With two of her four hands, the lower right and upper left, the goddess is playing on ‘vina’ while in the other two, she is carrying a rosary and a ‘pustaka’ – manuscript, symbolic of the Vedas that Brahma is acclaimed to have written. Rosary and ‘pustaka’ are the attributes of Brahma’s iconography that Saraswati, his consort, inherited from him. Of these two aspects of the image : the lotus-seat, and ‘vina’ in hands, her lotus seat defines her initial iconographic perception, while ‘vina’, a subsequent addition. As most of the early texts have it, besides ‘japamala’ – rosary, and ‘pustaka’ – book, she carried in other two hands two lotuses. It seems that after the lotus was associated inseparably with the iconography of Lakshmi, in Saraswati’s iconography it was alternated by ‘vina’. In the course of time there emerged the cult of deity-mounts, and like other deities, Saraswati also had a mount, sometimes a goose and at other times, a peacock. Subsequently, stationary or moving, Saraswati images were seen seated on, as also riding, the goose or the peacock alternating lotus seat. This image of the goddess has been conceived, however, as lotus seated besides the ‘japamala’ and ‘pustaka’ : a classical form of her image.
Born of Supreme Light Saraswati has been perceived as abounding in great lustre and magnificence. Sometimes she is said to be the image of light or light transformed into an anthropomorphic form. Scriptures hence perceive her as gold-complexioned and as possessed of imperishable youth and unparalleled beauty. The textual perception of her image has more widely influenced her iconography than that of any other divinity. The Atharva Veda, and pursuing this Vedic line many subsequent texts, have perceived Saraswati as possessed of large breasts full of abundant milk, a form corresponding to her mythological form as river believed to have once flowed across the Punjab part, ever the land’s most food-producing zone. Saraswati icons are hence conceived, as a rule, with large sensuous breasts which on one hand symbolise abundance of food and her universal motherhood, and on the other, impart to her figure rare beauty for with well projected breasts the belly more deeply recesses and the shoulders, neck and the breast-part below the neck are delightfully relieved.
The figure of the goddess has been sculpted with perfect anatomical proportions and fine facial features, a sharp nose, large half-shut lotus-like eyes, rounded cheeks, receding chin, cute lips, a round face revealing benignity, feminine softness and bliss, and subdued belly, broad shoulders and a well proportioned figure. Besides the divine halo behind her face and beautifully crafted side wings and a towering crown the figure of the goddess has been adorned with rich jewels and a brilliant ‘antariya’. There enshrines a divine quiescence on the face and around it an aura of rare divinity. The figure of the goddess, completely detached with no structure around, has been installed on a routine lotus pedestal. The lotus-seated goddess has, corresponding to the beauty of the lotus she is seated on, a sitting posture known in the tradition as ‘lalitasana’ – the posture revealing great beauty of form.
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.