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Abode Of The Devagana, The Cow

Abode Of The Devagana, The Cow

The cow is the very picture of all that India has traditionally valued - purity, selflessness, and resourcefulness. She consumes little, yet gives generously of what she has. She may live in the least-scrubbed of gaushalas (cow-sheds), off old hay and vegetation; yet just one of her is enough for a family to thrive on. Her fertile udders yield the purest of milks and butters. Even the wastes she gives off are rich with nutrients that enrich the medium we grow our food (crops) on, properties that benefit and arguably heal our bodies. The colour of the cow is as pristine as her maternal nature. She feeds the babies of the ungrateful human with as much fervour as she feeds her own calves. The cow has been revered in the subcontinent since her pivotal role in the days the Sarasvati Valley Civilisation flourished. It is of little wonder then that the peoples of the subcontinent venerate her as one would a senior member of the family, and consider gauseva (service of the cow) one's sacred duty.

This is a powerful work of art that could serve to overpower vastu-dosha in modern-day spaces. No matter the inconducive influences that beset your space, they have no power over the blessing of the cow. In this composition, the naturalistic musculature of India's most-loved pashu (animal) has been finished with a great degree of skill and a keen sense of aesthetics on the part of the brassworker. She stands with her head tilted sideways, while a calf and Gopala Himself nourish themselves at her teats. She has been bedecked with jewellery at her neck, horns, hump, and rump. Her limps are strong and concludes in a set of flawlessly sculpted hooves. Her tail is thick, the strands on its tip caresses her hooves. Numerous devas and devees of the Indian pantheon have been engraved on her skin in order to indicate that in her resides the entirety of Hindu divinity. The beauty of detail in each one is best observed by zooming in. The whole composition rests on an engraved pedestal resting on vine-clad legs. Note the peacock along the edge of the same that seemingly totters about the cow with its plumage down.

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Haloed Standing Lakshmi Blesses You With A Steady Stream Of Plenty

Haloed Standing Lakshmi Blesses You With A Steady Stream Of Plenty

The tall, beauteous, and stately Lakshmiji blesses the devotee with plenty. The wife of none other than the great Vishnu, She presides over wealth which is the necessary means to His function of preserving creation through destruction. She has been given the resplendent finish of pale gold, Her saree draped in modern-day urban North Indian style. On Her head sits a skillfully carved crown, from underneath the fitted rim of which emerges a sea of gorgeous tresses spread about Her shoulders. Note how superb the detailing of this cascade is at the back of the statue by zooming in on the length. Her heavenly shringar comprises of necklaces, kamarband, bangles, danglers, and anklets covered by the hem of Her saree. The necklace of coins reaches down to the pleats of the saree. It comprises of 108 coins, for the 108 names of the deity that dons them. The unusual countenance of the deity - the large eyes, the classically handsome nose, the full lips, and the lifelike composure - and the flawless sculpture of the hands are the marks of a fine artisan.

While the lotuses in Her posterior arms and the anterior palm opened outward in blessing are typical of Lakshmi iconography, what sets this portrayal apart is the amrit kalash that She supports at the waist. Myth has it that She was born of the nectar of immortality produced during the all-important samudra manthan episode of the Bhagavata Purana. From the hand that blesses emerges a steady stream of coins that gathers in the ornate, spacious patra at Her feet. To see the patra so full, all heaped up, almost overflowing with wealth is enough to inspire the onlooker with devotion to Her. She stands on a freshly bloomed lotus, the layered petals of which are as tender as Her feet.

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The Gorgeous-eyed Rajarajeshwari (Tripura Sundari)

The Gorgeous-eyed Rajarajeshwari (Tripura Sundari)

The devi Rajarajeshwari is known by the name Kamakshi down South where this exquisite bronze has been fashioned. In Sanskrit it means 'one possessing the eyes of love'. Her devotees find all the love and blessing they need in Her famous gaze, which is why none of Her four hands are in the popular abhaya or ashirvaad mudra. Her beauteous brow is set off by the sculpted length of Her sharp nose and the roseate lips where it ends. Her round full-cheeked face is complemented by the towering crown sitting on Her head, a typical characteristic of South Indian iconography. The sliver of moon attached to the same gives away her Shaivite lineage. The ribbed halo, a relatively austere aspect of this particular portrayal, is in stark contrast to the gorgeousness of Her shringar - gigantic kundalas, chunky necpieces, and lots of bangles. In one of Her hands She holds the signature sugracane. Unlike other female deities of the Hindu pantheon, Rajarajeshwari is sitting in moolbandha, the ample pleats of Her saree cascading down the inverted lotus pedestal.

The composition is such as to be more than an icon. It is a portable temple of the devi. The inverted lotus She is sitting on is placed on a layered platform that is highly aesthetically appealing. She is flanked by a couple of lions that gaze straight ahead with the same stateliness as their mistress. The aureole that seemingly contains the composition is adorned with traditional faunal motifs such as horses, elephants, and peacock, not to mention the ferocious kirtimukha carved at the very top. The unusual, jawless kirtimukha motif recurs in Indian visual art since the fourth century, and stands for the cyclical and destructive nature of time. Equally ornate legs hold the complete bronze structure in place.

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Tandava On The Tiger (Made In Nepal)

Tandava On The Tiger (Made In Nepal)

The local word 'li' is a versatile syllable. It designates the vast range of metals, of diverse origins, levels of refinement, and blends, that constitute a medium of sculpture in the region (Central Asia, Kashmir, Tibet, and Nepal). Done using either repousse (hammering and putting into shape) or lost-wax casting (pouring molten li into a clay cast to replace the wax within), most of the art that is produced in this part of the world draws from the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. This one is a fine example of the same. Sculpted from copper, an elite medium for the visual arts when compared to brass, it depicts Shiva in the midst of His tandava.

There is so much about this unusual composition that conforms to the iconography of this much-venerated deity. His dense locks are gathered atop His head, upon which is the distinct roop of Devi Ganga, and secured with a sliver of the moon. Myth has it that She descended onto the North Indian plains from the tresses of the lord, sweeping it with abundance and fertility. The hem of the loincloth grazes His knee, leaving the rest of the legs bare. In one hand is the characteristic trishool, the all-important damroo in the other. Beneath His dancing feet is the skin of a tiger brought to its knees by the lord. Note the snakes that are coiled around His ankles and neck, the stripes of vibhooti that grace His brow, and the superbly pronounced composure of countenance, putting together a picture of overpowering ferocity.

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The Beauty Of Dashabhuja Kali

The Beauty Of Dashabhuja Kali

The beauty of the Devi Kali lies in Her ferocity and invincibility. The very picture of Her is enough to make the adharmee tremble with fear. Each of Her ten arms ('dasha' in Sanskrit means 'ten'; 'bhuja', 'arm') bears a deadly weapon of divine prowess. She uses them to slay adharmees, whose severed heads are hanging in the garland that hangs down Her neck all the way to Her thigh (myth has it that the number of heads in this signature garland derives from the Sanskrit varnamala or alphabet). A skirt of severed arms exposes Her long legs, a token of the samarpan (offering) of one's karma-yoga made by Her devotees. With one feet She pins down Her husband, the destroyer of the universe, the lord Shiva Himself, who lies there with a knee and a hand, clasped around the damru, raised. Her gaze is fierce, Her tongue exposed in a gesture of bloodthirsty endeavour.

Despite the fearsome iconography, Kali Devi is not devoid of beauty. Her musculature is lissome; Her tresses so luscious it is enough to clothe Her usually naked person. Her shringar becomes Her status as the wife of Shiva - chunky amulets and wristlets for each of Her ten arms, anklets that weigh upon the torso of Shiva beneath Her feet, and ample necklaces and kundalas. The dharmic devotee discovers on Her stern brow the solace of maternal protection. Note how Her third eye has been engraved onto Her forehead, right below the hem of the haloed crown. A dual-layered aureole frames the composition, with a layer of lotus petals jutting outwards and a sequence of waves along the inner edges. The calm Shiva lies outstretched on a thick lotus pedestal, a panel engraved with wave-like curves separating Him from the petals.

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The Exquisite Rudratandava

The Exquisite Rudratandava

To Shiva's tandava, there is no match. He is Nataraja, the lord (raja) of the very form of dance (nata). His tandava has the power to destroy the universe, and ready it for creation and preservation again. The beauty of His tandava inspires numerous painters and sculptors in the subcontinent, and this is a fine example of that inspiration. Fashioned from brass and given a range of finishes to suit your space, this dancing Shiva would be a valuable addition to the territory of any Shiva devotee. Sculpted after the lissome musculature of a true yogi, this lifelike portrayal of Rudratandava with a leg raised above the head is a rare piece of iconography. His graceful hands, the anterior ones, are in the usual abhaya-and-aashirvaad stance of the more popular Nataraja; while the posterior hands bear a damru that resonates with the creative naad (Sanskrit for 'sound'), and a flame that destroys all that is created. In this light, this murti is a picture of the cycle of dynamic existence.

The rest of His iconography is replete with the usual details that set the Indian iconography apart from the rest of the world. Shiva performs the Rudratandava upon the skilfully engraved base of an inverted lotus. He is dressed in a short dhoti that sits snugly around the thigh, a richly embroidered sash from which emerges down to the pedestal. This single garment is held in place by an ornate taselled kamarband that He wears right below the navel. The janeu cascades diagonially down His handsome torso, while a clutch of necklaces spread about His neck and shoulders. The multiple bracelets on each of His arms and the anklets on His dancing feet complete His divine shringar. The most striking aspect of this composition is the awe-inspiring composure of countenance - superbly graceful features are complemented by the symmetry of the face and the large kundala-adorned ears. The magnificent, slender crown that towers atop His brow sets off the roundness of the same.

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Harihara, An Example Of Eclectic Indian Iconography

Harihara, An Example Of Eclectic Indian Iconography

Harihara is a lesser-known deity from the Hindu pantheon. He emerges from the amalgamation of Vishnu and Shiva, the preserver and destroyer of the trinity right after Brahma the creator. The sublime serenity of Vishnu meets the fierce stance of Shiva in this composite deity. A number of defining contrasts characterise this composition. Shiva's jaatmukuta to Vishnu's golden crown; Shiva's flayed tresses to Vishnu's neatly arranged locks; Shiva's loincloth to Vishnu's shoti graciously descending down the legnth of His leg. The anterior arms belong to Shiva, one of which is raised in blessing and the other carries a mace. The posterior arms belong to Vishnu, in which He carries a conch and a lotus. Note the sharply defined countenance of Harihara: the flawless curve of the brow on which sits an elaborate tilak, the superbly symmetrical eyes, and the beauteous nose and mouth. This statue has been sculpted with great care and position on an inverted lotus, which in turn is placed on a layered platform.

Also known as Haryardhamurti, the origins of this deity have been propounded in the Vamanapurana. When the devas gathered before Vishnu in their search for Shiva, Vishnu had revealed this form to them. Harihara could have also been formed to vanquish the arrogant demon Guhasura whom Brahma had given a boon. The boon in question stated that neither Hari (Vishnu) nor Hara (Shiva) would be able to kill him. Harihara is the deity to have overpowered and slayed Him; the place where this happened in Chitradurga, Karnataka, is now named after this deity and houses a lovely Shankaranarayana temple (Shankara is another name for Shiva; Narayana, for Vishnu). The iconography in question could be traced to centuries ago, specifically to the Kusana period of Indian history.

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The Buddha In Bhumisparsha Mudra, At The Juncture Of Enlightenment

The Buddha In Bhumisparsha Mudra, At The Juncture Of Enlightenment

The bhumisparsha mudra is an interesting gesture assumed by no other deity than the Buddha. In Sanskrit, 'bhumi' means earth and 'sparsha' means to touch. The Buddha sits in the gracious shade of the Bodhi tree, His long limbs folded in the perfect padmasana. He is steeped in meditation as could be deduced from his composure of countenance, sculpted flawlessly from brass given multiple finishes. The piece of cloth that enrobes Him is a simple bordered garment, whose style is consummate with the finish of the sculpture. One hand rests on His lap in dhaya mudra; the other gently touches the ground that runs beneath His asana (seat) in the famous bhumisparsha mudra.

The Buddha was born to the ruler of the North Indian Shakya clan in the Himalayan foothills, in the capital of Kapilavastu. It was foretold that He would become a highly accomplished ruler or a monk of all-surpassing greatness. Eager to ensure that His only son does not turn to a life of the latter, His father the King Suddhodana gave Him the finest upbringing a mortal could ask for. Shortly after marrying the beautiful Yashodhara who His father had lovingly chosen for Him, He renounced the life of plenty He was born into and wandered off into the woods. He lived like an ascetic, then returned amidst human settlements along North India's plentiful plains, in terms of both nature and society, wherein He lived the life of a homeless monk.

After years of having observed such austerities, the Buddha reached Gaya and sat down beneath the fateful tree on he banks of the Niranjana. Out of sheer determination, He was subsumed into a meditative trance that carried Him into memories of His previous lifetimes. It revealed to Him the vicious cycle of death following birth following death, the cycle of human suffering. Within the glowing stretch of His vision, His soul finally shed all its desire. Henceforth, the clarity and understanding that took its place is what we know as Enlightenment today. Because no one was around when the moment of Enlightenment occurred, the Buddha lowered a hand and touched the earth to call upon it as His witness. Thus, the remarkable bhumisparsha mudra, which is the foremost stance that comes to mind when devotees hear the utterance of His name.

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The Serenity Of Vajrasattva, The Adi-Buddha

The Serenity Of Vajrasattva, The Adi-Buddha

The signature element of Vajrasattva's iconography is the pristine silvery skin. It represents this tantric deity's essential qualities of purity and newness, and the ability of the mind to transcend the space-time continuum. In this light Vajrasattva is called the Adi-Buddha, the primordial Buddha, a diamond being ('vajra' means 'diamond', 'sattva' means 'being'). He is a picturesque semblance of the spiritual faculties innate in each of us, the beginningless purity of one's nature that is unsullied by any thought or word or deed quantifiable within that continuum of human perception.

A serene stance characterises Vajrasattva. There is untold bliss on His flawlessly sculpted brow. Resplendent gold marks the base of His crown and kundalas, the hairline, the tapering necklace and the bracelts on His arm and the kamarband, and the hem of His robe. With His right hand He holds a vajra to His heart; in His left, a vajraghanta ('ghanta' is Sanskrit for 'bell') symbolic of wisdom. Together these two implements stand for the fusion of polarities - masculine and feminine, perfection and imperfection, conducive and inconducive - into a singular experience of enlightenment. The sumptuous silks and jewels of His shringar have been inlaid with rich colours. Vajrasattva is the union of the mandalas of all five Buddhas. Contemplating on His radiant gaze long enough would transform the devotee's universe.

Vajrasattva is a practice, a visual meditational aid. Alienated from our essential nature, we wallow in self-pity in this realm of existence. The hundred-syllable mantra of this deity enables us to get in touch with our fundamentally true and pure nature, and claim our spiritual inheritance. It begins thus: Om vajrasattva samayam anupalaya (Om Vajrasattva, preserve the bond). Meditating on Vajrasattva does away with all the inessential elements of our being and fills us with an irreplacable newness. He is a reflex form of Akshobhya, the vajra-yielding Buddha of the east, associated with the pure essential newness of dawn.

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Shakyamuni Buddha, Ashtamangalas On His Lifelike Drape

Shakyamuni Buddha, Ashtamangalas On His Lifelike Drape

The Buddha is radiant. His skin is flawless, His form cast in the best proportions of man. In Sanskrit, 'buddha' means a higher-order awakening, an awakening to the primordial realities of compassion and self-existent wisdom. Each of the finishes this statue comes in brings out the enlightened beauty of His being in full measure. Indeed, this handpicked Buddha is not a mere object of worship: it is a mirror of the innermost layer of your being. Pick a variation suited to your space and temperament, and let this be the icon of your journey from ignorance to illumination.

At the juncture of awakening, when the former prince of a North Indian warring clan transitioned from the hungering acetic to the Buddha Himself, He touched (sparsha) a finger to the earth (bhumi), invoking it as His witness. The sootras narrate how the grahas (planets) came to a standstill and the entirety of jivas (living creatures) made their obeisance to Him. Despite being beyond the scope of art and literature, the superb brasswork captures the glamour of Shakyamuni's unsurpassed awakening. "Do not look to me," Shakyamuni had said, "but to the enlightenment state."

The Buddha's lobes droop with the weight of His karnaphool, an indication of His supreme wisdom. There is untold bliss writ on His brow, three characteristic curves of the conch on His sweet throat. His gracious torso and limbs emerge from underneath a robe containing the ashtamangalas in dense, complex patterns, which gathers in luxuriant folds beneath Him. The drape that covers the entirety of the Buddha's back has been sculpted exquisitely with motifs of great spiritual significance in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. For example, beneath the seated Shakyamuni's waist is a couple of deers on either side of a golden dharmachakra, symbolic of fidelity and harmony. At the centre of the spine is the dragon, which represents the masculine principle (yang) inclusive of creative and transformative energies. The snow-lion between His shoulders is the national animal of Tibet and is said to preside over its snow-capped mountains, lending to Buddha the name of Shakyasimha.

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