A brilliant brass transform of one of the world’s best known sculptures from Khajuraho, sculpted at Parshvanatha temple, represents a young damsel applying vermilion on her hair-parting while looking into a mirror: a centuries-old distinction of a married woman in India. This image of the Indian woman represented the Indian cult of perceiving the highest beauty as revealing in the highest kind of virtue. Under Indian aesthetic norms the degree of virtue determined the level of beauty, and hence, the most beautiful was also the most virtuous and the vice-versa.
It was for such reasons that poets like Kalidasa, a Sanskrit poet of the third century of the Common Era, had no reservations in most sensuously illustrating and admiring the beauty of Parvati, the supreme mother, believing that while describing and appreciating her supreme beauty he was lauding her supreme virtue.
As such, a huge body of canonical literature with emphasis on one aspect or other emerged and classified woman as Nayika – heroines, the term used for ladies in love and with social distinctions, the theme of Indian classical literature since at least 500-400 B.C., under various types assessing the level of each one’s virtue and beauty and her love-life. This canonical literature saw in a woman’s loyalty her highest virtue and the relevance of her beauty and of adorning it. It is this model of beauty : the beauty coupled with virtue, that this brass-statue, as also its Khajuraho proto-type, represents.
A simple theme, the young lady is applying vermilion on her hair-parting while looking into a mirror as part of her make-up; the portrayal has, however, further dimensional breadth. It portrays the damsel’s beauty as also the lady endeavouring to enhance it but essentially subordinating it to virtue revealing in her loyalty. The young lady’s beauty, full of lustre and divine glow, reflecting in the mirror, seems to bewitch her and she is further making it up but all to please her lord she is wedded to, and as the symbol of this and of her dedication to him, as also to bar all other eyes to reach her, she is putting vermilion on her hair-parting.
This sculpture was created in the city of Aligarh, located in the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
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