In Indian tradition, Devi, the manifestation of primordial female energy, has often been identified as one or the other of the Puranic deities, usually either as Parvati or as Lakshmi, and sometimes as both. However, before Devi emerged as Parvati or Lakshmi, she has, in scriptural tradition, her own cult also. As this tradition has it, Mahavishnu, soon after the great deluge subsided, emerged as a child floating on a fig leaf. The dismayed Mahavishnu questioned himself as to who he was and whatfor he was there. The silence broke and there emerged a voice: 'Sarvam khalvidamevaham nanyadasty sanatanam', that is, 'All that is, it is me. There is nothing lasting but me'. When Vishnu was yet in trance, he saw a female form, Devi, appear before him. She was attended by many powers representing primarily riches and prosperity, wisdom and intellect and love and womanhood. These three faculties incarnated respectively as Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Parvati. In later Trinity cult, Laksmi got associated with Vishnu, Saraswati with Brahma and Parvati with Shiva. Subsequently, there evolved other Devi forms and Mahavidyas, first five, then seven, then nine and then gradually more than fifty. The number of Mahavidyas was first seven and then ten.
Later, when there developed Shaivism and Vaishnavism as two devotional cults, Devi forms, too, despite a single origin, took two different lines, the Shaivite and Vaishnavite. Lakshmi, the custodian of riches and prosperity, came to be the principal Vaishnavite deity and Parvati, representing perfect womanhood and perpetual love, Shaivite. In iconographic representations Parvati got associated with her attributes of Shiva and Laksmi those of Vishnu. Of the two Parvati has been more popular with sculptors and artists. Hence, in art, Devi merged with Parvati. She has been endowed with a more versatile form, ornamentation and personality. Despite some Vaishnavite attributes, the Devi form, represented in this statue, is close to Parvati. As for Vaishnavite attributes, it is said Vishnu once offered to serve Shiva as his Shakti and incarnated as Parvati. Obviously, Parvati got associated with her some of Vaishnavite attributes, especially his crown, as here in this statue, consisting of Vaishnava brooch and 'Kirtimukha'. She is wearing also on her arms 'Kirtimukha' bracelets. The towering crown, with auspicious 'Kirtimukha', is also typical of South Indian images.
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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