Hindu shrine, probably Bengali, 19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Gilt shrine with papier mache figures of the goddes Durga slaying the demon Mahisa. The Devimahatmya text tells the story of Durga's battle with Mahisa, king of the antigods who fought a war with the gods and drove them out of heaven. The gods were so enraged that they combined their powers to create Durga, the ten-armed goddes. Durga fought Mahisa, who took many forms. When he became a buffalo, the symbol of death, she pounced on him and cut off his head, restoring the gods to heaven. Thus Durga became the guardian of cosmic order. She is also the goddes of fertility, or earth mother, and is asociated with plants and agriculture. Durga Puja is an important Bengali festival celebrating Durga's victory over evil.