Temples & Statues of the Hindu Goddess Durga

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

A figure with ten waving arms wielding weapons. Lions and tigers. Hindu temples. What on earth do these things have in common? In this lesson, explore the Hindu Goddess Durga and some statues and temples associated with her.

Who is the Goddess Durga?

The Hindu religion is an old and complex one with many gods and goddesses, possibly none more important than the Goddess Durga. The Goddess Durga, also known as Shakti, is a very important deity, the principal goddess in the Hindu religion. She is powerful and strong, a warrior and the mother of the universe. Durga has dominion over the creation, preservation and destruction of the world. The word 'durga' is Sanskrit and it means 'fort', like a building that cannot be breached or defeated. So, Durga protects people from evil, but she can also be a source of destruction. She's not a goddess to be messed with!

Durga has a distinct appearance. She is a beautiful woman who is usually shown with multiple hands, often between 8 and 10. They might be waving in the air, many brandishing weapons and other symbolic objects. She's usually dressed in red and rides a ferocious lion or tiger.

Contemporary sculpture of the Goddess Durga. Notice her red garments and the lion she rides
Statue of Durga

Before we get to statues and temples, you should understand that in the Hindu religion, deities can have multiple incarnations. That means they can have more than one persona and they might have different names and attributes, but they trace back to one being. Durga may take the form of Kali, full of dark rage and fury, or she might be portrayed as Parvati, the loving spouse of Lord Shiva, or as one of many other incarnations.

Statues of Durga

Durga is very popular and often worshipped, and you can find many statues of her. Some of the oldest date back thousands of years and were carved as decorative elements used on the exteriors of ancient stone temples. Because she's powerful and protective, Durga is often portrayed in battle or vanquishing a foe, especially a monster of some kind.

Fragment of temple decoration showing the Goddess Durga fighting the Buffalo demon
Sculpture of Durga

Her figure might be a relief sculpture, a carving that's not completely free-standing; it could also a be a fully three-dimensional figure in colorful garments. Small statues of Durga are made of everything from cast metal to wax and plastic are available for people to purchase and have in their homes. Larger statues are worshipped in temple shrines or used during the festival of Durga Puja, which happens every fall in places of Hindu faith. The festival features Durga prominently, and celebrates good's defeat over evil.

Relief carving of Goddess Durga from Indonesia, from the 9th - 10th century
Sculpture of Durga

Temples Dedicated to Durga

Because Durga is an important and revered figured in Hindu religion, many temples dedicated to Durga and her incarnations can be found across India, and also in places like Tibet. They're built of wood and stone, carved into mountains, and at least one is actually a cave.

One of the most famous temples connected to Durga is the Vaishno Devi Temple in the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir. It sits high in the Trikuta Hills, and is one of the most important and revered pilgrimage sites in India. One of the most interesting things about the temple is that it's actually in a cave associated with a legend about Vaishno Devi, one of the incarnations of Durga who heroically resisted the advances of an amorous male follower. Unlike most temples that are elaborately decorated, the inside of this temple features natural rock formations called the Holy Pindies. Thousands of people at all times of the year make the trek to worship at Vaishno Devi Temple.

Entrance to Vaishno Devi Temple, high in the Trikuta Hills
Vaishno Devi Temple

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