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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The classic Nataraja iconography has an interesting story behind it. It is said that Shiva decided one day to grace the kanakasabha (golden assembly) at Chidambram. The deities and sages gathered there told Him of the heresies of the Mimansaka sages inhabiting the surrounding woods. In keeping with His dharmic greatness, Shiva confronted them in the clearing where burnt their sacrificial fire. A blazing tiger emerged from the flames and attacked Shiva, but He overpowered it in a flash and made its skin His loincloth. Then a superlatively venomous snake rose from the firepit, but Shiva overpowered it and made its kind His adornment such that they sit with great docility on His limbs and tresses. Finally, the apasmara was born from the fire of the heretics, whose back was snapped against the weight of His powerful physique motioning in tandava.
The most unusual aspect of Shiva-Nataraja are His madly flowing locks that flank His handsome countenance. It indicates that the deity's power is five-fold. He projects the entirety of existence as we know it (srishti), preserves it (sthiti), causes its cyclical destruction (samhara), withdraws His energies inward (tirobhava), and reveals Himself to His devotees in all His grace (anugraha). It is this panchakritya (five functions) that the Nataraja embodies. The inverted-lotus pedestal He is placed on in all His shringar, in complementary colours in case of each finish, is typical of the murtis of Indian deities.
From time to time, His omnipresent force manifests Itself into an earthly form or avatara. The avatara is almost exclusively the modus operandi of this particular deity. A lovely male sleeps peacefully upon a celestial serpent as He dreams the universe into being. A ferocious leonine creature bursts forth from a seemingly lifeless pillar and ravages the entrails of a demon. A superbly collected prince enlists an army of monkeys to rescue His wife held captive. An adorable baby sneaks into the churns of milkmaids. Vishnu's many avataras reveal His superlative compassion and concern for the universe He projects; His intellectual, physical, and ethical powers. This despite the fact that some of His avataras are downright formidable and frenzied.
This murti of Vishnu comes in two different finishes to suit your space. The full features of His countenance are radiant (tejasvi) with divinity. The composition is placed on a characteristic pedestal: inverted golden lotus atop a dual-layered base with the lower level engraved with petals. Note how the head of the humungous goad touches the surface of the pedestal between the deity's feet.
In this luxuriantly inlaid brass statue, the devi's celestial form has been portrayed with considerable precision. She is standing on an inverted lotus pedestal, which is typical of iconography of the east, but the richly coloured inlay of each petal and the complex work along the rim of the base render this one-of-a-kind. The intricacies of Her raiment are indicated by variation in the inlay. Her shringar is replete with generous proportions of gold - emerging from Her lobes, across Her gracious torso, dangling on Her arms and wrists and delicate ankles. Indeed She is the wife of Brahma Himself: Her realm (knowledge) is the precursor to His creative prowess. She strums with Her lovely hands an exquisite veena.
Her silvery fair complexion is highly characteristic of Her. She exudes a halo that shines behind Her shy tresses bunched up behind Her head. A towering crown, its sumptuous inlaid beauty in keeping with the rest of the murti, is balanced on top. The handsome features of Her face, Her divine brow exude superlative wisdom and bliss.
The much-revered Shiva parivar comprises of His wife, Parvati, and Their 2 sons, Ganesha and Kartika. Shiva Himself takes centrestage. His two posterior arms are holding divine weapons to battle adharma; He raises one anterior hand in blessing, while with the other He secures the lovely Parvati on His lap. She is also seated in lalitasana, and holds in Her hand a weapon. The harmonious, self-sufficient unit of life that They form together is superbly expressed in the way Their respective silhouettes have been made to align with each other by the artisans. Their intricately crafted, perfectly symmetrical crowns tower above Their heads, Their silk dhoties and ample shringar fit for the celestial realm They belong to. Seated in union on a layered lotus pedestal, with the graceful much-devoted Nandi sitting at the base, They form a complete picture of blissful togetherness.
They are flanked by Ganesha and Kartika, each of Whom has been sculpted with Their iconographies intact. From Ganesha's adorable elephant head, the baby fat on His form, and the humungous laddoo in His hand; to Kartika's radiant handsomeness and the sublime proportions of His form. Like Their parents, Their shringar is flawless and Their stance that of great benevolence and blessing. They are each on a much smaller layered lotus pedestal, which together with Shiva-Parvati's seat are placed on an elaborate stand decorated with petal engravings. The aureole equals it in maginificence. The sheer detailing on each layer - the outermost wave-like curves, followed by the twisted lotus petals, the smooth rim as if of a halo, more twisted petals, and two rings engraved with rangoli-esque motifs - sets this ensemble apart from run-of-the-mill enshrined Shiva-parivar statues.
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