This 36 inch tall statue, carved out of a single log of India's finest Vangai wood of Kalakorchi region in Tamilnadu, is an excellent piece of wood-art. It is a model of a highly accomplished youthful Yakshi, a class of celestial female of Indian mythology and an ideal of beauty as conceived in ancient texts. Yakshas and Yakshis were subordinate kinds of gods like Gandharvas and Apsaras. Gandharvas were essentially the dancing and singing clan but Yakshas had multiple roles. They served best as gods' messengers. It is a Yaksha who is the hero of Meghadoot, one of the best known Indian classics, a long lyrical narrative of the great Samskrit poet Kalidasa. For a folly this Yaksha was expelled from heaven. When in exile at Ujjayani he prays 'Megha', the clouds, to carry his words to his loved wife at Amaravati, the capital of Indra. Yakshis were energetic youthful female of Indraloka singing, dancing and playing on musical instruments.
The 'Puranic' cult of 'Apsaras' and 'Yakshis' continued in India's temple architecture during the early phase of medieval era when at Khajuraho, Bhuvaneshvara, Konarka and hundreds of other places temple-exteriors were embellished using 'Apsara' and 'Yakshi' statues. Their figures represented the highest ideal of beauty and youthful vigour. This wooden masterpiece is a reminiscent of the same mythological and architectural tradition, though it has, especially in its modeling, a blend of North and South Indian art cults. The features that the artefact has been endowed with has typical South Indian character and its physical build is as much characteristic of North India. Temples of north do not have a single figure - male or female, without a form of dance. Rhythm is their essentiality. This Yakshi, though an instrumentalist, is as much in a dance move, but her dance form is more akin to South Indian Kathakali.
The statue, an example of excellent craftsmanship, represents a celestial being who appears to be both, a dancer and an accomplished instrumentalist capable of playing two instruments - a 'tanapura' and 'sarangi', simultaneously. A third - a 'mradanga' or long drum, is her third accompaniment, though she is no playing on it. The 'tanapura' one might play by a single hand but it is not so with 'sarangi'. In playing on 'sarangi' one has to apply two hands. Besides, she is not seated as is usually required in playing on these instruments. The sculptor has thus suggested her super-human status. With fine features - a sharp nose, passionately tempting cute lips, emotionally charged eyes, pointed but well shaped chin, beautifully rounded cheeks, a well defined neck and as well shaped and fascinatingly rounded breasts surmounted by finial like nipples, exceptionally proportioned figure and splendid ornamentation the Yakshi is the model of beauty. Save a sash around her shoulders and some passementeries on her waist, she wears no garments on her person but her elegant ornaments - especially the girdle around her waist and beaded laces and frills suspending from it, cover her nudity. The beaded necklace heaving upon her breasts so temptingly underlines their magic. The artist has packed with unsurpassed beauty every member of her being.
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.
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Every Woman a Goddess: The Ideals of Indian Art (Article)
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