This excellent brass-cast represents Devi Padmavati in characteristic Orissa style, an art tradition which always sought its strength in its folk art forms, elements, symbols and vivacity. The prabhavali, or the fire-arch, enshrining the deity is a common feature in both Orissa and South Indian art but the Shrimukha or Kirtimukha of the type, as it is seen in this statue, is more akin to Orissa tradition. In classical Orissa iconography, figures are somewhat heavily built. Anatomy is well proportioned, but with features defined only broadly, the contours lose their significance. Though the faces are usually rounded, or with an oval thrust, appear to be semi-rounded, yet a kind of broadness, not only of faces but also of other features, mitigate their aesthetics. In characteristic Orissa tradition, the belly of the figure protrudes out of proportion. The lotus motifs, used for comprising deity's seat, rise spirally like 'shakharas' of a temple and the deity image seems to ride on them. A floral motif tops the pointed end of each lotus, which crests it like a finial on temple's shikhara. In Orissa tradition, whether of art or textile, such temple motifs are in great prevalence.
The statue represents the most evolved tradition of votive images of deity Padmavati. Being the supreme deity of riches, prosperity and fertility and by virtue of enshrining in the heart of Vishnu, the lord of three worlds, her images are usually consecrated inside a sanctum sanctorum, which is replaced and symbolised in visual arts by a lavishly laid prabhavali, or the fire-arch. They are richly bejeweled and have a high pedestal symbolic of massive high throne. In this icon, both pedestal and prabhavali, have been designed exquisitely in Orissa temple tradition, where jagati, or the base, is elaborately carved. The front side of the pedestal comprises a pentagon. Its forearm has a size double of the size of other arms. This larger arm is divided into two vertical rectangles by a beautifully carved column. Other four arms are identified by similar decorative columns. The central one has a floral creeper, two flanking it on its right and left have a different but mutually identical designing pattern and so have each two of the rest.
These seven columns constitute six vertical rectangles, which frame within them six Devi figures. Anti-clock-wise, the first Devi figure is in Lalitasana. It is a four-armed image carrying in three noose, standard and vajra and the fourth is in abhaya. The Devi form, diagonally opposite to it and the last in the ring, is identical to this first one. The second figure is seated with both feet planted on the earth but curved in the posture of dance. In two of its hands the figure has lotus buds and the other two are in abhaya and varada. The third and fourth deity figures are in Lalitasana and hold in their hands the attributes as carried the second deity image. The fifth image has been modeled alike except that it is seated in cross-legged posture. The second and the fourth icons have haloes as well. With the main deity image, these six pedestal images comprise a group of seven, which number is suggestive of Sapta-matrikas, but in their iconography they are almost identical and may, hence, hardly represent Sapta-matrikas, the seven manifestations of the female energy.
The image of the presiding deity, Padmavati, has been installed inside a prabhavali, designed with exquisite details. On both of its sides, the lower part has niches with female devotee figures. The portion above these niches has a gradual rise with well-designed architectural members. It terminates into a flat terrace like top where perch two peacocks, one on each side and from their heads rises the actual arch consisting of conventionalised foliage. The prabhavali is topped by a triple crowned Kirtimukha motif, which in Indian tradition represents the apex of auspices.
The principal image, with lotuses in two of her four hands and an elaborate Padmasana, represents Goddess Lakshmi in her Padmavati manifestation. As prescribed in the iconography of Padmavati, her other two hands depict abhaya and varada. She is seated in Lalitasana, a posture known for its aesthetic charm. In conformity to the Vaishnavite iconography, she has on her head a spirally rising and elaborately carved Vaishnava crown and a Vaishnava tilaka on her forehead. Her face bears a benign look and lips a mild smile. Her three-fourth open eyes are in a thoughtful mood and the entire figure seems to move. Except the chin, which is slightly angular, her face is round and the mouth is subdued. The entire figure has been elaborately bejeweled and adorned from head to toe. On her nose she is wearing a floral ornament and a ring with three pearls. The ornaments on her neck and breasts cover almost the entire part and completely replace the upper garment. Her sensuously modeled breasts, too, have been exquisitely adorned with floral motifs and design. She is wearing a thick silk sari with still thicker border but it covers only her body below her waist. This sari is supported by a broad girdle and beautifully conceived sash. The image represents both a great tradition of art and one of the principal female deity forms now for centuries in worship.
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.
Of Related Interest:
LAKSHMI The Goddess of Wealth and Fortune (An Introduction)