Lakshmi in Ardhapurusha Rupa (The Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara Form)

Lakshmi in Ardhapurusha Rupa (The Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara Form)

Item Code: HV72
Watercolor on Handmade Paper
5.3" X 3.5"
This 9 cm. wide and 13.5 cm. long miniature represents the Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara form, which comprises half of Lakshmi and half of Vishnu. The Ardhanarishvara form of Shiva has a very early and wide spread tradition both in art and literature, but the Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara forms are rare, as also late, appearing only in miniature paintings around the eighteenth century. So far only a few Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara forms have come to light. An as small Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara icon as this one has been reported from the National Museum, New Delhi, also. The late eighteenth century National Museum Ardhanarishvara is in Kashmir style. Interestingly, in these Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara forms female aspect dominates and the presence of the male attributes is far lass pronounced. This position is just opposite to Shaivite Ardhanarishvara forms; in them, male aspect dominates. In Vaishnava Ardhanarishvara forms, the presence of Vishnu, unless minutely inspected, is difficult to discover. Strangely, the genesis of Shiva's spouse in comparison to those of Vishnu's, are far more masculine and dominating, but in Ardha-nari and Ardha-purusha combination Vishnu's spouse has far greater pronounced position. This image appears to be the Ardhapurusha rupa of Lakshmi rather than the Ardhanarishvara form of Vishnu.

Undoubtedly, the theme of this miniature is Lakshmi coupled with the powers of Vishnu – his power to impart abhaya, protection, and to multiply. The left half of this icon consists of Lakshmi or Shri, and the right half of Vishnu. Except for the absence of breast on the right side, a larger eye, and bluish complexion, the anatomy and the modeling of the two parts is almost identical, and inclines more towards feminineness. In costumes, adornment and attributes the distinction is more pronounced. The right half has half Vaishnava tilaka; a sash on the shoulder, instead of a blouse; armlets and bracelets, instead of bangles; pitambara, yellow garment, instead of the red of the left; and the mace. Characteristically, the lower right hand is imparting abhaya, and the mace behind it supports this divine gesture; the lower left hand is held in varada, and the gold and silver coins flowing from it reaffirm it. Upper hands on both sides hold identical lotuses; halo, crown, locks of hair and garlands, too, are identical, except the necklace, which on the right side consists of gold, while on the left, of precious jewels. Sitting posture on the two sides is also significant. The position of the left leg reveals ease, while that on the left, readiness.

In all other things, including background, the theme centres on Lakshmi or Shri, or rather Gaja Lakshmi, the dually auspicious deity. Two white elephants flanking her on both sides and bathing her with milk are a characteristic feature of Gaja Lakshmi. Lakshmi is also the fertility incarnate, which the sugarcanes growing in the background affirm. A pot in front of Lakshmi is another element of her iconography, which an elegantly modeled lotus leaf substitutes here. The cubic graphics, with sixteen cubes each, and numbers aggregating to thirty-four counted from any side, is another feature of her auspices. This Gaja Lakshmi form emerged in Indian sculptural art around the Gupta period. The upper northeast chamber of Kuwwat-ul-Islam Mosque at Qut'b complex, New Delhi, has a Gaja Lakshmi sculpture in late Gupta style. The sculpture is part of some ancient temple the material of which was re-used in constructing the Mosque.

The artist, by combining with Lakshmi Vishnu's aspect, which imparted abhaya and multiplied any virtue or boon, created an absolutely different and far more auspicious image of the goddess of prosperity, riches, success and fertility, thinking, perhaps, it shall dually bless a house than did the auspicious image of Lakshmi.

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.

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