In Focus

A Relief of the Hindu Goddess Durga

This very high relief, typical of sculptures on temples in Rajasthan and central India, depicts the goddess Durga. Durga is probably represented here in her form as Bhadrakali, a benevolent form of the goddess Kali, whose name means "time" and therefore is associated with death, change, and destruction. This three-headed, ten armed deity stands on a supine figure of the god Shiva, while the god Brahma, the small figure with three heads to Kali's right side, looks on. According to Hindu mythology, as Durga/Kali celebrated her victory over a demon, she danced with such extraordinary glee that all the worlds shook. So the gods asked Shiva to intervene, which he did by lying beneath her to absorb the impact of her dance. Realizing that she is standing on her own husband, Shiva, she becomes calm and finally steps off of him.

Although this figure lacks some of the characteristics that often express Kali's horrific nature- a garland of skulls and a long protruding tongue- the sculpture's other features leave little doubt about the identity of the figure. Her hands hold weapons from the battle in which she slew the demon, and the lower left hand holds the demon's severed head.

The sculpture probably was placed in a niche on the exterior wall of a temple and most likely dates to the 10th century. It bears much in common with the style of this time, for example, the figures of the Lakshmana temple at Khajuraho, dated 954, where a style very close to that of adjacent Rajasthan prevailed. It also shares a resemblance to figures on the Ambika Mata temple at Jagat in Rajasthan, dated 961. There figures flanked by columns such as those in this sculpture are placed along the walls of the temple.

Excerpt from

Frederick M. Asher, "Durga," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 83.