This magnificent brass-statue represents the four-armed river goddess Ganga. Almost flags’ like, the goddess is carrying in her upper hands two ‘purna-ghatas’ held over full-blooming lotuses. ‘Purna-ghata’, a pot with a lotus and coconut on its top, representing space, the pot’s containing power, all three cosmic elemental regions : the earth, water and the sky, that the lotus comprises, and fruition, the coconut stands for, symbolises absolute accomplishment that the river goddess Ganga grants. In the corresponding spirit of the image, the artist has cast one of the goddess’s normal two hands as held in ‘abhaya’, the gesture granting freedom from fear, and the other, in ‘varad’, the posture assuring accomplishment. Under her left arm she is holding a downwards turned pot releasing waters from it defining the river goddess Ganga’s main attribute of bringing to the earth the heaven’s holy waters.
A host of the followers of Ganga cult : great sages and others, across
centuries, commemorating her ‘mantra’ – sacred hymn, observing
austerities and performing penance around her banks, from Gangotri,
its origin, to the Bay of Bengal where Ganga joins the sea, contend
that Ganga is the most bounteous of all goddesses and generous in
granting her boons. Not as one of Vishnu’s three wives, the other two
being Lakshmi and Saraswati, and irrespective of all trifling myths in
her regard, Ganga is the supreme goddess of fertility, giver of riches
and prosperity, and the greatest of redeemers. Of all divinities Ganga
alone has a spiritual as well as manifest presence performing her
divine role also in her physical form. In the event of her descent she
not only brings to the earth the heaven’s bounties and her own power
to redeem but also the riches of the sea that she joins.
Scientifically interpreting the followers of the Ganga-cult contend
that monsoons that rise from the Bay of Bengal, the most vital for the
entire north and east, are Ganga’s bounties : Ganga’s return to the
earth with her own and with the ocean’s riches. The sculptures of
Goddess Ganga, though invariably as a part of temple-architecture, the
temple’s doorjamb-deities, begin pouring in from around the
seventh-eighth centuries. Like Ganga, one of most beautiful celestial
beings of myths, Ganga’s statues, too, in any style and from any
period, abound in unsurpassed beauty. The medieval sculptors have
greatly experimented with her form for revealing her celestial beauty.
She is sometimes sculpted with a pot held supported on her hip under
her left arm, and sometimes, with a parasol. This visual tradition
continues in the goddess’s contemporary statues and paintings too, and
this statue, an example of rare level of elegance, grace and beauty,
attests this position.
Ganga’s medieval statues have associated with them a figure of
crocodile as her mount she stands on, and a pot, sometime either of
them, and sometimes, both. This statue has given priority to her
iconography with pot rather than with crocodile. The medieval pot used
for highlighting her deeply subdued belly : the mark of her figure’s
beauty, has been used in this statue with symbolic dimensions added.
Besides that it symbolises release of waters, obviously Ganga’s, it
contains within some coins that conjointly constitute also a flower
with coins’ like petals suggesting that fertility : entire vegetation
and all, and all riches are Ganga’s bounties.
With its two halves cast in perfect symmetry, which effect the forms
of the two upwards raised upper hands most powerfully reveal, the
image presents a rare example of aesthetic beauty. Sharp features,
face’s front revealing angularity, as do images from Nepal, highly
balanced anatomy, large fingers and brilliant palms, a few selected
ornaments, a crown and beautifully conceived ‘uttariya’ – upper wear,
and ‘antariya’ – lower wear, with pleats defined by laces of gold, all
conform to the standard iconographic norms of the deity’s image. She
is seated cross-legged on a seat which is a realistically cast large
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.
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