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In both forms : the lotus-seated and Vina-vadini, the Puranas have perceived Saraswati as the four-armed divinity, though while in her preliminary lotus-seated manifestation she has been conceived as carrying in her two upper hands lotuses, and in normal two, ‘japamala’ – rosary, and ‘pustaka’ – book, the attributes of Brahma, Saraswati’s spouse in Puranas, in her Vina-vadini manifestation, in two of her four hands she carries ‘japamala’ and ‘pustaka’ and with the other two she is represented as playing on vina – a stringed instrument. The Puranas lauded her widely as : 'Asina kamala karairjjapabatim padmadhyam pustakam bivrana', that is, she is lotus-seated and carries in one of her hands a ‘japamala’, in two, lotuses, and in the fourth, a ‘pustaka’. “Japamala’ and ‘pustaka’ have been the regular attributes of her icons, though her seat and attributes in other hands often alternated.
The Rig-Vedic Vak : the goddess of speech, does not have Saraswati’s any defined iconic vision; it is in Puranas that her iconographic forms begin emerging. Corresponding to Brahma’s imagery perceived as emerging from Lord Vishnu’s navel riding a lotus, his consort Saraswati is also conceived as lotus seated and as carrying lotuses. Later, perhaps under the influence of Samudra-manthana – ocean churning like myths, where Lakshmi is perceived as emerging from the ocean riding a lotus, the lotus became inherent element of Lakshmi’s iconography and in the same degree it grew irrelevant in Saraswati’s imagery. Apart, in Puranas the Rig-Vedic goddess of speech Vak assumes a wider role encompassing almost every aspect of beauty, creativity and learning to include arts, dance and music, which a musical instrument, not lotus, better portrayed. Hence, subsequently ‘vina’ almost completely alternated lotuses, and a peacock or goose, even her lotus seat.
The gold-like resplendent image of the goddess has been installed inside a ‘prabhavali’ – fire-arch, composed of conventionalised floral vine : branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, as also mythicized parrots styled partially like peacocks and a monkey enjoying the fruits growing on it. The ‘prabhavali’ rises over a lotus base comprising a pair of lotuses, one inverted, and other, upward. Unlike a ‘prabhavali’ in most of the wood-carvings rising along two parallel columns from a base and vines rising along them from both sides, the right side column in this ‘prabhavali’ has been modeled like a tree-trunk over which grow all branches, twigs, leaves, mangos and flowers, reach the apex and turn to the other side which is a plain column. The goddess is seated on a large lotus in ‘lalitasana’ – sitting posture revealing great aesthetic beauty, with her right leg lying down, and the left, laid on the seat in semi-yogic posture. In the upper right hand she is carrying a rosary, in the normal left, ‘pustaka’, and in normal right and upper left, her vina with her fingers moving along it. The figure of the goddess has been conceived with a face and eyes completely absorbed in the melody emitting from her instrument. She is in her usual ornaments to include a towering Vaishnava crown, and in an ‘antariya’, the only piece of ensemble she has been represented with.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.