The statue is of Dwara-devi, the celestial doorkeeper flanking temple doors. Like its presiding deity, or deities, temples had their various parts adorned with subordinate figures, mostly from the same spiritual mythology, known in the tradition as gandharvas, yakshas, kinnaras, apsaras etceteras. As these semi-divinities attended upon gods in the Indraloka, there presence in a temple, called devalaya or the abode of god, was as much relevant. Thus, in the classical tradition, a fully evolved temple was required to have its various parts adorned with them. Lesser evolved temples had at least their entrances, the main as well as those of the sanctums, adorned with the statues of these celestial beings.
This celestial nymph, reproduced here in brass, is obviously one from the clan of gandharvas, although the caster has borrowed elements of beauty and facial features from an apsara and has created his figure by blending the both. The dwarapala statues, flanking the temple doors could be either male or female. The male figures are known as dwarapala while the female as Dwara-devis. The male, almost without exception, stood in tribhanga-mudra, that is, a posture in which a figure had three curves. The female figures had rhythm blended in their form, but it only had some kind of semblance of a dance mode. A lesser evolved temple had the dwarapala or dwara-devi figures flanking on both sides of its doorjambs only towards its lower part, but the more evolved ones had two, three or even more dwarapala pairs, contained in vertically rising recessed niches. The dwarapala figures at the lower end invariably held in their hand standards, which the tradition assigned to the enshrining deity. This standard was substituted by a chanwara often at upper levels but sometimes also at the lower level. The dwara-devis rarely held a chanwara. They stood either with folded hands and in a semi-dance mode, as in this statue, or in a fully accomplished dance posture.
This wondrous specimen of brass craftsmanship represents a dwara-devi with her humbly folded hands. As suggests her superhuman form and beauty, she may also be an apsara saluting her patrons before commencing a dance. The pair of peacocks on her shoulders may be an element derived from the folk tradition. Her sharp nose, oval face with an angular chin and round cheeks, small but emotionally charged eyes, well defined eyebrows, glowing forehead, heavy but well shaped neck and ear contours are features characteristically south Indian in their style of rendering. She has on her head an elaborately incised towering crown usually associated with Vaishnava gods and goddesses. She has a tall lean figure with a slender belly and moderate hips. Her beautifully moulded breasts have been left uncovered. She is wearing only an adhovashtra, a clinging dhoti below her waist. Its upper part is tied with a heavy but beautiful girdle and the rest around her legs with an ornamented gold lace. This fully adorned statue is both, a unique work of art and an auspicious presence in the house.
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.