go in saying that nobody would mind.
There is no one to be seen inside; I am not really surprised for it is siesta and relaxation time before the evening worship begins. As I look around, I feel an uneasy prickling sensation at the back of my neck — the kind when you feel that someone’s watching you. I look around but cannot see anyone or detect any movement.
I call out once and then again, but get no response. It appears that I’m alone in the temple. Or am I? The sensation of being watched grows and I feel that the gaze is hostile, angry, even malevolent.
I don’t scare easily, but I must confess that I’m feeling quite spooked. As I wonder if I should leave, I spot a large sculpture placed against the wall behind the main shrine at the far end of the temple. I can’t make out what the sculpture is, but something about it gives me the shivers. I decide to explore further and as I walk towards the sculpture I feel waves of anger wash over me.
Yes, really. It was a random photograph that had popped up when I was browsing through an equally random photo-stream. The photograph was of a grand and towering toran or a decorative arch with the caption, “Kirti Toran, Vadnagar”.
My first reaction was where is Vadnagar? I mean, I knew that Vadnagar was in Gujarat and also that it was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native town, but where was it? When a location search revealed that it was only about 40 km from Mehsana, I was stunned, for at that time, I was planning my North Gujarat trip in December 2014 at that time. And Mehsana was to be my base ! I took this happy coincidence as a sign that I needed to visit Vadnagar. 🙂