Every part of the image has been meticulously chiseled and sensitively treated discovering distinctly skin’s every fold and a hair’s every dimension pursuing the tradition of great South Indian wood-carving and bronzes matured over centuries, and it is this adherence to a great tradition that imparts even to this contemporary work a timeless quality and high aesthetic levels of classical models rarely seen in art-works now. The presence of the great serpent Shesha revealing the divine status of the represented figure apart, her divinity more powerfully reveals in the rare composure and quality of agelessness with which the artist has vested her figure. The image has been endowed with timeless youth but not as young, youthfulness being the quality of her being, not denotative of her age : adolescence, young, advanced or old. Her vigorous youth has been conceived as timeless – transcending the scale of time. Though not for sanctum, or to ritually consecrate, or subjected to worship-rituals, the image’s divine identity is self proclaimed, and it is this spiritual fervour combined with its aesthetic quality that imparts to the image its rareness.
Providing his image with wider sectarian perspective the artist preferred carving it with broader attributes of two major sects of Hinduism : Vaishnava and Shaiva, or rather beyond both. With the great serpent Shesha, a Vaishnava ‘tilaka’ mark defining its every hood and the humanized look of each of them, not only suggesting the Great Serpent’s Vaishnava identity and links but also symbolising Vishnu’s presence, as attending upon the goddess or guarding her, and the towering Vaishnava crown, the represented divinity appears to be Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. However, the ‘tri-punda’ mark on her forehead, strictly a Shaivite attribute, suggests her Shaiva identity. In other things, especially in well swelled breasts full of milk, could be the attribute of any, in Lakshmi’s case defining abundance, and in Parvati’s, beauty and motherhood. Obviously rendered free-lance, not commissioned by any particular individual or a temple pursuing a particular sectarian line, the artist might have preferred the image’s wider acceptability and carved the divine form just as ‘Devi’, without attributing to the image any particular sect’s identity.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.