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A female form unparalleled in beauty in all three worlds, Vishnu in this form bewitched not merely demons but also gods, sages and human beings and was lauded as Trailokya Mohini, the woman who deluded all three worlds by her beauty. Though Vishnu’s act was soon exposed and both gods and demons knew that Mohini was a fallacy, the Puranas immortalized the beauty of the form as Trailokya-Mohini under various names one being Tripura-Sundari, and when the concept of Mahavidyas evolved in around tenth century the Masters resorted to Vishnu’s Mohini or the Puranas’ Trailokya-Mohini or Tripura-Sundari form for innovating from it the beauteous aspect of Mahavidyas. One Mahavidya-tradition names this beauteous aspect as Sodasi, literally meaning one with ever constant sixteen years of age, that is, ever abounding in youthfulness as a woman has at sixteen, but other saw Sodasi only as a transform of Tripura-Sundari. The tradition identifying Sodasi and Tripura-Sundari as independent divinities classifies Tripura-Sundari as one of the Matrikas, and Sodasi, more often, as Tantrik deity.
The divine form that this miniature represents as seated in meditative posture over the nude figure of Shiva lying upright with a face looking upwards is broadly Tripura-Sundari, though not without a blend of a few iconographic elements also of Sodasi, especially the reflection of red, Sodasi’s body-colour, as the iron has when hot, symbolic of Sodasi’s exceptional vigour and energy. Usually Sodasi has a nude figure often represented as engaged in copulation with Shiva’s nude body, her process of drawing from Shiva – the timeless ‘ling’, her energy, vigour and youthfulness. Tripura-Sundari too has strong Shaivite links and is sometimes portrayed as seated on Shiva’s figure but not as engaged in copulation, and not even nude. This miniature portrays her as seated on Shiva’s figure and exactly over his genital part but except such position there is nothing to indicate that she is engaged in intercourse or to reveal her passionate mind or sexual desire. Besides her elegantly clad figure, the lower half being completely wrapped in an elaborate ‘antariya’, her face reveals meditative bearing – release from all desires, are the essential aspects of Tripura-Sundari, not Sodasi’s. Most importantly, in Sodasi’s iconography the emphasis is more on her youthfulness, passionate disposition and her nude form, beauty being almost incidental; in Tripura-Sundari’s form, the emphasis is on aspects like beauty, elegance and above all, the maturity revealing in her form.
Obviously, the miniature represents Tripura-Sundari, the most beauteous female of Indian mythological tradition. Puranas and theological texts hardly ever talk of her form, mode of worship or any rituals, nor a shrine, except a temple in live worship near Bhedaghat, Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh, is dedicated to her; however, in visual tradition her form has been conceived as four-armed, sitting gracefully on a majestic seat, sometimes on Shiva’s figure as in this painting, rare beauty enshrining her figure, and maturity and grace, her face. Often varying, she is carrying in her hands goad, noose, a bunch of arrows and bow-like cast rod with a string of peacock feathers, symbolic of her beauteous aspect as also of her ability to rouse desire of love. She is seated on a hexagonal chowki, the four visible corners of which the figures of Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Indra hold – an aspect almost concretized. She has been conceived with golden complexion blended with red. A round face with fine features her figure has ‘tri-netra’ – third eye on her forehead, and a crescent motif, on her headgear. Elegantly bejeweled and gracefully costumed Tripura-Sundari is seated on Shiva’s figure lying upright. A fearful cobra around his neck, dark tan body colour, as smeared with ashes, ‘tri-punda’ marks all over his figure and ‘Rudraksha’ beads on his neck, arms, wrists, waist, comprising his sole ornaments, and a ‘Rudraksha’ rosary in hand, not only reveal his identity but also his state of being : as engaged in ‘yoga’ beyond all desires.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.