A monotone composition the colour of gracious gold. It comes from the pure brass make of the sculpture, which depicts a handsome apsara overflowing with youth and beauty. Clad in an ornately embroidered dhoti and a skimpy bustier that, by clinging to her fecund curves, reveals rather than conceals her shape, she is engaged in a particularly important activity.
In the palm of her left hand she cradles a parrot. It is a messenger from a source of great value to her. It could be deduced from the solemn and steady gaze upon the brow of the apsara as she cranes her neck to listen to its every word. The stance of the gorgeously plumaged creature equals the gravity of the beauteous recipient.
From the lotus plinth of multiple tiers to the snakeskin bark of the tree under which she stands, the artisan has introduced a complex, eclectic level of detail to every aspect of the composition. In keeping with the norm of such sculptures, a miniature version of the great big beauty is poised at her feet.
One of the most popular forms of ‘nayikas’ or ‘apsaras’ – celestial nymphs, adorning the brackets supporting the eaves or any of the projections, or those on the friezes or wall-spaces of early Khajuraho or Konark like sculpted temples, or royal abodes of medieval chiefs, the romantically poised figure of the fascinating youthful maiden looking into the eyes of her pet, a parrot, perching on her hand, represents the lady in love separated temporarily from her lover. The statue essentially illustrates a ‘nayika’, a class of women in love under the ancient ‘Nayika-bheda’ cult – a literary tradition having its roots in early literature of around fourth-third century B. C. Most of the class of such sculptures are identified in the tradition of art as ‘Shala-bhanjikas’. They are rendered romantically poised and a tree-form is invariably one of such imagery’s components.
What appears a simple ornate brass-cast of a young lady holding a parrot on her hand, the statue reveals not merely a meaning or the lady’s state of mind but a tale of woes that a young heart in agony undergoes when her lover is away from her. Difficult to pass her time without her loved one the newly wed young damsel has befriended a parrot as her substitute of him. While conversing with the bird she seems to lodge with it all her complaints and all her grievances that she had against him, reproaching him, perhaps, for his act of deserting her, even temporarily, in the season of Spring when even the stumps of trees are bursting with flowers and the arrows of the love-god Kamadeva are the ever-most piercing. She has the best of her ornaments and far more luxurious costume on her person but without the loved one with her they only bite her with more piercing stings.
Lavishly bejeweled from head to toe : hair-ornaments, ear-rings, necklaces, shoulder-plates, armlets, bracelets, bangles, girdle and waistbands, anklets, ornaments for feet…, and clad in a gorgeous antariya – lower wear, adorned with frills and floral design-patterns and as beautifully ornamented breast-band, the young damsel, with her pet on her left palm, is poised against the trunk of a branchless tree. The arrogant bird, perhaps the male, greedy of her youth and beauty, seems to aggressively mount over her pushing her to lean on the tree-trunk seeking its support by her right hand. Almost when its beak reached her lips she twisted her figure, though instead of angering the bird’s mischief only reminded her of her love and saddened her. Now lost in reveries she has descended into herself with her half-shut eyes and sad face.
The tree-form is far more meaningful and interesting than the mere background. Besides the queerly looking horse-head like shaped middle part of the tree the ‘nayika’ seeks support on – a highly interesting thing to see in a tree, it is bursting with beautiful flowers though it is bereft of leaves, branches or twigs. It is symbolic of the height of Spring when Kamadeva generates ‘kama’, a feeling of love, in all, irrespective of their age or anything. The artist conceived it for suggesting that nayika’s agony of love was far deeper than bearable. A tiny female figure on the bottom is also noticeable. In early nayika-sculptures inclusion of such icons of attendants around the feet of the main ‘nayika’ figure was a usual feature. However, typical to this brass-cast : obviously rendered pursuing early medieval models, the bottom figure seems to be a repeat form, the reverse of the main ‘nayika’ image. Except that it is on the left arm that she is supporting her figure against the tree, in the figure’s anatomy, kind of ‘stana-pata’, hair-style and body posture the two figures appear to be identical.
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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