This brilliant painting from Tanjore, one of a few great centres of art in South India and an art style unlike any other art-style anywhere in the world, rendered using a lot of gold-like glistening gold foils used alternating actual gold, and coloured beads and zircons alternating rubies, emeralds, coral, pearls, diamonds … , represents goddess Lakshmi, one of the earliest deities of Vedic origin. The patron-deity of riches, prosperity and fertility the Rig-Veda itself has devoted three Suktas to the Lotus Goddess by her name as Shri. She is as much significant a goddess in the Buddhist and Jain Orders and has an early anthropomorphic image form in their sectarian art. Different from her Vedic perception the gender dominated cult of the Puranas not only perceived her as the goddess with an anthropomorphic image but also linked her with Vishnu as his consort accomplishing along him his cosmic act of sustaining the world and the cosmic order and balance.
The earliest of the Puranas in the Devi-Mahatmya part of the Markandeya Purana sage Markandeya perceives her as one of the aspects of the Divine Female – the Great Goddess. Simultaneous to such iconic transformation of the goddess there evolved her metaphysical form that perceived her as one of the manifest forms of the primordial female energy which is fertility and growth oriented and is generative, creative, sustaining and blissful. In her initial form that begins appearing from the third century BCE goddess Lakshmi is an independent goddess without a male counterpart – a companion, spouse or any. She has normal two arms and carries lotuses in them both. Her four-armed form, contention in regard to her gender-based subordination, or male dominance, and various myths such as claimed her origin from churning the ocean are later additions.
This large size image of goddess Lakshmi costumed in a rich green sari worked with gold all over the field and more lavishly over the borders and end-part, and adorned with bold ornaments crafted using large size diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, emeralds … enshrines a golden chowki embedded with precious stones diamonds in especial. Except its finial top the domelike crown that the goddess is wearing has close resemblance to the style of cap that the South Indian saints, Shaivite and Vaishnavite, have been represented as wearing in sculptures and paintings. The goddess has been represented as seated against a richly decorated huge bolster. The chowki, the goddess is seated on, has been raised over four legs modelled like owls. The mount of goddess Lakshmi the artist has used for her seat the owls’ like designed legs. As owl is her mount the owl-legs for her seat acquire greater significance. Her seat is laid under a tower raised over broad gold-plated columns beautifully embellished with rubies, emeralds and pearls and topped by peacock motifs – the stylized dancing peacocks. The superstructure over the tower’s arched opening consists of a flattish central dome and an onion-dome with an elaborate finial styled like a finial over a mosque flank it on either side. In totality the structure is very close to Gopura architecture in a South Indian Hindu temple. A feature characteristic to South Indian architecture, especially the face of a temple, in the centre of the superstructure there is a Kirttimukha motif, the symbol of auspicious and general weal.
For defining Lakshmi, the Lotus Goddess, the artist has enormously used lotuses in portraying her figure. Besides the two lotuses that she is carrying in two of her four hands the Vaijayanti – the long garland of fresh flowers trailing down to seat’s floor, also consists of lotuses, not of Parijata flowers a Vaijayanti is usually made from. The cushion laid over her seat under her has a lotus fringe and the arches of the tower’s opening she is seated under are also adorned with lotuses or lotuses-like designed edging. Even the mode of sitting as cross-legged is known in the iconographic tradition as ‘padmasana’ – lotus position. Her feet dyed in reddish pink has lotus-like glow. Besides her two upper hands that carry lotuses, with her normal right hand she is granting ‘abhaya’ – freedom from fear, and with her normal left, varada – liberation. The goddess has a round face a bit angular towards the chin, large wide open eyes with bold eyebrows, well-fed cheeks, well-defined nose and small cute lips. Against a red backdrop the goddess’s golden complexion and her brilliant jewels radiate with far greater lustre.