Goddess Mahisasura-Mardini: Continuity and change from India to Indonesia

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Goddess Mahisasura-Mardini: Continuity and change from India to Indonesia

Thursday, 18 October 2018 | Dr Bachchan Kumar

Full of zeal, Juke Bandun started his work. He would have certainly managed to carry out the task if the sound of pounding the paddy by the girls of Prambanan had not disclosed to him that his work was in vain because that was a certain sign that is the sun would shortly be rising over the horizon. It is believed that the goddess herself asked JakaBandun to build this temple and she gave order to the girls to start pounding the paddy much earlier than usual.Some scholars believe that it was not Candi Sevu but Candi Lara Jonggrang, which was constructed. Nor it was the pounding of the paddy as a sign of the rising sun, which rendered the task of the youth futile. In fact, the girl (in disguise of goddess) herself gave the order to start the pounding of the paddy much earlier than usual. There is a statue in the niche of the temple worshiped by the both young and old as a statue of Lara Jonggrang. Willem Stutterheim(1989:109)believes that it is not a statue of Lara Jonggrang but the goddess Mahisasura-mardini. The temple was not built in one night as we see to the left nearby some hills, which consist of masses of broken stones covered with plant and bushes (Veth, 1875-1882, 2.94).

Some of the Old Javanese works and epigraphic records mention the continuity of 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 leaves his capital Watan Mas and visits to Terep hermitage in the village Kambang Sri to worship Bhattariarccarupa (image of the goddess). Later he succeeded in the battle. On returning to the capital, the king issued a prasastiTerep (Terep inscription) in the year A.D. 1032.The prasastiinforms of a tax-free status given to Terep hermitage. However, the inscription does not mention the name of the deity. No doubt, the goddess was no 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, bhataridurgga” mean offering to BhattariDurga (Brands, 1913, XCIII, b, verses 8-9).

Quite a large number of  images of Mahisasura-mardini are found in Indonesia. The scholars have reported over 500 beautiful images of the deity in the different parts of Indonesia.During my study, I have come across 207 images. Some of the images are taken away during colonial rule.

The early concept of the deity is reflected from the sculptures of late seventh to tenth century found from Central Java. The images of those times depict the goddess in a beautiful form, standing on buffalo revealing benevolent character. She holds in her hands different implements attacking on the demon. The battle between goddess and demon symbolizes dark and light, jnana (knowledge) and ajnana (ignorance), good and evil, truth and untruth. In classical Indonesian Hindu mythology, she is related to Saivism and considered as sakti, the wife of Siva (Ghatotkacasraya Kakawin, ch. XX, XXX, XXXI). The inscription of TimbanganTungkal dated 913 AD of Sanjaya rule invokes the deity along with Siva. The words of the inscription mention as “Omnamorudradurggebyahswaha” “invocating Rudra (Siva) and Durga” (Sarkar, II, 1972, LXXXII). According to Coedes, referring view of N.J.Krom with regard to Java and W.F.Stutterheim for Bali, Hinduism was practiced by the upper class and had not ever been completely the religion of the masses (Coedes, 1967, 33). If we consider this view true, it seems that at first worshipping of Mahisasura-mardini began in Indonesia amongst the royal families and upper class people. It was because the local rulers performed Tantric ritual to enhance and secure power. Besides, the worshipping of the deity was performed for prevailing peace and prosperity in the kingdom and gaining victory over foreign invasion or winning over the battle. In India, same concept was prevalent as revealed in the texts the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The Indonesian literatures substantiate the same concept. King Airlangga worshipped the goddess in the form of statue (bhattariarccarupa) at the Terep hermitage to gain victory over an attack on his kingdom. The king finally won the battle (Patakan inscription, 11th century AD). The goddess was also worshipped for attaining supreme power to become “cakravarti” (supreme monarch). In Javanese tradition, a cakravarti king had tremendous power that was assisted by the female power, the prajapati (protector), and the purohita (taking to the right path as counselor). The temples of Java reflect the same concept. The kings built the temple to acquire supreme power.  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 to the northern direction, to the south purohita in the form of Rishi Agasta and Ganesha to the west as prajapati. The Agastyesvara temple at Anangapura (10th century A.D.) in South India, Mahisasura-mardini is depicted in the north wall devakostha niche (Huntington, 1985, 521-522). According to some pedandas, the kings for attaining supreme power worshiped the deity.

Around fifteenth century, the concepts were transformed from benevolent to terrific form. In two inscriptions, belonging to the same period, threatening is made in the name of goddess. It threatens Jiyu, Majakerta (Brandes, 1913, xcii and xcv). The actual words are tadahendenirabhatariDurgga (may they be eaten by BhattariDurga) and tadahendeniradewiDurggastu (may be eaten by the goddess Durga so be it). These contents of the inscriptions make clear that by the end of the fifteenth century Mahisasura-mardini was seen as a terrific deity.

In the island of Bali, the goddess is worshipped in the temples. Both benevolent and terrific form of goddess are worshipped by the hindus of Bali. In the sculptures of  Bali, we do not find  the depiction of demon. The demon is shown in the form of Buffalo. The goddess is  shown as she has won the battle while buffalo demon is shown as her carrier or pet. The  Balinese says that they have not depicted the demon in their images as they do not want to depict evil image as part of their worship.

In Indonesia, three concepts of Mahisasura-mardini were developed during various periods. The first concept reveals the goddess bearing supreme power as benevolent in nature. This nature of the goddess reveals in the Saivite temples of Java. The second concept reveals the goddess as mahasakti, a powerful goddess who took part in the creation of the universe as mentioned in Kakawin Ghatotkacacraya. The third was the frightening form as the wife of Siva. It is represented in later works such as the Sudamalaand the TantuPangelaran, as well as in relief such as those at the Tegawangi temple (Sedyawati, 1994, 113). The third concept is now prevalent among the Hindus of Bali. The goddess is placed at puradalem, a temple adjacent to cremation ground. The goddess is known by an epithet Sundari (a beautiful woman). However, she is shown in terrific form having bulging breast, protruding eyes, broad nose and large tongue hanging from mouth. Because of her terrific form, the people wanted her favour as mother so that she may not disturb the people.

(Dr Bachchan Kumar, Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Regional Centre, Ranchi  He can be contacted at e-mail: bachchan_kumar@yahoo.com)