Mahiṣa, Mahiṣāsura

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Mahiṣa, Mahiṣāsura (Skt., ‘water-buffalo’).
1. Name of a demon (asura, thus also frequently Mahiṣāsura) in the shape of a buffalo, in Hindu mythology. The classical version of the myth about the Goddess killing the demon was told in the Devīmāhātmya of the Mārkanḍeya-Purāṇa, and from there acquired pan-Indian popularity. In the text itself, the Goddess is most frequently referred to as Ambikā (‘little mother’, see AMBĀ) or Caṇḍikā (‘fierce woman’), but later iconographic traditions usually call her Mahiṣāsuramardini, ‘she who crushed the Buffalo demon’, while in religious contexts she is called Mahā-Lakṣmī.

2. By no means all images depicting a female figure associated with a water-buffalo signify this Goddess or refer to this myth. Among many images, a water-buffalo is the vāhana, ‘vehicle’, of the Hindu god Yama, the god of death, and in Mahārāṣṭra we find a goddess Yamāī riding on (or killing?) a buffalo.

3. From ancient times until recently, when for economic reasons the custom became curtailed, buffaloes have been killed in Indian villages as part of sacrifices and for the sake of eating their meat.