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In Indian traditions, myths, legends, rituals, rhetorics, metaphysics and all modes of worship, Goddess Durga seated on a lion represents the Adi Shakti, the proto energy including all forms of vitality, strength, might, force, dynamism and all operative faculties. Hence, she is invoked for regaining strength, fresh vigor and new vitality. It is popularly believed, and the renowned Hindi poet Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala' gave it literary credibility in his 'Ram Ki Shakti Puja', that Lord Rama, before confronting Ravana in the battlefield, worshipped and invoked Goddess Durga. The next day, on Vijaya-Dashmi, he defeated Ravana.
She was the prime deity of the Maratha warrior Shivaji, her constant worshipper, particularly before proceeding to a battle. The Sikh's tenth Guru Gobind Singh, despite that Sikhism disallowed idol worship, invoked her and wrote in Her praise his known poem Chandi-di-Var. She was the inspiration of revolutionaries of Indian Freedom Movement. It is said that Bankim Chand Chatterjee, when he wrote the vande matram, one of India's two National anthems, had in his imagination the vision of Durga. The famous revolutionary Arvindo Ghosh presented to people Durga's image as the vision of Bharat Mata.
Durga is worshipped in multiple aspects. Here her sublime form riding a lion represents her Shakti-roop. In scriptures She has been alluded to as having variedly four, eight, ten and twenty arms. Here, she has been represented as ashta-bhuja-dhari, in Her eight armed form. As has the scriptural tradition, She was created with attributes and weapons of various gods. Hence, in visual traditions She has been depicted alike with attributes of multiple gods. In this beautiful painting She has the lotus, mace, wheel and conch of Lord Vishnu, sword and bow of Vishnu's various incarnations, the trident of Shiva and Her own abhaya, the assurance of benevolence to all.
In her other aspect She is Lakshmi, the goddess of riches and fertility. She has been hence richly bejeweled and costumed. The two trays containing newly sprouting plants symbolize new crop. In the Rigveda She as been alluded to as Ambhrini, the cosmic source, widely symbolized as kalasha or the pot. The artist has used the pot to symbolize Her cosmic role. Incidentally the shrine has just eight lamps, the number of her arms. Here the artist has sought to equalize both as instruments of the world's enlightenment.
The four figures, one a princess and the other three her attendants, are worshipping the Goddess. The princess, distinguished by her richer costume, ornamentation and elegance, is performing arti, whereas one of the three maids is holding a tray with flowers and candle and other two are beating a drum and a bronze plate, the traditional musical instruments. A tray with sweet and fruits is laid on a chawki and a lamp, incense and other articles used traditionally in the worship of Goddess Durga lie on the pedestal. Features of the figures, body proportions, figurative grace and the maturity of execution remind one of 18th century Kangra painting.
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.