Relatively small these brilliant tiny pots on the right and left of her face, a lustrous crown on the upper side and a resplendent gold necklace and other jewels under it, framing her face from all four sides, add to her beautifully sculpted face greater beauty than it would have otherwise had. Goddess Ganga ensures absolute accomplishment of the desired; correspondingly, the images of the river goddess, exactly as this marble image, are conceived as bestowing every kind of bliss on her devotees. Accordingly, of her normal two hands the artist has carved her right, as held in ‘abhaya’, the gesture granting freedom from fear, and the left, in ‘varad’, assuring accomplishment. Under the most prevalent myth in regard to Ganga’s emergence on the earth, Ganga is believed to have been released by Brahma from his kamandala – a pot with a handle and spout. Thus, a symbol of her origin, far from an auspicious motif, the pot has a very special significance in the iconography of the river goddess.
Though a subordinate divinity, Ganga has been in wider worship in the Hindu pantheon across centuries than any other divinity for besides directly worshipped almost all major Hindu rituals were accomplished only after Ganga was commemorated and a little of her water purified the mind performing a rite, the ground and the entire ambience where it was performed and the material used in performing it by sprinkling a little of her water. Since times immemorial, Ganga, from Gangotri, its origin, to the Bay of Bengal where she merges into the sea, has been the seat of numerous sages and penance-doers who, irrespective of the divinity, or the sectarian line, they dedicated their penance to, began their morning by reciting a Ganga hymn or ‘mantra’ and taking a dip into her waters believing that Ganga is the most bounteous of all goddesses and would purify them, their body and mind, and help accomplish their austerities. It is not in view of her links with Vishnu as one of his wives, Ganga is the supreme goddess of fertility, giver of riches and prosperity, and the greatest of redeemers for, besides her spiritualism, Ganga also has a manifest presence as the great river performing a bounteous role in her physical form.
As regards the inclusion of ‘makara’ – crocodile, as her mount she is seated on, this sculpture of the goddess has reflection of medieval iconography where crocodile determines her identity as Ganga. However, this form of the goddess, abounding in great divinity and aura commanding great reverence, such as her figures in medieval sculptures did not have, is widely different from its medieval counterparts. In medieval temples she was in a widely different role. She often defined in medieval architecture a temple’s entrance as its guard or doorjamb-deity. She was often sculpted on the temple’s doorjamb as carrying a parasol and as standing on the figure of a crocodile with attendants around. The Puranas talk of Ganga’s unparalleled beauty as a celestial nymph of heaven that bewitches even Vishnu. It is this Puranic vision of her beauty that the sculptor of this statue seems to have packed into his image of the goddess. Sharp features, rounded face, highly balanced anatomy, large fingers, lustrous palms, usual ornaments : a dome-like moulded crown and heavy gold jewellery, besides her brilliant costume, all conform to the standard iconographic norms of the deity’s image. She is seated on her mount in ‘lalitasana’, a sitting posture revealing great beauty.
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.