Durga Mahishasura Mardini
In this series of photographs, titled Durga Mahishasura Mardini, I explore a part of my complex identity by presenting the myth of the Hindu Warrior Goddess Durga. This myth is an allegory for the triumph of good over evil, and I present it as a parallel narrative with that of my own personal struggle in coming to terms with my name.
I was named after the Goddess Durga. As an immigrant child growing up in Vancouver, I did not want to be known by such a foreign-sounding name. I remember searching rotary display racks, hoping that my name would be one among the many common Canadian names to be found on key chains, stickers, and other such items; I remember being disappointed repeatedly. I also remember being frequently singled out for a name that was “different,” “weird,” “beautiful,” or “unique.”
Durga Mahishasura Mardini, or Durga the Slayer of Demon Mahes, is a Goddess who was created by the combined energies of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva—the Gods of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction—in order to vanquish the all-powerful Mahishasura, the buffalo demon.
By virtue of his austere penance and previous devotion to Lord Shiva, Mahishasura had been granted the boon that he “could not be killed by man or God,” and so the crafty Gods decided to engender Durga as a Shakti or supreme feminine force, in order to defeat the invincible demon. Durga is granted many weapons. She does battle with Mahishasura for nine nights without food or water, and on the tenth day she kills him with her trident. This battle and victory are celebrated in contemporary Hindu culture as Navratri, the Festival of Nine Nights.
Durga Mahishasura Mardini conveys the myth by selecting key moments in the narrative and presenting them as a set of staged self-portrait photographs that articulate the story of Durga’s defeat of Mahishasura. To echo the structure of the visual narrative of the crucifixion of Christ, known as the Stations of the Cross, I have selected nine scenarios that bring forward the drama and the key symbols involved. The photographic images with their stark studio setting are used as a canvas for a stylized over-drawing of the mythological elements. This creates a hybrid realm of reality and myth through which I show my personal understanding of the Mahishasura Mardini narrative.
The act of hand drawing on the photographic images symbolizes my process of understanding. It is a way of involving myself in the story of the Goddess after whom I am named. This series is both autobiographical and mythological, as its narrative conveys my personal relationship with Durga the Slayer of Mahishasura, in a visual journey of understanding.