This brilliant brass statue of a four-armed female divinity with a round face, well-fed cheeks, subdued chin, eyes, three-fourth shut as when absorbed in meditation, well-aligned beautifully modeled nose and moderately elevated neck represents Tripura-Sundari, also called Trailokya-Sundari – the most beauteous female – human or divine, in all three worlds. With broad shoulders, sensuously modeled but as decently clad breasts, subdued belly further contained by an elaborate girdle, broadened hips, moderate height …, the anatomy of her figure is highly balanced. The four-armed divinity is carrying in her upper hands elephant goad and noose, in the normal left, a sugarcane, while the normal right is held in ‘abhay’. Seated on a tall seat with her figure straightened there reflects absolute ease in her bearing, With her left leg horizontally stretched along the seat’s top, and the right, laid suspending downwards, the goddess is seated in ‘lalitasana’. She is clad in a sari – an unstitched textile length. It is so worn that on the upper part of the figure it is as tight fitted as a sewn costume, and on the lower side, as loose as the traditional ‘antariya’. Though her ornaments are a bit voluminous and heavy, and so her crown and halo consisting of lotus-buds, they perfectly fit her figure.
The seat Tripura-Sundari is sitting on is narrow but moderately tall. Installed with a magnificent ‘prabhavali’ – fire-arch, behind, it looks like covering its breadth from right to left. Raised over a high podium, carried on the sides over massive dwarf columns such as carry on them roofs in ancient temple architecture, and topped by a ‘kirtimukha’ – the symbol of accomplishment and auspiciousness, the ‘prabhavali’ looks like a sanctum. Thus, the fire-arch transforms into a sanctum that Tripura-Sundari enshrines. As is usually the style of a sanctum’s door, on inside the arch is a perfect round whereas it resorts to a conical form on the top on the outer side. This is by and large the usual pattern of defining entrances in early shrines, Buddhist, such as are the entrances at Ajanta, in special. A pair of mythical elephants installed over the pillars carry the arch over their backs. A deep half circle with a relative plain edging line defines the arch’s inner frame, while a row of successive semi-oval rings, its breadth. The podium, the fire-arch rises over, is multi-tiered consisting of plain and lotus mouldings.
Three of the Upanishads – Tripura Upanishad, Tripura Tapini and Bahvrich Upanishad, allude to Tipura-Sundari and as such Tripura-Sundari was an Upanishadic deity; however, for quite long, till about 10th century, she was not attributed the status of a classical deity. At the most she was seen as the transformation of Trailokya-Mohini, Lord Vishnu’s female incarnation by whose fascinating beauty in the course of ocean-churning he had succeeded in beguiling demons and frustrating their design to take away ambrosia. So bewitching that it not only beguiled demons but also gods, sages and human beings, Vishnu’s Mohini form was immediately lauded as Trailokya Mohini, the woman who deluded all three worlds by her beauty. Though Vishnu’s act was soon exposed, Puranas immortalized Trailokya-Mohini under various names one being Tripura-Sundari.
By around the tenth century there evolved the concept of Mahavidyas – great wisdom. One of the instruments of wisdom was beauty that inspired intellect through emotions and Tripura-Sundari, also known as Sodasi, was seen as personifying such faculty. Obviously, her form evolved from Lord Vishnu’s Mohini incarnation that Puranas alluded. As such, Trailokya-Mohini or Tripura-Sundari form represented the beauteous aspect of Mahavidyas. Thus, Tripura-Sundari was elevated to the status of one of the Mahavidyas. One Mahavidya-tradition names this beauteous aspect as Sodasi, literally meaning ‘of sixteen years’, that is, the goddess stayed, and stayed ever, at sixteen years of age ever abounding in youthfulness as a woman has at sixteen. Other tradition saw Sodasi only as a transform of Tripura-Sundari. The tradition identifying Sodasi and Tripura-Sundari as independent divinities classifies Tripura-Sundari as one of the Matrikas, and Sodasi, more often, as Tantrik deity. Though a transform of Trailokya Mohini, a form of Vishnu, Tripura-Sundari is perceived as a Shaivite deity having strong Shaivite links. As befits Tripura-Sundari’s form, the aspect that this image emphasizes is maturity besides beauty and elegance.