An accomplished piece of woodcraft, this statue portrays the enrapt Saraswati, the goddess of learning, music, art, literature and all creative faculties of mind, playing on ‘vina’, a stringed instrument, which symbolizes her all creative aspects. In adherence to her iconographic tradition her figure has been conceived with four arms, though the anatomy of these arms slightly deviates. In four-armed figures of divinities the lower ones on two sides are usually the normal arms; however, in this image of the goddess her normal two arms are the lower right and the upper left. The additional arm on the right branches from above the knee-joint, while that on the left, from below it.
The figure of the goddess, completely detached and isolated not enshrining a sanctum, or ‘prabhavali’, the sanctum’s symbolic transform, save a lotus pedestal with routine dimensions, has been portrayed as carrying ‘vina’ in her normal two hands and a rosary and ‘pothi’ – text, in other two. Rosary and ‘pothi’ are primarily the attributes of Brahma, which being Brahma’s consort Saraswati shares with him. With her allusions as Vak, the ‘shakti’ of the ‘mantra’ – power of mystic syllables, in the Rig-Veda, Saraswati emerges as the earliest of all female deities in Brahmanical order. She has far wider presence in Jain pantheon and in the Buddhist. In the Buddhist tradition she is worshipped as Tara, while in Jainism, as Saraswati. In Jain tradition, Saraswati is perceived as having sixteen forms or manifestations.
Now more often the image of Saraswati is conceived as riding a goose and sometimes, also a peacock and other mounts, in early classical art and scriptural traditions the goddess was perceived invariably as lotus-seated. ‘Asina kamala karairjjapabatim padmadhyam pustakam bivrana' is how early scriptures visualized Saraswati’s image : Saraswati is seated on lotus and carries in her four hands a 'japamala' – rosary, two lotuses, and a manuscript. With utmost emphasis on lotus, this early form does not have even the ‘vina’, now the essence of her image, and had instead two lotuses. This wood-piece retains ‘japamala’ and ‘pothi’ and her lotus seat but replaces the two lotuses by ‘vina’, largely symbolizing the dimensional breadth of Saraswati : all that she symbolizes and stands for. Noticeably, the goddess’s lotus-seat comprises two rows of lotuses, besides a pedestal comprising conventionalised lotus motifs. Maybe, such abundance of lotus motifs is for emphasizing the significance of lotus in her iconography, as prescribed in early canonical texts. Corresponding to the beauty of lotuses she has a sitting posture known in iconographic tradition as ‘lalitasana’ – the posture revealing exceptional beauty of form.
The red-complexioned and green-costumed image of the goddess has been conceived as abounding in great lustre : 'parama jyotiswarupa' – one born of the Supreme Light, the same as perceived in early scriptures : Vedas, Brahmans and Puranas. Texts perceive her as gold-complexioned, and as possessed of vigorous youth and rarest beauty. Essentially a mother, the Atharva Veda and several other texts visualize her as possessed of large breasts full of milk and its endless flow. Except that the artist has sensualized them a little by adorning them with beautiful floral ‘stana-patta’ – breast-band, the elegantly modeled breasts of the goddess adhere largely to these textual parameters. The figure of the goddess, conceived with perfect anatomical proportions and fine facial features, has been adorned with rich jewels and brilliant apparel and has on the face divine quiescence and around it an aura of rare divinity.
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.