Mahishasura's father Rambha was king of the asuras, and he once fell in love with Princess Mahishi, 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).
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The two demon brothers Rambh and Karambh came on the throne of the Underworld. Their Mother Danu instructed them to do penance and obtain desired boons. Hence, Rambh and Karambh did penance to please Agni and Varun (Fire/Water) respectively. Rambh started doing penance in Agni chakra whereas Karambh was being half immersed in river water while doing penance. Lord Indra took disguise of a crocodile and killed Karambh, while Rambh successfully completed his penance. Rambh received a boon from Agni. This boon would allow him to obtain an extremely powerful son, who would rule over the three worlds in this universe. Rambh fell in love with Mahishi (buffalo woman) and married her. Mahishi soon became pregnant. Once her lover, a Mahish, tried to abduct her. Rambh came in forefront to protect his wife. Rambh 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. Hence, 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), the demon Mahishasur obtained a boon from Lord Brahma indicating 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 severe battle began, the heavenly army failed to kill Mahishasur's army, Mahishasur's army was so powerful and strong, Mahishasur defeated Indra by obtaining the heavens. All Gods went to Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu to destroy Mahishasur. 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 tiger 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 discus, Brahma a waterpot and rosary, Marut gave her a bow and arrow, Indra gave her a thunderbolt, Wind God gave her a conch shell, Fire God gave her a spear, Rain God gave her a conch shell, 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 Wind God gave her a noose. She also rides on a tiger as her vehicle that King Himavan had given her. The Gods kindly asked her to destroy the evil demon Mahishasur, Lord Vishnu gave her the name of Goddess Durga. 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. That shake echoed throughout the skies and the seas trembled as the Goddess descended on earth, the Gods and sages beheld the Supreme Goddess. The demon King was terrified and ordered his enoumous army to attack the one who makes the storming sound. Goddess Durga on her tiger saw the uncountable army of demons. Ugrasen came with 60,000 chariots, Chixsur came with one million horsemen, Vidhan came with one hundred soldiers and Vashkaal came with countless demons. Demons of Mahishasur saw Durga, the voice of her roar, the twang of her bow string echoed throughout the heavens to hell, the feet sinking to the netherworld, the crown kissing the skies and the thousand hands filled with weapons filled the sky in all directions. The furious war began with Durga and the demons attacking each other with opposite weapons. All bad weapons each demon warrior uses, all of the opposite weapons of Durga strikes the demon weapon and then breaks, this went on for quite some time. The demons then attacked her with a rain of arrows. About one hundred arrows flew up in the sky. Durga used the same number of arrows and then, the demon arrows were broke by Durga's opposite arrows. Again, this went on for quite some time. Durga almost used all of her weapons like the trident, mace, discus, arrow, shield, sword, scimitar, battle-axe, weapon made out of thorns, spear, longsword, vajra, spade, baton, beating stick, cleaver, thunderbolt and javelin. Which stabbed the demons real hard, some of them were beheaded, bruised and beaten with a beating stick. The demons fought the Goddess with their finest weapons like javelin, dagger, scythe, spear, pestle, sword and battle-axe but all of those demon weapons have been smashed to pieces, nooses has been flung at the Goddess. Durga counter-weapons of demons by raining her own weapons which she has rained earlier. The tiger of Durga himself, with his paws and claws, managed to trample some or half of the unhurt demons by striking them with his paws, scratching them with his claws, ripping off their heads, make their armless, legless, headless, choking them, stabbing their chests, drinking their blood, breaking their bones, breaking their necks, twisting their hands and legs, swinging them away and doing more worse things to them. Durga can see that her tiger was a great demon-fighting warrior and congratulated him. But there were still the army of one hundred demon soldiers and countless demons, Durga created the same number of good male warriors and female warriors too. They were all holding weapons like a trident, mace, discus, arrow, shield, sword, scimitar, battle-axe, weapon made out of thorns, spear, longsword, vajra, spade, baton, beating stick, cleaver, thunderbolt and javelin etc. The warriors of Durga managed to fight the rest of the endless demon army of Ugrasen, Vashkaal, Chixsur and Vidhan. As a celebration for the victory of Durga's army, they started dancing, singing, playing the drums, flutes, sitars and many more. Durga pinned down demons with her weapons like trident, mace, sword and spear. Durga killed them by ringing her strong, mighty bell and dragged some of them with her noose. Many were beheaded by the Goddess and got smashed by her mighty mace. Some got crushed by pestle and their chests were torn by the Goddess's trident. Many got pierced by the Goddess's arrows and breathed their last breath. Many decapitated demons rose and tried to fight with the Goddess. Many decapitated demons rose and began to dance at the beats of the instruments played by the Goddess's soldiers. Many decapitated demons yelled and again fought the Goddess Durga with their finest weapons. Heaps of the corpses of the demons, slain elephants, horses, demons, wrecked chariots, and the demons' blood of river flowed. As fire reduced twigs and leaves into ashes, likewise Durga destroyed the imperial army of Mahishasur with the help of her tiger within minutes. All Gods, saints, sages, celestial beings, Yakshs, Yakshinis, men, women and children paid gratitude to Goddess Durga for the killing of Mahishasur's demon army. The remaining 17 demon men of Mahishasur, Chixsur, Chamar, Ugrasen, Utpal, Vidal, Vidhan, Ugravirya, Tamra, Trinetra, Udagrasur, Karalasur, Vashkaal, Durdhara, Mahahanu, Ugrasya, Baskalasur, Udyatarasur, Virlaxa and Durmukh were all generals, Durga killed altogether the 17 generals with her weapon made out of thorns, spear, longsword, vajra, spade, baton, beating stick, cleaver, javelin, trident, mace, sword, scimitar, arrow, thunderbolt and battle-axe which somewhat beheaded them and were stabbed crucially. For her counterattacks, she had managed to dispatch the four-fold demon infantries with her tiger and other demons, he sucked out of the remaining life of the demons by blowing them in one strike. She rained arrows at Udagra, Asilom, Parivarita, Virhalax and Vaskalasur as drivers of the endless number of chariots. Now, Mahishasur was the last demon to enter the battlefield. He fought Durga with his different weapons. Once again, all bad weapons he uses, all of the opposite weapons of Durga strikes the demon weapon and then breaks, this went on for quite some time. The demon then attacked her with a rain of arrows. About one hundred arrows flew up in the sky. Durga used the same number of arrows and then, the demon arrows were broke by Durga's opposite arrows. Again, this went on for quite some time. After that, He kept changing many forms like a lion, warrior, buffalo, elephant. Goddess Chandika killed his various forms by using scimitar, sword etc. Later, Mahishasur again obtained the form of a buffalo and attacked Durga with trees, rocks, boulders and mountains. But Durga had managed to destroy them all. At last, the Goddess drank water from her cup and announced to Mahishasur that she will kill him. On hearing this, Durga this time, managed to trample the buffalo with her tiger. Mahishasur comes out of the buffalo's mouth, he tries to kill the Goddess with his sword, Durga stabbed his body with her trident. All Gods, saints, sages, celestial beings, Yakshs, Yakshinis, men, women and children paid gratitude and started to do a prayer ritual to her.
Mahishi (Mahishasur's Sister) - His Sister
In Kerala there is a story about his sister 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. She was the sister of Mahishasura who was adopted by his uncle. She had obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that only the son of Shiva and Vishnu could kill her. The main aim of her life was to destroy Goddess Parvati, who's incarnation Kathyayani aka Durga had killed her darling brother. Out of Shiva's and Vishnu's union was born Lord Ayyappan. 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 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 fought 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