This magnificent brass-statue with more significant parts plated for special effects and richness revealing unearthly grandeur represents the four-armed river goddess Ganga. Almost flags’ like, the goddess is carrying in her upper hands two ‘purna-ghatas’ held over full-blooming lotuses. ‘Purna-ghata’, a pot with a lotus and coconut on its top, representing space, the pot’s containing power, all three cosmic elemental regions : the earth, water and the sky, that the lotus comprises, and fruition, the coconut stands for, symbolises absolute accomplishment that the river goddess Ganga grants. In the corresponding spirit of the image, the artist has cast one of the goddess’s normal two hands as held in ‘abhaya’, the gesture granting freedom from fear, and the other, in ‘varad’, the posture assuring accomplishment. Under her left arm she is holding a downwards turned pot releasing waters from it defining the river goddess Ganga’s main attribute of bringing to the earth the heaven’s holy waters.
A host of the followers of Ganga cult : great sages and others, across centuries, commemorating her ‘mantra’ – sacred hymn, observing austerities and performing penance around her banks, from Gangotri, its origin, to the Bay of Bengal where Ganga joins the sea, contend that Ganga is the most bounteous of all goddesses and generous in granting her boons. Not as one of Vishnu’s three wives, the other two being Lakshmi and Saraswati, and irrespective of all trifling myths in her regard, Ganga is the supreme goddess of fertility, giver of riches and prosperity, and the greatest of redeemers. Of all divinities Ganga alone has a spiritual as well as manifest presence performing her divine role also in her physical form. In the event of her descent she not only brings to the earth the heaven’s bounties and her own power to redeem but also the riches of the sea that she joins.
Scientifically interpreting the followers of the Ganga-cult contend that monsoons that rise from the Bay of Bengal, the most vital for the entire north and east, are Ganga’s bounties : Ganga’s return to the earth with her own and with the ocean’s riches. The sculptures of Goddess Ganga, though invariably as a part of temple-architecture, the temple’s doorjamb-deities, begin pouring in from around the seventh-eighth centuries. Like Ganga, one of most beautiful celestial beings of myths, Ganga’s statues, too, in any style and from any period, abound in unsurpassed beauty. The medieval sculptors have greatly experimented with her form for revealing her celestial beauty. She is sometimes sculpted with a pot held supported on her hip under her left arm, and sometimes, with a parasol. This visual tradition continues in the goddess’s contemporary statues and paintings too, and this statue, an example of rare level of elegance, grace and beauty, attests this position.
Ganga’s medieval statues have associated with them a figure of crocodile as her mount she stands on, and a pot, sometime either of them, and sometimes, both. This statue has given priority to her iconography with pot rather than with crocodile. The medieval pot used for highlighting her deeply subdued belly : the mark of her figure’s beauty, has been used in this statue with symbolic dimensions added. Besides that it symbolises release of waters, obviously Ganga’s, it contains within some coins that conjointly constitute also a flower with coins’ like petals suggesting that fertility : entire vegetation and all, and all riches are Ganga’s bounties.
With its two halves cast in perfect symmetry, which effect the forms of the two upwards raised upper hands most powerfully reveal, the image presents a rare example of aesthetic beauty. Sharp features, face’s front revealing angularity, as do images from Nepal, highly balanced anatomy, large fingers and brilliant palms, a few selected ornaments, a crown and beautifully conceived ‘uttariya’ – upper wear, and ‘antariya’ – lower wear, with pleats defined by laces of gold, all conform to the standard iconographic norms of the deity’s image. She is seated cross-legged on a seat which is a realistically cast large size lotus.
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.