This excellent wood-piece, an accomplished example of South Indian sculptural art and its decorative cult, represents Padmavati, a transformation of the goddess Lakshmi, widely worshipped, independent of Vishnu, in the southern part of the country. As the mythological tradition has it, Lakshmi's form as Padmavati emerged when she re-united with Vishnu after the latter left Baikuntha searching her and settled on Tirumala hill of the Eastern Ghats. It is said that the part of the Eastern Ghats curved like the great serpent Shesh after Vishnu descended on it. Since then it became known as Sheshachala.
According to Padma Purana, for settling a dispute, sage Bhragu decided to visit Great Trio. He first went to Shiva, but busy in cajoling Parvati he did not pay attention to him. Brahma was rather rude, but Bhragu lost his temper when he found Vishnu asleep. The angry sage hit him on his chest with his leg. Vishnu, instead of punishing the sage, only apologised for being asleep. Lakshmi who was sleeping with him felt insulted and abandoned Vishnu and his Baikuntha. Unable to bear separation Vishnu also left Baikuntha and descended on the earth. After yugas, the cosmic ages, of repentance and yearning, one day Vishnu realised that like a lotus Lakshmi was sprouting within him and thus the two were re-united. This spiritual realisation of Vishnu was consecrated as Padmavati. She was thus part of Vishnu but also a divine entity by herself and is, hence worshipped with him but also independently. It is different with Lakshmi. Shrines devoted to her independently in the north are very few. In most other Vaishnava shrines, she shares sanctums with Vishnu, known as Narayana, and such shrines as Lakshmi-Narayana temples.
Like Lakshmi or Mahalakshmi, Padmavati also bestows boons and dispenses sorrows. The four-armed Padmavati, besides carrying in her right and left upper hands lotuses, holds her lower hands in abhaya and varada, the postures that grant fearlessness and bliss. This form is in exact adherence to her classical iconography, as the lotuses two in her upper hands, a larger one under her feet, and the auspicious lotus motif on her lower left palm, are primarily the attributes that distinguish her from the other forms of Lakshmi. All forms of Lakshmi are auspicious and bring prosperity, success, growth, good health, abundance and fertility, but her form as Padmavati is considered dually auspicious, as the lotus, the symbol of creativity, multiplication and purity, more emphatically associated with this form, doubles its divinity.
This 15 inch wide and five feet tall statue is unique in its artistic character and symbolic thrust. It is a microbial representation of a temple, having almost all similar members, though substituted by those from sculptural art. A lotus base, substituting temple's plinth, has been as carefully carved as its apex. The podium is carried not only on beautifully shaped and adorned columns but also the celestial chauri-bearers support it with their hands. These chauri-bearers are not treated as subordinate figures. The artist has taken as much pain in chiseling their sharp features, modelling their figures especially breasts, waists, gestures and entire anatomy, rendering ornamentation and arranging hair-style, as in rendering the main deity image.
The semi-circularly modelled platform has in its centre the lotus seat, and from its sides rises a beautiful and elaborately carved Prabhavali, the fire-arch, consisting of conventionalised but immensely delighting foliage and floral patterns. Each leaf, twig, bud and bird emerges like a wave and moves ahead. The deity figure is unique in modelling of form, plasticity, proportion and aesthetic visualisation. She has sharp features, emotionally charged face, sensually modelled breasts, narrow waist and a well-defined anatomy. Ornaments are few but elegantly rendered. Most interesting aspect of the figure is her lower garment comprising a sari. Besides the curling sash ends around the waist, it has ten plaits, each ending with a beautiful flower. The number of these plaits 'ten', is quite conspicuous. The artist might have intended to suggest that Lakshmi, by whatever name, was Vishnu-priya in all his ten incarnations.
The statue, though it pursues the form of a votive image for sanctum, is a great masterpiece, in any medium, and by any parameters, but what makes it greater is its auspicious character coupled with its aesthetic quality. The divine aura of the image is not born of its sectarian links, but of the unique emotionality and mystic quality that enshrine its face. Wherever placed or consecrated, it is capable of elevating the entire ambience by adding to it the sacredness of a sanctum and classicism of an ancient art, such as Indian. As for the believing mind, scriptures claim that homage paid to the image of Padmavati once, brought to the devotee as much bliss as brought one thousand eight commemorations of any of her hymns.