Sundari beneath the Mango Tree.
India, state of Madhya Pradesh or southern Uttar Pradesh, mid-9th century. Sandstone. Lent by Mr. and Mrs. John Gilmore Ford.

Poised beneath a mango tree this exquisite sundari (beauty) ignores the monkey perched on the branch above and reaches up with her right arm to bring down a cluster of ripe fruit into her raised, now-damaged, left hand. According to ancient lore, the sound of a woman's laughter was all that was needed to induce the mango tree to blossom and bear fruit. This figure speaks of the importance of the theme of woman in ancient India where her presence was believed to confer auspiciousness on any monument. The image emphasized the importance of the feminine, given its associations with the bearing and rearing of children. The female figure was an obvious emblem of fertility and thereby of growth, abundance, and prosperity, hence it was a short step to visualize her as a symbol of all that is auspicious. Carved as a decorative bracket to connect a pillar with the ceiling, this sundari graced the interior of a temple with her auspicious presence. As devotees glanced upward, their gaze would have met at least four such sundaris, creating a joyous atmosphere within the sacred precincts.

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Sundari beneath the Mango Tree.