This brass-statue of a normal two-armed celestial woman abounding in timeless youth and unfading beauty installed on a tall lotus pedestal represents Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s consort and the goddess manifesting riches, fertility, abundance, prosperity, success and accomplishment, and sustenance as also represented ultimate beauty and absolute womanhood. Lakshmi is known by many names : Shri, Padmavati, Kamala, Dharini, Vaishnavi, Narayani … and variants like Gajalakshmi, when she is represented with a pair of white elephants bathing her with milk brought in golden pots from Kshirasagara, the ocean of milk; however, the iconographic traditions of all such forms perceive her as four or even multi-armed carrying invariably in two of them lotuses.
With its three Suktas devoted to Lakshmi, though by her name as Shri,
Lakshmi being a later addition, , the Rig-Veda is the earliest text to
allude to Lakshmi. The Rig-Veda perceives Shri as equaling an army
well accomplished with horses, chariots, elephants … and considers a
house as the most blessed if Shri makes it her perpetual abode.
Obviously the Rig-Veda associates Lakshmi with riches and abundance
but says nothing expressly about her anatomy or form. The
Atharva-Veda, subsequent to the Rig-Veda, hails her as large-breasted
full of milk capable of feeding the universe and becomes the earliest
text to allude to an aspect of Lakshmi’s anatomy. The ‘Devi-Mahatmya’
in Markandeya Purana that perceives her as one of the three
manifestations of the Devi by the name of Mahalakshmi, Lakshmi’s
initial form, provides a more elaborate vision of her. It perceives
her as the goddess of battlefield carrying a number of attributes and
thus visualizes, not manifestly but suggestively, her multi-armed
form. The Rig-Vedic Lakshmi, the goddess by invocation, is mythicized
into a role in Devi-Mahatmya.
Lakshmi’s personalized form, not the deity’s or the feeding mother’s,
emerges in Vishnu Purana like later texts where she stands in relation
to Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of the universe, as his humble consort
massaging his feet and serving upon him, a fully domesticated form
almost completely concretized into passivity as representing riches,
abundance, fertility … that Lord Vishnu uses in his act of sustaining
and upholding creation. Again as before, such texts do not mention, at
least expressly, as to the number of hands that this normal wife of
Vishnu had but as a normal woman should have in this new form
Lakshmi’s anatomy has been visualized with normal two hands. Endowed
with great aesthetic charm and oceans of wealth the most devoted coy
consort of Vishnu perpetually engaged in massaging his feet is usually
the common man's image of Lakshmi and is usually two-armed. Thus,
while a multi-armed forms represent her votive image – the deity-form,
the normal two-armed, aesthetic and personal.
Apart the great divine aura, unfading beauty and timeless youth, the
attributes that texts associate with Lakshmi as the essence of her
being, which this statue of the goddess manifests, her towering
Vaishnava crown, ‘makara-kundalas’ – ear-ornaments, that she is
wearing, both essentially the attributes of Vaishnava icons, and
prevalence of lotus element, one being held by her in her left hand,
and other, as her seat being pervaded by her, reveal the identity of
the represented figure as goddess Lakshmi. The Rig-Veda lauds her as
‘hiranya-kaya’ – gold-bodied; in every exactness her figure in the
statue abounds in the same golden lustre further magnified by the
colour of her wear, magenta, a mystique in colours as blending into
any it transforms it into another, the same as would the goddess when
she blesses any with her presence. Normally her two-armed aesthetic
image is her personalized form manifesting when she is with her Lord
Vishnu serving upon him or otherwise; however, such personal aspect of
the image has been as powerfully revealed in the poise of her figure :
completely informal, romantically postured and sensuously modeled.
Highly innovative, the artist has conceived her waistband with a
buckle consisting of elephant-trunks, an essential element of her
imagery it further emphasizes her identity as Lakshmi and, perhaps,
also her Gaja-Lakshmi form.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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