This brilliant wood-statue, a delightful blend of carving and colouring one giving it its anatomy, and the other, its lustre, beauty and charm, a most accomplished example of iconographic idiom that the South Indian sculptors practiced for centuries now, represents Goddess Lakshmi, the patron deity of riches, prosperity, fertility, abundance and accomplishment. Slightly different from her form as Padmavati but exactly in Padmavati’s idiom, the image of goddess Lakshmi has been conceived and sculpted to enshrine a sanctum or sanctify and grace a house independent of Vishnu. Unlike the North where Lakshmi icons are invariably subordinated to Vishnu this image of Lakshmi does not record even the symbolic presence of Vishnu, not carrying even any of his attributes. The towering crown of the goddess, an element of Vaishnava iconography, is typical of South Indian divine imagery worn not merely by Vaishnava deities but also by the Shaivite. Not sculptors’ innovation, a large body of myths defines this form of the lotus goddess, her independence, lotus contexts and entire being. As the mythical tradition has it, once sage Bhragu was nominated by gods, sages and others to decide who among Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva was superior of the other two. For determining each one’s merit Bhragu decided to meet them individually. He first went to Shiva; however, indulged in love with Parvati he even did not notice him. Brahma treated him rudely, but Bhragu’s patience failed when he found Vishnu asleep. The enraged sage kicked him on his chest leaving a scar there. Vishnu awoke and apologized for being asleep. Even he adopted as his distinction the mark that the sage had made by his foot on his chest.
Lakshmi who was with him felt insulted, particularly by the conduct of Vishnu who instead of punishing the sage was apologetic. She hence abandoned him and Vaikuntha, his seat. Unable to live without her Vishnu also left Vaikuntha and in her search reached Tirumala hill of the Eastern Ghats in the South. After ages of repentance and yearning, one day he realised Lakshmi sprouting within him like a lotus and thus the two were re-united. Now Vishnu had Lakshmi in him but she was independent of him. This form of Lakshmi, often named Padmavati, was Vishnu’s spiritual realisation, within but as much beyond him.
The statue represents the four-armed Lakshmi carrying in each of her upper hands a lotus. Her lower hands are held in abhaya and varada, gestures granting fearlessness and redemption. This form is in exact adherence to Lakshmi’s classical iconography, which the abundance of lotuses characterizes. Not merely the lotuses in hands she has a large lotus as her seat and the pedestal that houses this lotus seat too comprises conventionalised lotus motifs. Such abundance of lotuses distinguishes her form from that in prevalence in north. Lakshmi in her every manifestation bestows prosperity, growth and abundance but her form with abundance of lotuses is dually auspicious for lotus, symbolising creativity, multiplication and purity, multiplies the divinity of the goddess.
The statue of the goddess is unique in its modeling, plasticity, anatomical proportion and aesthetic beauty. A rounded face charged with divine aura, eyes in deep meditation, sharp features, sensually modeled breasts clad in as much sensuous stana-patta, narrow waist, a well-defined anatomy and her seating posture reveal great beauty of form. She is clad just in an antariya and stana-patta but their grace and lustre is rare. The ornaments that she is putting on are a few but their elegance is unsurpassed. Though broadly a sanctum image, it is as great a masterpiece of woodcraft. The divine aura that the image enshrines is not born of its sectarian links, but of the unique emotionality and mystic quality that its face breathes. The image inspires the sacredness of a sanctum and classicism of an ancient art.
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.
How to care for Wood Statues?
Wood is extensively used in sculpting especially in countries like China, Germany, and Japan. One feature that makes the wood extremely suitable for making statues and sculptures is that it is light and can take very fine detail. It is easier for artists to work with wood than with other materials such as metal or stone. Both hardwoods, as well as softwood, are used for making sculptures. Wood is mainly used for indoor sculptures because it is not as durable as stone. Changes in weather cause wooden sculptures to split or be attacked by insects or fungus. The principal woods for making sculptures and statues are cedar, pine, walnut, oak, and mahogany. The most common technique that sculptors use to make sculptures out of wood is carving with a chisel and a mallet. Since wooden statues are prone to damage, fire, and rot, they require proper care and maintenance.
It is extremely important to preserve and protect wooden sculptures with proper care. A little carelessness and negligence can lead to their decay, resulting in losing all their beauty and strength. Therefore, a regular clean-up of the sculptures is a must to prolong their age and to maintain their shine and luster.
Wood has been a preferred material for sculptures and statues
since ancient times. It is easy to work with than most metals and
stones and therefore requires less effort to shape it into any
desired shape or form. The texture of the wood gives an element of
realism to the sculpture. The selection of an appropriate wood
type is necessary for carving. Woods that are too resinous or
coniferous are not considered good for carving as their fiber is
very soft and thus lacks strength. On the other hand, wood such as
Mahogany, Oakwood, Walnut wood, Weet cherry wood, etc., are
preferred by sculptors because their fiber is harder.
A wood sculptor uses various tools such as a pointed chisel in one
hand and a mallet in another to bring the wood to the desired
measurement and to make intricate details on it. A carving knife
is used to cut and smooth the wood. Other tools such as the gouge,
V-tool, and coping saw also serve as important tools in wood
carving. Although the wood carving technique is not as complex and
tough as stone carving or metal sculpting, nonetheless, a wood
carver requires a high level of skills and expertise to create a
The process of wood carving begins with selecting a chunk of wood
that is required according to the type and shape of the statue to
be created by the sculptor. Both hardwoods and softwoods are used
for making artistic pieces, however, hardwoods are preferred more
than softer woods because of their durability and longevity. But
if heavy detailing is to be done on the statue, wood with fine
grain would be needed as it would be difficult to work with
Once the wood type is selected, the wood carver begins the
general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. A gouge
is a tool having a curved cutting edge which is useful in
removing large unwanted portions of wood easily without
splitting the wood. The sculptor always carves the wood across
the grain of the wood and not against it.
When a refined shape of the statue is obtained, it is time for
making details on the statue using different tools. This is
achieved by using tools such as a veiner to make and a V-tool to
create decorative and sharp cuts.
Once finer details have been added, the sculptor is ready to
smoothen the surface and give it a perfect finish. Tools such as
rasps and rifflers are used to get a smooth surface. The finer
polishing is obtained by rubbing the surface with sandpaper. If
a textured surface is required, this step is skipped. Finally,
to protect the statue from excessive dirt accumulation, the
sculptor applies natural oils such as walnut or linseed oil all
over it. This also brings a natural sheen to the statue.
Wood statues are lighter in weight and less expensive than metal
or stone pieces. Because wood is prone to fast decay by fungus and
algae, statues made out of this material are not preferred to be
kept outside. The rich tradition of wood carving in countries such
as Africa, Egypt, India, and Nepal has been followed for many
centuries. Indian craftsmen are specialized in this classic art
and continue to exhibit their extraordinary artistic skills.
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