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This wood statue, an excellent example of South Indian temple wood-carving, a marble statue like finished and polished, and a miniature like painted, all combined revealing rare aesthetic beauty, represents the four-armed Shiva riding along Parvati, his consort, his vehicle and eternal companion Nandi, the bull. Not only in all major Shaivite shrines a Nandi icon serves as ‘dhwaja’ – symbol of the temple’s Shaivite identity, but the enshrining image of Shiva shall not have the deity’s status unless a Nandi icon accompanied it. With such rare significance of Nandi in the mind the artist has carved the image of Nandi with loving care and most sensitively as if chiseling it out of a mass of translucent moonlight. Carved like an innocent calf in its advancing years Nandi’s contentment is absolute.
As is the artistic convention for divine images, unlike a horse-riding equestrian representation portraying the rider’s figure in profile, Lord Shiva along Parvati is seated on his mount similar as he would on a formal seat or couch – front-facing and in full view. This sitting posture of Lord Shiva, with his right leg suspending downwards, and the left, folded into half and laid horizontally on the seat’s floor, in this statue the bull’s back, has been classified in Indian canonical tradition as ‘lalitasana’, a sitting mode revealing great aesthetic beauty. His left leg folded into half and doubled affords to Parvati a cushion like space to sit, and more than amour or contentment it is a kind of pride that defines not just her face but her entire being. Besides affording her a cushion-like comfortable space to sit Lord Shiva is also securing her by holding her with his normal right hand.
The gold-like glistening normal two-armed image of Parvati is relatively small. Except her right hand that with a lotus in it is stretched a bit her entire image is well-composed. The artist has shown great ingenuity in modeling her figure – slender build, subdued belly, voluminous hips, elevated breasts, tall arms, and fine long fingers, and iconography – a face, sharp features, eyes as in trance, well-defined eyebrows and well-fed cheeks. Besides her routine ornaments to include a broad girdle and a towering Vaishnava crown in characteristic South Indian tradition the goddess Parvati is also putting on a well pleated green ‘antariya’ – lower wear. In iconographic vision, anatomical proportions and modeling, ornamentation, and the type of crown the artist has followed almost the same standards as he has followed in chiseling the image of Parvati. With his normal left hand the four-armed Shiva is supporting Parvati, and the normal right hand is held in ‘abhaya’; in other two hands the four-armed Shiva is holding a doe and a ‘damaru’ – double drum, like looking object. As has the mythology, when helpless Saraswati found it difficult to escape Brahma’s greedy eyes, she transformed her into a doe; however Brahma’s eyes detected her but before he could lay hand over the poor animal Shiva rushed to its rescue and upheld it in his hands. Thus, the doe icon emerged into Shiva’s iconography. The artist has attained the same level of perfection in carving Shiva’s figure as he has shown in carving the figure of Parvati.
The statue, carved out of Bangai wood, one of the finest kinds of timbers used for artistic carving for generations, especially in South for temple wood sculptures, consists of three parts, a base or platform the statue has been raised on, the mount Nandi, and Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Broadly, the base symbolizes matter – the manifest cosmos, Shiva’s mount Nandi, the life that the Rig-Veda calls ‘pashu’ – animal, and Shiva and Parvati, the timeless imperishable spirit that pervades it. This symbolic thrust of the statue is far deeper and wider. The base or the platform consists of three parts, the blackish bottom is symbolic of ocean or nether region, a narrow glowing band consisting of stylized lotus motif, the earth illumined with the sun’s light, and bluish-reddish top, the ethereal region. The medallion joining the three components into one, otherwise widely different and unlike each other, is symbolic of the cosmic self that unites the cosmos into one thread. The life in the form of Shiva’s Nandi pervades this manifest cosmos. Shiva and Parvati who guide the course of life and keep it to right path symbolize male and female principles and the eternal process of creation.
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.