Padma Purana and other texts narrate how once enraged by the conduct of Vishnu Lakshmi had deserted him and it was only after ages of repentance and wandering that the two were re-united, though that too, spiritually. As it goes, once all holy men were deeply divided on the issue as to who among the Great Trinity was supreme. They deputed sage Bhragu to finally decide the matter. Before reaching a conclusion Sage Bhragu wanted to know the views of Trinity too, and hence he decided to go to them all : Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, though only to his disappointment. He first went to Shiva, but engaged with Parvati in making love he did not even notice him; Brahma’s behaviour was full of arrogance; and, he found Vishnu deep in sleep. Unable to contain himself the sage hit Vishnu on his chest.
The blow awoke Vishnu but it did not infuriate him; he rather apologized for being asleep. Lakshmi was lying on Vishnu’s left. She felt disgraced not so much by the rudeness of the sage but by Vishnu’s humility. She hence deserted him and left his abode. Separation bit Vishnu; he too, hence, left Vaikuntha and came to the earth in Lakshmi’s search. Repenting for his wrong and pining for Lakshmi he passed many ages. One day he realised as if a lotus was sprouting within his heart. Soon it transformed into the Lakshmi’s form and thus the two, Lakshmi and Vishnu, were re-united. This transformation of lotus into Lakshmi and her realisation within Vishnu’s heart is seen as the emergence of Padmavati.
Padmavati’s images, seated or standing, usually enshrining a sanctum independent of Vishnu, are considered as the most sacred, though of them those standing are more popular in the South Indian worship cult. In the aesthetic tradition Prabhavali is seen as symbolic representation of sanctum, which in wider context is symbolic of the cosmos, and the goddess enshrining it, as pervading the cosmos by her presence. In view of her deep association with lotus, Padmavati’s figure is conceived as red complexioned glowing like gold and with rare beauty and timeless youth. Padmavati, a manifestation of Lakshmi or rather her re-emergence in the form of Padmavati, is the most widely worshipped divinity in the country’s southern part.
This statue of the goddess, consecrated on a moderately elevated rectangular lotus base, is a blend of wood-carving and painting, the typical South Indian cult of discovering the anatomy of a figure by sculpting, and its beauty, lustre and other effects, by painting. The goddess has been represented as standing over a large full blooming lotus with a Prabhavali around. The symbolic thrust of the icon is obvious. The goddess with lotus under her feet, that is, all constituents of cosmos under her command, enshrining the Prabhavali, the manifest form of the cosmos, is perceived as pervading it along all known and unknown spaces, and as manifesting the supreme divine power. The character of Prabhavali : forms of vines, leaves, tree-stump and stylized birds, and broad iconic features of the goddess : style of nose, eyes, lips, round face and rounded cheeks, are typical characteristics of South Indian art. In modeling of form, plasticity, proportion and aestheticism the deity figure is outstanding.
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.