The story of Mahishasura starts with his father – Ramba.
Ramba was an asura who performed severe penance to make the Gods happy. Lord Agni [the Lord of the Fire] was pleased with the penance and appeared before him, ‘Open your eyes, son of Dhanu.’
Ramba opened his eyes and bowed to Agni.
Agni smiled and asked him, ‘I am pleased with your penance, what do you wish?’
Ramba said, ‘I wish for a son, my Lord, who cannot be killed by any man or God or animal.’
Lord Agni said, ‘So be it. However if your son himself prays to Lord Brahma for the boon, he would become more powerful…’
Ramba nodded his head as Lord Agni disappeared.
Ramba the king of demons, then fell in love with Mahishi, a water buffalo (The water buffalo was Princess Shyamala, who was actually cursed to be a buffalo). Their son’s name was Mahishasura. As Mahisha’s mother was a buffalo, he was able to change into human and a buffalo form and could even assume the form of other animals.
However Mahishasura’s parents died soon after he was he was born. Mahishasura was brought up by Ramba’s relatives.
‘No man or God can defeat you Mahisha. You are meant to be a great king’ They would tell him. Mahisha soon believed all this and thought that he was invincible.
When he had grown up, he went to his uncle, ‘Uncle, all my life you have told me that I am meant to be a great king – so great that I can rule the Devas.’ Mahishasura said with glowing eyes. ‘I want to know what I am supposed to do to make that dream a reality.’
Mahisha’s uncle looked at the strapping young boy and smiled. He told Mahishasura all about his parents and the boon of Lord Agni. Mahishasura listened attentively and finally nodded. ‘So I have to pray to Lord Brahma…; Mahisha’s uncle nodded.
The young boy then set out to the forest and performed a severe penance to Lord Brahma. Finally Lord Brahma was pleased and appeared before Mahishasura. ‘What boon do you seek Mahishasura?’
Mahishasura immediately said, ‘Lord, I was born after my father had a boon from Lord Agni. I wish to get the boon myself to make it more powerful. I wish that I cannot be killed by any man, God or animal. I wish to be the most powerful of all creatures ever created.’
Lord Brahma was not very happy but he had no choice. Lord Brahma had a suspicion that this boon was going to have very bad results. However as he had promised that he would give any boon and so he had to grant Mahisha’s boon. With a heavy heart Lord Brahma granted Mahisha his boon and disappeared.
Mahishasura returned home a triumphant man and began preparations for war to expand his kingdom. Empowered by his boon, no one was able to stand up against Mahishasura and soon he became powerful. He ruled all over the earth. However Mahishasura just did not conquer kingdoms. He destroyed the kingdoms, and terrorised the people. People feared him but did not know what to do to escape from him. Anyone who stood up against Mahishasura was mercilessly killed by the demon.
The people prayed fervently to Mahadevi – the great Goddess to come and protect them.
Meanwhile Mahishasura was not satisfied after conquering the earth. He set his sight on the heavens. He invaded the heavens and defeated Indra, the king of the Gods. Indra’s army was defeated and the Devas were all driven out. The Devas ran and went to Brahma.
‘My Lord Brahma…’Indra said falling at Brahma’s feet, ‘Please save us. You are the only one who can protect us.’
Lord Brahma looked at the faces of the gods and realised that something was very wrong. The Devas slowly told him how they had been routed by Mahishasura.
‘My Lord…’ Varuna said, ‘nothing we do seems to hurt him…He just seems to get more and more powerful…’
Lord Brahma spoke for the first time, ‘Sons, you all know of the boon I gave Mahisha. I did not want to give him the boon, but I really did not have a choice….His penance was so strong that I… HAD to give him what he had asked for…’ Lord Brahma said feeling more and more angry with himself for granting Mahisha the boon.
‘Don’t worry Devas.’ Lord Brahma said collecting himself. We will go and see Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. They are both at Vaikunta now discussing this very problem. Let us go there and join them.’
Goddess Saraswati said, ‘I will accompany you to Vaikunta.’
So Lord Brahma and Goddess Saraswati led the Devas to Vaikunta -Lord Vishnu’s home. There they saw Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati and Lord Vishnu with Goddess Lakshmi together.
Indra bowed to the Gods and told them of their problems. When Indra finished, the entire Vaikunta resounded with a voice, a strong and melodious voice, the voice of Mahadevi, the great Goddess. ‘Sons, Lord Brahma’s boon protects Mahishasura from any man and God but not from a woman. Use all your powers and together create a great power. The three Goddesses should come together. I will incarnate there in the form of a warrior Goddess. Gift the warrior with all your weapons. She will solve all your problems.’
Hearing this, the three Shaktis – Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati smiled. They were all incarnations of the great Goddess. Now their motheer wanted to create another power strong enough to destroy Mahisha. The three of them merged together.
When they came together Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma who were angry with Mahishasura gave out a blinding white light, which fused with the merged bodies of the three Goddess. The light was so fierce that it could not even be seen by Devas with their eyes.
The light met at the ashram of a priest Katyayan. From this light emerged a woman with a thousand hands. The Goddess looked ferocious and beautiful at the same time.
The Goddess introduced herself in the same melodious and strong voice of Mahadevi, ‘I am Katyayani, because I was formed in the ashram of Katyayan. I am Durga [Durga literally translated in Sanskrit means ‘the invincible’]. I am the incarnation of the Mahadevi and I have come here to destroy all evil.’
The gods all stared at the Goddess Durga and bowed to her. Lord Shiva them picked up his trident and offered it to Durga. Lord Vishnu offered his Sudarshana Chakra to the Goddess. Lord Brahma then offered his Kamandalam of holy water.
Indra hesitatingly came forward and offered the Goddess his thunderbolt [Vajrayudham]. Following him the other gods also came forward. Varuna gave Durga a conch, Agni gave her a missile, Vayu gave her bows and arrows. Vishwakarma – the architect of the Gods gave Durga his axe and a very powerful armour. The God of the Mountains gave her a lion.
Now armed with the weapons, Goddess Durga sat on the lion majestically and let out a chilling roar. The roar was so loud that the three worlds trembled. Ocean waves crashed up the skies and the earth shook.
In the heavens, looking at all this Mahishasura’a heart nearly missed a beat.
He rushed outside his palace and wondered what was going on.
What he saw almost made his heart stop. There was a beautiful, fierce woman riding majestically on a lion and coming straight for him. Her face was gentle and patient, but try as he might, Mahishasura could not shake out the feeling of dread when he saw the Goddess.
Mahishasura realised that the woman was the cause of the roar and the trembling, he had heard and felt a few minutes back… Mahishasura felt more and more terrified. Mahishasura hastily gave an order to all his people to have their armies ready to fight her. Deep inside Mahishasura wondered whether anything could protect him against the woman…
The woman was now within hearing distance and looked contemptuously at Mahishasura. ‘You are the one who wanted to die in the hands of a woman, didn’t you? Well here I am…’
Mahishasura hastily stepped back in fear. He turned to his men, ‘Well what are you staring at? Is it not your job to protect me. Protect me from this woman.’ He said pointing to Goddess Durga.
Mahisha’s men were in no mood to fight against the Goddess. But they had little choice. Mahisha was their ruler. They had to obey his wishes.
So the asuras fought with Devi. The first wave of the soldiers threw in their weapons. The Goddess destroyed all their weapons, with the same speed that the asuras threw them. Weapon-less, the asuras now attacked the Devi barehanded. Giving out another roar, the Devi used all her weapons with devastating effect. Almost half of Mahisha’s army was destroyed in the attack of the Devi. And the worst part was none of them were able to find any weakness in the fighting technique of the Devi. It was almost as if she was fighting machine, made specifically for killing them all…
Looking at the battle from the confines of the palace, Mahishasura was terrified. He knew that he had no choice but to face the woman soon. The way she was going, there was nothing of his army going to be left by evening.
He called in his personal army. Asuras he had hand picked, who were very brave and brilliant fighters. He had always thought that there was no equal to his personal army anywhere in the world. Now he fervently hoped he was right…
He addressed his men, ‘You are the bravest among all of the Asuras. You have to show this woman what we can really do…’ He said looking at all of them. The men nodded and turned to the battlefield. Mahishasura was in their centre protected from them.
As Mahishasura marched in, Goddess Durga looked at him and his men. As she was firing weapons and killing Asuras, she realised that the personal army of Mahishasura was another matter. They were better fighters. Durga smiled…better fighters then these men… she thought as she fired arrows with an unimaginable speed, killing asuras everywhere. I am also going to need people to fight for me..
Goddess Durga without stopping any of her arrows, muttered shlokas and concentrated hard.
Mahishasura could not believe what he was seeing. Durga had been fighting and then suddenly behind Durga he could see a new army. An army of fierce brave warriors, who looked every bit as ferocious and resolute as the Devi herself.
Mahishasura almost faltered. But he was the leader of his men. He could not back off now. He had to face it and try to win…
The army of the Devi made short work of the remaining army of Mahisha. All of them fought like Devi Durga – single-mindedly, patiently and fiercely…
Mahisha told his men, ‘You take on her army, men. I will take her on…’
The men nodded and soon began a fierce battle. Durga’s army though small was extremely disciplined, and strong. Though Mahisha’s personal army was powerful, Durga’s army seemed to handle the battle better.
Mahishasura saw angrily as more and more asuras died, whereas very few of Durga’s army were hurt. Enraged Mahisha turned into a buffalo and charged at Durga’s army. He wounded many soldiers, bit them and hit with his tail. Durga’s lion attacked the buffalo. Durga threw a noose around his neck and was about to pull out her sword…
Mahishasura suddenly changed form into an elephant. Using his trunk, he pulled up the legs of the lion towards him, trying to throw Durga to the ground. However it made no difference to the Devi. She stuck at Mahishasura with her sword. The sword found its mark and there was a blood flowing at the elephant’s trunk…
However at the last minute, Mahishasura changed into a lion himself. The Devi and the lion clashed…
The personal army of Mahisha was also not faring too well. Durga’s army was just trampling among Mahisha’s men…
The Mahisha-lion was defeated by Goddess Durga. Mahisha decided to change into a man…But nothing changed. Durga still defeated him easily.
Mahisha tried his hands at everything. He tried to change his attack, his brute force, the positioning of his army, his own personal appearance….he tried changing everything…hoping that something would stop the Warrior Goddess. But he should have known better. She was Durga, the invincible…
The battle raged on…the battle raged for nine days. In the dawn of the tenth day, Mahishasura knew that he could not keep this up any more. The woman was too powerful and she fought like…Mahisha had no words to describe the fighting technique of the woman. What was actually difficult for Mahisha to believe was that in these ten days, Mahisha realised that the Devi had not fought him to her actual level. If she had…Mahisha thought shivering, the war would have been over in a day…
But Mahisha had no choice but to go on. He had started the war with a huge army…now there were barely a hundred of them left. And Mahisha also felt his own energy going down sharply.
In a last ditch effort, Mahisha attacked the Devi and her army in his own form of a buffalo. He came close to her, hoping that he could confuse her, but today the Goddess was prepared for him… She drew out her sword and slashed at him. Mahisha saw that the wound was very deep. If he had escape any further injuries, he had to change form. Mahisha had half emerged from the form of the buffalo, when the Devi let out another roar and jumped from her lion. She leapt on the Mahisha and pined him down. She used so much force that Mahisha was unable to move or even use his power of changing form.
The Devi then looked at him and with a flash, brought out her sword, before Mahisha could even understand what was happening, it was over…Mahishasura was no more…
The Gods who watched the entire battle were overjoyed. It was over…Mahisha was dead. He would never torment them again. The gods ran forward to the Devi and fell on her feet. ‘Devi…you have brought an end to the evil which tormented us…You are our mother, our protector…Mother please always protect us, whenever we are in trouble…’
Goddess Durga looked at all of them and smiled. ‘Go forth in peace, my sons. You have my blessings, now and forever…’
The Goddess vanished and the Gods gave Goddess Durga another name Mahishasuramardini [the one who ended Mahisha’s life] and sang her praises and went back to heavens!