The Rig-Veda centres on the ritual aspect of Saraswati by her name as Vak, the divine power of speech conceived as a feminine deity and Brahma’s instrument to create. The holy text talks of her lustre and her power to bless with knowledge, and even riches, but does not talk of her form. It is the subsequent Atharva-Veda that along with Shri lauds Saraswati as the large breasted mother with her bosom filled with an abundance of milk and the power to nourish and sustain. It is in this visualization of the goddess that her initial iconographic form seems to have evolved and has been aptly emphasized in this wood-statue. Except a little section of early Puranas that perceived her as the goddess of battlefield in her manifestation as Mahasaraswati, their larger section transformed Saraswati, the Rig-Vedic Vak, into the consort of Brahma, one of the Great Trinity. This transformation attributed to her all her splendour, formalism and sophistication.
Brahma is acclaimed to rise from Lord Vishnu’s navel riding a lotus. Hence, initially Saraswati was perceived as Kamalasana, one who had lotus as her seat. In her initial visualization she also carried a lotus, or two, in her hands, though later the form of Lakshmi almost completely monopolized lotus and Saraswati’s image was conceived carrying in two of her four hands a ‘vina’ – stringed instrument of music that Saraswati manifested, and in other two, a book and rosary, the attributes of her spouse Brahma, all three combined symbolised music – the cultural aspect of life, entire knowledge and introspection or searching within, that is, the mind’s journey within and beyond. As Saraswati manifested culture – the colours of life, the colourful peacock emerged as her mount but as much significant was the purity of her being, and hence, as frequently a goose alternated peacock as her mount.
Though stylistically a blend of different iconographic traditions, one, characterizing the style of ‘prabhavali’, other, the figure’s features, anatomy and overall bearing of the face, and third, the style of her crown and other ornaments, the statue is a brilliant example of how her form evolved over the entire past right since the Rig-Vedic period. The image conceived with a large breasted anatomy revealing gold-like lustre, vigorous youth and timeless beauty is essentially in pursuance to Vedic standards. To this the artist has added great figural beauty : an absolute anatomy, tall figure, fine fingers, round face with sharp features and poise, sensuously modeled breasts, subdued belly and voluminous hips, and infused into her legs the curves of dance and rhythm, as also unparalleled plasticity and fluidity. The four-armed goddess is carrying, besides ‘vina’, the rosary and the book. She has been sculpted as seated on a double lotus, carved realistically and with rare beauty rising over an as natural stem. The statue has around the feet of the deity a pair of peacocks so modeled that they also resemble the form of mythical goose. The figure has been installed in a floral ‘prabhavali’. The image is unique in the beauty of its form and divine aura.
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.