Mahishasura's father Rambha was king of the asuras, and he once fell in love with Princess Shyamala, who was cursed to be a water buffalo; Mahishasura was born out of this union. He is, therefore, able to change between human and buffalo form at will (mahisha is Sanskrit word for buffalo).
After the death of Tarakasur by Shiva's son Kartikeya, the demon brothers Rambh and Karambh came to the throne of the netherland. Their mother, Danu, instructed them to do penance and obtain desired boons. Hence, Rambh and Karambh did penance to please Agni (Fire God) and Varun (Water God) respectively. Rambh started doing penance in Agni chakra whereas Karambh was half immersed in river water while doing penance. Lord Indra disguises as a crocodile and killed Karambh while Rambh successfully completed his penance and got a boon from Agni that he will obtain an extremely powerful son, who will rule over the three worlds in this universe. Rambh fell in love with Mahishi (buffalo woman) and married her. Mahishi soon got pregnant by Rambh. Once her lover, a Mahish, tried to abduct her. Rambh came in to protect his wife but was killed by the Mahish. In the cremation process of Rambh, Mahishi jumped into the fire, to sacrifice her life to express her love for her husband. Hence, Yama was stopped from taking away the soul of Rambh and Rambh got retained into the womb of Mahishi.
From the cremation fire, emerged two demons namely Raktabeej (rebirth of Rambh) and Mahishasur (the child of Rambh). Mahishasur obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that no man will kill him, he gathered strong powers from Lord Brahma as a reward for his penance. Mahishasur also gathered a large demon army to win for the heavens. In heaven, Indra learnt about the boon that Mahishasur got from Lord Brahma, he sent in a large heavenly army, Mahishasur came to the battlefield with his army as well with Indra's. The demons were chanting for Mahishasur while the heavenly army was chanting for Indra. Indra warned Mahishasur to go back where he belongs, Mahishasur didn't want to. A battle began, the heavenly army failed to kill Mahishasur's army. Mahishasur defeated Indra by obtaining the heavens. All Gods went to Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu to destroy the demons.
After the Gods' request to destroy the demons, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu assembled forth together and from their anger emerged rays of light were combined onto other flames with other Gods have lost their anger. The rays of light were combined onto other flames as well. The rays of light issued forth together and took shape of a woman. The lady had a fair complexion, locked black hairs and wearing an old dress, all Gods presented her with new red clothes, jewelry, a crown, a lion for her vehicle, weapons, makeup and many others. The lady put on makeup to make herself look pretty, she had uncountable hands. Shiva gave her a trident, Vishnu gave her a mace, Brahma gave her a bow and arrow, Indra gave her a thunderbolt, Wind God gave her a conch shell, Fire God gave her a bell, Rain God gave her a container of blood, Sun God gave her his powers of the bright 10,000 suns inside her most powerful body, Rudra and Veerbhadra both gave her a shield, sword and scimitar, Lord Yama gave her a lasso, Vishwakarma and Kuber gives a battle-axe, lotus, weapon made out of thorns, spear, longsword, vajra, spade, baton, beating stick, cleaver, javelin, snake and many others. She also rides on a lion as her vehicle. The Gods kindly asked her to destroy the evil demons, Lord Vishnu gave her the name of Goddess Chandika. By hearing this name, she spoke out to the Gods that she will annihilate the evils in many forms.
She caused trouble for the demons by making the three worlds shake, even the heavens and the hell. The demon King was terrified and ordered his enoumous army to attack the one who makes the storming sound. Goddess Chandika on her lion saw the uncountable army of demons. Ugrasen came with 60,000 chariots, Shichsur came with one million horsemen, Vidhan came with one hundred soldiers and Vashkaal came with countless demons. The demons started to attack Chandika. On seeing the huge demon army, the lion attacked them first, Chandika used her spear to pierce the demon's chest. Later, Goddess Chandika created many warriors. The furious war began with the warriors of Chandika wiping the demonic hoardes out one by one. By then, all demons of Mahishasur were wiped out.
Finally, the demons were killed. Chandika's soldiers celebrated their victory by dancing, singing, playing the drums, flutes, sitars and many more. All Gods, saints, sages, celestial beings, Yakshs, Yakshinis, men, women and children paid gratitude to Goddess Chandika. After the death of the demon army of Mahishasur, Chixsur was furious and came in forefront to battle the Goddess, he attacked the Goddess with a rain of arrows, Chandika counter attacked by raining her own arrows on Chixsur. His arrows were broke into pieces and his bow string was snapped. Then, he used a devil's trident, Chandika used her angelic trident and broke Chixsur's demon trident and Chandika killed him with her trident. She managed to deploy Chixsur's charioteers, horsemen and demon men. Chamara came to battle Chandika on an elephant, he attacked the Goddess with a rain of arrows. The Lion God and Chandika both leapt in the sky and had a wrestling match, the Lion God managed to claw his head off. Chandika slapped Udayagasur across his face. She killed Udagrasur by punching, hitting, hurling boulders at him and biting, killed Karalasur with her sword, decapitated Baskalasur with thunderbolt, battered Udyatarasur with sword. The Supreme Goddess fell down Ugrasya, Mahahanu and Ugravirya with her battle-axe. Punched Virlaxa in the stomach, kicked Durmukh and bit Durdhara in the hand, sending them to hell. Mahishasur was the last demon to enter the battlefield, he failed to battle with Goddess without using his supernatural powers, which he had to use. He kept changing form from lion, warrior, buffalo, elephant, goblin, wizard. Goddess Chandika killed his various forms by using scimitar, sword etc.
Later, Mahishasur again obtained the form of a buffalo and attacked Chandika with trees, rocks, boulders and mountains. But Chandika has destroyed them all. At last, the Goddess drank water from her cup and announced: O you fool, hypocrite, crook, felon, clown, vile person, evil, stupid, foolish, sinner, tyrant, wicked person, atrocious creature! I hereby shall drink the water and when I will therefore kill you, Gods will scream out in happiness and nobody will be able to protect you now because your entire demon armies, relatives and friends are no more. You will fight me ALONE!!! On hearing this, Chandika transformed into Durga (with ten arms, not eighteen) and fought Mahishasur with different weapons and she finally killed Mahishasur with her trident. The remaining demon Bidalaksh and few demons ran away after the victory of Durga. After killing Mahishasur, the Gods cried in joy and played flutes, drums, sitars and rang bells, they also did a veneration to the Goddess to their victory for killing Mahishasur. Chandika (Durga) became very happy, the Gods tossed flowers at her and sang the Mahishasur Mardini song to the Goddess.
After hearing the songs, Durga promised the Gods that she will be back at anytime, anywhere and at anyplace, before leaving, she enlightened the Gods about destiny and karma and how she appears in many forms to her devotees. Durga was merged into Parvati's body to manifest as her next incarnation to kill Shumbh and Nishumbh.
Mahishi- his wife
In Kerala there is a story about his wife mahishi. After the death of mahishasura, mahishi-the asura princess took the throne and continued the war against gods. she was with the head of female buffalo. lord ayyappan while his journey to forest for tigermilk killed this mahishi. so ayyappa is termed as mahishimardaka
During several future battles, Durga appears in her incarnation of Kali; particularly while fighting Raktabija (Rambha reborn), who has the magic boon that every drop of blood shed from his body give rise to another Raktabija (literally the blood borne). Here, Kali rolls out her giant tongue and drinks up all the blood before it falls to the earth.
According to another philosopical legend, Mahishasura was not as evil as his popular portrayal. He was a one of the greatest devotees of mata Shakti Durga. Devi is mother of all. She is the power which drives the Universe Kalika Purana. When she saw her greatest creation Devas are becoming corrupted by their endless power, she summoned her greatest devotee and gave him power to defeat Devas. Devi wanted to teach devas a lesson and bring them back from verge of fall.She asked Mahishasura that if he worship her in form of Enemy then he will gain the Punya of his thousand life of devotion. Mahishasura agreed and took birth as a demon. He was powerful by devi Durga's power from beginning.But he gained a boon from Brahma that made him invulnerable to men of any species. When devas tried to fight Mahishasura they realized that he alone has the power of all of them. Their powers lost its specialty against him as he withheld power of Devi Durga. Defeated they ran here and there for hundreds of years and understood that they were nothing without their power Shakti. So they met together and put all their specialty and power together. From this power Devi Durga took form (Remember she is Adya Shakti Devas did not created her they just summoned her). Devas worshiped Devi Durga and she promised them to give their heaven back. When Mahishasura saw her he understood that he can never win against her. But he kept his Ashura dharam and fight her with all his power.At the end when he took a Muscular and handsome man form Devi caught him with her pash (A magical rope) and pierced his heart with trident. Before dying the Asura worshiped Goddess Durga and Devi granted him a boon that he will be worshiped with her till end of time. So whenever we see Devi durga is being worshiped we also see Mahishasura is standing under her feet pierced by trident at chest, towards goddess feet.
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- Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions, David Kinsley. (ISBN 81-208-0379-5)
- Mahishasura Mardini Stotram (Prayer to the Goddess who killed Mahishasura), Sri Sri Sri Shankara Bhagavatpadacharya