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Padmavati is the South Indian transformation of Lakshmi. Some people consider it only as a transformation of names, that is, as Vishnu is worshipped in South India by the name of Venkatesha or Shrinivasa, so is worshipped Lakshmi by the name of Padmavati. Padma Puran, however, has a full length episode as to how Vishnu re-emerged as Venkatesh with the abstract realisation of Lakshmi or Shri within his heart and thus also acquiring for himself the name 'Shrinivasa' meaning the 'abode of Shri or Lakshmi'. As Lakshmi is said to have sprouted like a lotus in the heart of Vishnu, she has been attributed the name Padmavati, or the one who emerged like a 'Padma' or lotus. In visual representations Padmavati has been, hence, conceived holding in two of her four hands lotus buds ready to sprout.
As Padma Purana has the legend, the great Brahmin Bhragu, deputed by other Brahmins, went to Vishnu for seeking his views as to who of the great Trinity was supreme. Brahma and Shiva ignored him and Vishnu he found asleep with Lakshmi. The enraged sage hit him on his chest. Rising from his sleep Vishnu not only apologized for sleeping untimely but also stored on his bosom the mark of saint's foot as Shrivatsa. Lakshmi, who was lying upon Vishnu's bosom and was alike hit, got enraged and deserted Vishnu in disgust and in protest for his unmanly conduct. Bereaved Vishnu too abandoned Brahmaloka and came to Sheshachala in South. Now Lakshmi, unreconciled, was his abstract realisation. He lay there for long. On the spot, where lay Vishnu, all milk from the udders of the cow of a local ruler dropped. He got the spot dug. To his utter amazement the image of Vishnu was discovered. The king could not perceive Lakshmi as she was not materially present. When the image of Vishnu, renamed now as Venkatesha, was installed in the temple built by the king, devotees thronged around. In the course of time they realised the shadow-like presence of a female figure lying in Venkatesha's bosom. The realisation was transformed as Padmavati who had an identity corresponding to that of Lord Vishnu.
Padmavati is now the principal female deity of South India innovated and conceived in multiple forms and aspects. This fully bejewelled icon of her cast in fine wood represents her in a dance posture. Her forearms represent a beautiful 'Nratya-mudra', an aspect of dance. Fine and well defined features and proportionate figure define her total being. Her large eyes with deep eye-brows and corresponding folds of skin along them have been carved with great mastery. Despite wood as its medium, the entire figure gives the impression of marble in its transparency and tenderness. The artefact is a masterpiece of South Indian iconographic art.
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.