This marble image, a highly intricate form for a female divinity in a medium like stone, the ten arms branching over a single torso, and five faces, practically one neck holding them, represents the five-faced and ten-armed goddess Gayatri. Gayatri is more often revered in Hindu pantheon as one of the goddesses in Shaivite line, though here in this marble statue most of the attributes that she is carrying, mainly, disc, lotus, mace and conch, relate to Vaishnavite stream. Besides the normal right and left hands held in ‘abhay’ and ‘varad’ and aforementioned other four specific to the images of Lord Vishnu, the goddess is holding in rest of her hands a bowl, rod, noose and bow – other divine attributes held by various gods of either stream. Apart, she is seated on a full-blown large lotus, another Vaishnava feature of the image. The goddess has been represented as seated in ‘lalitasana’ – sitting posture revealing rare beauty, on a large lotus laid over a rectangular platform.
Though a work from a Jaipur workshop, one of the world’s best known centres of marble craftsmanship, the ten-armed and five-faced Gayatri, is obviously a theme more favoured in South Indian art, sculpture or painting. Even in South the Mysore artists’ fascination for the theme has been far greater and Mysore artists’ vision of the goddess, not just her anatomy but also the image’s iconography, is now her universal image. The sandal wood like sensitively chiseled image, every stroke rendered most tenderly, and painted in light saffron – one of the sandal’s hues, the statue seems to bathe in gentle light and divine aura. The faces of the goddess, all well-fed and rounded, gold-like lustrous and eyes as large as extended across the face from nose-junction to the entire breadth of the face and emotionally charged, not sharp or pointed but small and beautifully shaped nose enshrining each face, and well-erect neck narrowing in upwards rise, are characteristic features of Mysore divine icons. Not flabby or heavy but a bit voluminous, the anatomy of the figure adheres to the South Indian standard of a healthy build. This statue, thus, wondrously synthesizes the South Indian vision of the goddess’s image and all canons as enshrined various texts and the great skill of marble-carving that the Jaipur sculptors have acquired through many generations.
Now one of the most popularly worshipped deities pan India the origin as well as status of Gayatri as a goddess is obscure. Most of the other subordinate divinities of Hindu pantheon, as is Gayatri, class either as the Mahavidyas or as the Matrikas, their more accepted numbers being ten and seven, though for attributing authoritative status to those proliferating in the line from time to time especially under Tantrika cult, such numbers were often expanded. However, Gayatri who has a number of shrines, independent and in live worship, dedicated to her as also a body of minor myths cropped up around her, does not class as either. Instead, in popular perception Gayatri is more often seen as personifying ‘Shakti’ that manifests in ‘mantra’. As the Vedic Gayatri ‘mantra’ is the crux of the entire body of ‘mantras’ and is the representative ‘mantra’, Gayatri, the goddess, due to commonality of the name, is seen as the manifestation of the Vedic Gayatri ‘mantra’ – the deity-form personifying the ‘Shakti’ of ‘mantra’. This statue represents on her left a tiny pretty white bird. If a goose, the bird symbolises purity, and thereby one of the goddess Gayatri’s basic attributes; however, if a parrot, it symbolises commemorative power, an essential attribute of Gayatri when she is seen as representing the power of ‘mantra’, the ‘mantra’ revealing its power when commemorated.
It is perhaps the goddess Gayatri’s mantra-related identity that myths associate her to Brahma who created Vedas. As contend some of the Puranas, Gayatri was one of the consorts of Brahma. One among many of the popular myths specifically contend that once Brahma made her sit with him when he performed ‘yajna’, a position that only a wife could hold. It is said that for one of yajnas he had nominated his other consort Swara to host it. However, when the scheduled moment for the yajna to begin arrived, Swara was not found anywhere. Brahma hence asked Gayatri to sit along him for the ‘yajna’ and performed it. As the myth has, when Swara arrived and saw Gayatri occupying her place deeply enraged she cursed her to turn into a river. Thus, the mythical tradition sees Gayatri as personifying simultaneously three divine aspects : the ‘Shakti’ of the Gayatri-mantra, a sacred river, and the accomplishment of ‘yajna’.
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.