Week 6: Visual Analysis

By: Sujatha Meegama |

VISUAL analysis
  • What is happening in this relief carving?
  • How is power depicted?
  • Who else is in the relief?
  • What is the composition?



(Edit) Samantha Yap
The relief carving depicts Durga in mid-battle, who takes center stage in  the flurry of fighting. Numerous figures are posed ready to strike, most of them are holding onto weapons. The two principal figures, made obvious by their scale in proportion by the surrounding figures, have their hands clapsed around a weapon. Durga is identified by how she is mounting a lion. Her strength and tenacity can also inferred by this as she is able to tame a fierce lion and make it in her vehicle.  Most of the figures are closer to her as well, implying a clear support of her cause. The other figure, an ox demon, who is much larger than Durga is attempting to run away, as seen from the direction of his feet. The scale of Durga is much smaller than that of the Ox Demon. Through this, the sculptor further reinforces Durga's strength and power as a goddess. The relief sculpture features a one-point perspective that shows how Durga is advancing on the ox-demon. From her position above the base of the relief, she appears to be on a higher level compared to the ox-demon whose feet is firmly on the ground. It is also a deeply carved relief as seen by how the figures protude and raised from the surface of the granite wall. Great detail and care is also given to the relief sculpture which can be seen by the faces which all have distinctive features.
(Edit) Sujatha Meegama
Nice visual analysis Samantha about the two main figures. What about the composition and the minor characters?  
(Edit) Cally Ling
  In the middle of the carvings there is a large picture of goddess warrior durga fighting and defeating the demon Buffalo Mahishasura Mardini. It's depicting a battle scene. She rides her lion which is her vehicle into battle, her lion represents power, will and determination. Mother Durga riding the lion symbolizes her mastery over all these qualities. This suggests that she protects the devotees from all directions. Mother Durga riding the lion symbolises her mastery over all these qualities. She has 10 arms that holds the weapons of the fallen male gods that failed to defeat the buffalo demon, shooting and charging at the demon. It seems like she had locked her target on the demon and he seems to be fearful of her as she advances towards him. He has body posture and turned as if he wants to escape. He hold a huge weapon but still afraid of Durga. This is to portray Durga strength. She is riding her lion, courageous and power to tame and control the lion and uses it as she pleases, going into battle. The sword that Durga holds in one of her hands symbolizes knowledge, which has the sharpness of a sword. Knowledge which is free from all doubts is symbolized by the shine of the sword. The goddess seems to be like of a higher level she seems to be jumping on the air while the demon is on the ground level as he places his feet on the ground. There is depth in the composition due to the carvings the sculptor intentionally did it so we can understand the importance of all the characters in this story. It shows Vishnu giving birth to the world while destruction is happening inside. There seems to be a clear divide at the left and the right, the right side warriors seem to be happy and victorious ! Fairly looking upwards and cheering while the demon;s troops are falling on the ground and holding the shield is fearful and retreating, It looks like the battle is happening but we obviously know who is going to emerge victorious.  
(Edit) Sujatha Meegama
Cally, this is good but is she really in the middle? Mahishasura is the name of the buffalo. I believe mardini refers to the act of defeating him. So, the goddess's full name or the relief's title is Durga Mahishasuramardini. What shows Vishnu giving birth to the world? good job but let's try to add more visual details.
(Edit) Ang Zhiting
The relief depicts a carving of a battle between 2 opposing sides, one which appears to be a half human half bull, and the other appears to be a goddess, with their respective armies around them. The sculptor has chosen to capture a pivotal moment in battle, the time when the tide has turned in favor of the goddess and the bull's army is facing defeat and the bull has taken a defensive stance against the goddess's attacks. Although he has a club in his hand, the club is not seen pointed towards towards the goddess as a sign of attack, but kept along the length of his forearm. However, the Bull's army is showing signs of defeat, with his warriors depicted in states of retreat or injury, warriors on the right appear to have fallen and their shields pointed away from battle, not facing the goddess's army. Meanwhile, the goddess's army is still going strong, with warriors holding their weapons and pointing at the opposing side.   This scene depicts power among the figures involved differently from convention. Figures that are bigger usually represent greater importance compared to the rest, but in this case the size of the Bull might represent the immensity of the obstacle that the goddess has to overcome. This is also supported with size of the goddess's warriors being of smaller stature than the Bull's. However, with the goddess atop her lion, the carver might be suggesting that size might not be a definite marker of strength, as seen in this moment where the goddess is winning the bull.   The scene of this carving is from " The death of Mashisha, the Buffalo Demon ". It tells the story of Chandika (goddess) and her attempt to defeat Mahisha (Buffalo Demon). Chandika was given a variety of weapons by different deities. A guess would be the figures on the top left of the carving are the different deities who are overseeing the battle and to bless Chandika in hopes of victory.    
(Edit) Sujatha Meegama
Lovely analysis Zhiting! Wonderful visual evidence and ideas! Please read the story of this battle between Durga and Mahishasura in the PDF calle Hindu Stories under Resources. Good job!
(Edit) Shi Teng Wong
Hi! May I ask if there is a reason for the figures on Durga's side being seemingly more plump and stout as compared to the figures on the demon's side?
(Edit) Sujatha Meegama
Good question Shi Teng! Durga received her weapons from the male gods because they couldn't defeat the buffalo demons. So, she may have received her troops from Siva. He has a group of followers called the Ganas who are small, plump dwarf-like figures. Ganas are also seen on the foundations of buildings as if supporting them. Check out the story of the goddess in the PDF called Hindu Stories under Resources.

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