This is an image of the goddess Durga. She is shown in a triumphant pose as the slayer of the buffalo demon, Mahisha. Durga is a manifestation of the Goddess, who can also appear as the consort Parvati or as a destructive figure Kali. Durga is a powerful manifestation of Parvati and as such appears on her own rather than as a consort of Shiva.
Durga appeared when the gods were unable to subdue a demon who was threatening the entire world. Individually, the gods were unable to defeat the demon. They summoned Durga and gave her all their weapons. The battle went on and on, prolonged by the fact that Mahisha continually changed shapes. Finally, Durga was able to cut off his head as the demon emerged from a buffalo. In this scene, the struggle and violence of the combat between Goddess and demon is only subtly suggested. Durga stands victorious over the head of the buffalo, alluding to the famous story but focusing most of the viewers’ attention on the powerful goddess herself.
In Hindu imagery, many divine figures are often portrayed with their vehicles, animals associated with them such as the eagle Garuda earlier seen portrayed with the god Vishnu. In the visual arts, gods’ vehicles will often be seen to physically support and transport them. In this sculpture, as well as in other South Indian renditions of the subject, the artist has creatively subverted the idea of vehicle to create a deft suggestion of a mythic story, using a basic iconographic device.