As dayini, gracious donor of boons, she blesses devotees with wealth, fortune, and success. She is a gentle, radiant figure who attends to the daily needs of those who adore her. Here we see Devi as Lakshmi, Sarasvati, the river goddess Ganga, Vasudhara, the Buddhist goddess Tara; and the Jain goddess Ambika. The first appearance of female divinities was in the guise of dayini, the gentle and beneficent fulfiller of the desires of devotees, a role which remains one of enduring strength and attraction. Dayinis take many and varied guises within the Hindu religion, and they also penetrate the Buddhist and Jain faiths which arose around the fifth century B.C.
[IMAGE: Parvati. India, state of Tamil Nadu, Chola period, ca 1100. Bronze. Lent by a private collection. Created around the year 1100, this majestic bronze of goddess Parvati, consort of god Shiva, stands in an elegant posture with one hand extended and the other raised to hold a flower. She is adorned with multiple strands of necklaces, a simple sacred thread that rests between her breasts, and characteristic armlets and bangles. Her elegantly draped skirt, which clings closely to the contours of her limbs, rests low on her hips and is held in place by a multi-strand girdle. Devotees approach Parvati in this gentle form to ask her to confer general benediction and fortune upon them. Parvati's exquisite smiling face welcomes worshipers who would never have seen her as she appears here. In a temple setting, she would have been draped with silks, adorned with gold and gem-studded jewels and multiple garlands of flowers that would have totally concealed the lines of the sculpture. This bronze is a festival icon carried in procession during every temple festival. The double lotus upon which the goddess stands would have been inset into a rectangular pedestal with holes through it or with lugs attached so that inserted poles could rest on the shoulders of temple officers who carried the image.]
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is worshiped by householders for the health and welfare of their families; business men and women offer her prayers to ensure the success of their endeavors. She is frequently shown standing in her lotus throne and holding lotus buds, which are symbols of beauty and fertility. Lakshmi, a goddess in her own right, is also the wife of the Vishnu and as Vishnu has nine reincarnations, so does Lakshmi. The two most popular forms of Vishnu and Lakshmi's reincarnations are Rama and Sita (whose story is told in the Ramayana) and Krishna and Radha. Sita and Radha also appear as another aspect of Devi, that of Heroine and Beloved.
Sarasvati, goddess of learning and music, emerged as early as 1300 B.C. as Vach. Vach was considered both speech itself and the goddess of speech. Later, when transformed into the goddess of learning and music, she acquired her name and a swan as her vehicle. Hindus consider her to be the consort of the god Brahma. Buddhist and Jains, whose faith place emphasis on knowledge as the means to liberation, also worship Sarasvati. She is commonly depicted seated on a lotus holding a stringed instrument, the Vina.
[IMAGE: Jain goddess Sarasvati. By Jagadeva (act. 12th century). India, state of Gujarat, 1153. White marble. Lent by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Anna Bing Arnold. This image of Sarasvati, goddess of music and learning, was carved in 1153. The four-armed goddess holds stylized lotuses (symbols of purity) in both upper hands; one lower hand, now broken, would have held a manuscript, the other was probably lowered in the wish-granting gesture. The inscription on its pedestal notes that when the original image, created one hundred years earlier, suffered irreparable damage, an officer named Parashurama commissioned a sculptor named Jagadeva to create this replacement. Since few artists from ancient India are known by name, this image serves as a valuable document. Sarasvati is venerated in several religions in India. This image was created for a temple of the Jains, a faith that originated in the fifth century B.C. The exquisite goddess, approachable by all who seek knowledge and musical skill, is testimony to the skill of the otherwise unknown sculptor Jadadeva, who, in the words of the inscription, "aspired for fame."]
[IMAGE: Sarasvati. India, sate of Karnataka, Mysore. ca. 1830-40. Opaque watercolor on paper. Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Glowing tones of rich emerald, carmine, and gold animate this simple icon of Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and music. She is draped in an open-ended garland of pink flowers and holds the lute-like vina, a rectangular palm-leaf manuscript, and a writing implement. Devotees, particularly children starting school, and students of all ages, workshop Sarasvati as the source of knowledge. As the goddess of music she is particularly sacred to those who sing or play musical instruments. This painted image was made for a family shrine in the Mysore region of southern India during the early nineteenth century.]
Parvati is the consort of the god Shiva. She is constantly beside Shiva, watching him as he dances the dance of bliss, admiring him in his deeds of annihilation, joining him in games of dice or playing with their two sons, the elephant headed Ganesha and the warrior Skanda. Shiva and Parvati, whose love is deep and abiding, represent the paradigmatic divine family. Shiva and Parvati are often united in a single form known as Ardhanari (literally half woman) to represent the concept that the divine is both male and female.
[IMAGE: Parvati, India, state of Tamil Nadu, Chola period, ca. 1100. Bronze. Lent by a private collection. Created around the year 1100, this majestic bronze of goddess Parvati, consort of god Shiva, stands in an elegant posture with one hand extended and the other raised to hold a flower. She is adorned with multiple strands of necklaces, a simple sacred thread that rests between her breasts, and characteristic armlets and bangles. Her elegantly draped skirt, which clings closely to the contours of her limbs, rests low on her hips and is held in place by a multi-strand girdle. Devotees approach Parvati in this gentle form to ask her to confer general benediction and fortune upon them. Parvati's exquisite smiling face welcomes worshipers who would never have seen her as she appears here. In a temple setting she would be draped with silks, adorned with gold and gem-studded jewels and multiple garlands of flowers that would totally conceal the lines of the sculpture. This bronze is a festival icon carried in procession during every temple festival. The double lotus upon which the goddess stands would have been inset into a rectangular pedestal with holes through it or with lugs attached so that inserted poles could rest on the shoulders of temple officers who carried the image.]
[IMAGE: Pavarti and Ganesha. India, Jaipur, ca. 1820. Opaque watercolor on paper. Lent by Mr. and Mrs. John Gilmore Ford. This charming painting shows goddess Parvati suckling baby Ganesha as the infant places his hand upon her other breast. Elephant-headed Ganesha, an important and beloved deity worshiped at the start of any enterprise, is usually depicted as an adult. Here, the artist portrays Ganesha as an infant to emphasize Parvati's maternal love. Images of a nursing mother and child are rare in India and it is likely that the iconography was borrowed from European depictions of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ that entered India beginning in the sixteenth century. This image was probably painted in the early nineteenth-century in Jaipur, a Hindu kingdom located in eastern Rajasthan, not far from Delhi.]
The concept of water as potent energy in liquid form dates back to 1300 B.C. By the start of the current era, the rivers Ganges and Yamuna were personified and invoked as life-giving waters. The celestial Ganges came to earth (starting in the Himalayas and flowing into the plains below) so that the cremated ashes of ancestors could be immersed in her waters thus enabling them to attain salvation.
[IMAGE: River Goddess Ganga on Her Fish Mount. India, Punjab Hills, Mandi, ca. 1815. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Lent by the San Diego Museum of Art: Edwin Binney 3rd Collection. The goddess Ganga, garbed in pink-tinged white garments and holding aloft a water pot and lotus flower, sits on a large fish in the midst of a Himalayan pool. Ganga is the personification of the Ganges, India's sacred river. The cool silvery tones of the mountain peaks, flowing waters, and the fair-skinned goddess on her vehicle evoke the pure waters she represents. The goddess descended from the heavens into the Himalayas and from there she flowed into the Indian plains. Ganga is thus a bridge from the heavens to the earth, and devotees who bathe in the river or are cremated by its banks are released from the cycle of mundane existence. This painting, one of a series with similar borders of pink lozenges within rectangular cartouches, was produced in the early nineteenth century for the Hindu ruler of Mandi, a small kingdom in the Punjab Hills.]
Like her Hindu counterpart, Lakshmi, Vashudhara is the Buddhist goddess of wealth, good fortune and abundance and is one of the most popular household deities of Nepal. Devotees appeal to her for earthly riches and for fertility of the field and womb.
[IMAGE: Vasudhara, Goddess of Abundance, Nepal, 1082. Gilt copper inlaid with precious and semiprecious stones, traces of vermillion. Lent by Susanne K. Bennet, courtesy Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution LTS1996.5.3 Like her Hindu counterpart Lakshmi, Vasudhara is the Buddhist goddess of wealth, good fortune, and abundance. She is one of the most popular household deities of Nepal, implored for earthly riches as well as for fertility of field and womb. In this image, the six-armed goddess is seated at ease, holding four precious, life-sustaining symbols: a book of knowledge, a sheaf of grain, an auspicious water-filled vessel, and a cluster of jewels. She is richly attired and wears a towering ceremonial crown. A rare feature of the image is the fact that the exact date, 1082, is mentioned in the four-line inscription on the back of the lotus pedestal recording its donation, presumably to a monastic chapel.]
One of the most popular goddess among Buddhists is Tara who is adored for protection from evil and to overcome obstacles. Goddesses were first introduced into the Jain faith as attendant deities of the twenty-four liberators known as Jinas. Of these Ambika (Mother Dear), is associated with the mango tree and its fruit and is always portrayed with one or both of her sons. She is worshiped on behalf of mothers and infants.
[IMAGE: Tara the Savioress. Nepal, 14th century. Gilt copper alloy, semiprecious stones, gold, and pigment. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis V. Bell Fund, 1966. Tara, savioress and goddess of compassion, is a deity of immense significance among Buddhists. Her name is derived from the verb tara, meaning "to cross," for she enables the devotee to cross the ocean of existence. Supplicants chiefly approach Tara for protection, but also make requests for material benefits. In this splendid example of Nepalese metalwork, with its characteristic inlay of semiprecious stones, Tara is depicted as a slender maiden of benign expression. She is regally ornamented with a flamboyant, jewel-encrusted crown secured by elaborate, fluttering ribbons, and her lotus is seen at her left shoulder. Her hands are imprinted with auspicious symbols; one makes the gesture of teaching, while the other is lowered in the wish-granting gesture. Although clearly made by Nepalese hands, this image was either commissioned by a Tibetan or made for the Tibetan market, for the gold and color applied to Tara's face reflect Tibetan practice.]
[IMAGE: Ambika. India, state of Bihar or West Bengal, Pala period, 9th century. Bronze. Lent by Dr. Siddharth Bhansali. This exquisite little bronze image dating to the ninth century, shows Amika seated on a double-lotus set upon a tall pedestal. One infant stands playfully in her lap while the second sits cross-legged on the opposite side beside her lotus throne. With one hand she supports a child and with the other holds a bunch of mangoes. The articulation of the limbs and the detailed treatment of the jewelry and drapery pattern reflect the work of a master artist. Most likely the bronze was commissioned for a home shrine, perhaps that of the devotee included along the lower left support of the pedestal.]
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The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.