An accomplished piece of woodcraft, this statue portrays the enrapt Saraswati, the goddess of learning, music, art, literature and all creative faculties of mind, playing on ‘vina’, a stringed instrument, which symbolizes her all creative aspects. In adherence to her iconographic tradition her figure has been conceived with four arms, though the anatomy of these arms slightly deviates. In four-armed figures of divinities the lower ones on two sides are usually the normal arms; however, in this image of the goddess her normal two arms are the lower right and the upper left. The additional arm on the right branches from above the knee-joint, while that on the left, from below it.
The figure of the goddess, completely detached and isolated not enshrining a sanctum, or ‘prabhavali’, the sanctum’s symbolic transform, save a lotus pedestal with routine dimensions, has been portrayed as carrying ‘vina’ in her normal two hands and a rosary and ‘pothi’ – text, in other two. Rosary and ‘pothi’ are primarily the attributes of Brahma, which being Brahma’s consort Saraswati shares with him. With her allusions as Vak, the ‘shakti’ of the ‘mantra’ – power of mystic syllables, in the Rig-Veda, Saraswati emerges as the earliest of all female deities in Brahmanical order. She has far wider presence in Jain pantheon and in the Buddhist. In the Buddhist tradition she is worshipped as Tara, while in Jainism, as Saraswati. In Jain tradition, Saraswati is perceived as having sixteen forms or manifestations.
Now more often the image of Saraswati is conceived as riding a goose and sometimes, also a peacock and other mounts, in early classical art and scriptural traditions the goddess was perceived invariably as lotus-seated. ‘Asina kamala karairjjapabatim padmadhyam pustakam bivrana' is how early scriptures visualized Saraswati’s image : Saraswati is seated on lotus and carries in her four hands a 'japamala' – rosary, two lotuses, and a manuscript. With utmost emphasis on lotus, this early form does not have even the ‘vina’, now the essence of her image, and had instead two lotuses. This wood-piece retains ‘japamala’ and ‘pothi’ and her lotus seat but replaces the two lotuses by ‘vina’, largely symbolizing the dimensional breadth of Saraswati : all that she symbolizes and stands for. Noticeably, the goddess’s lotus-seat comprises two rows of lotuses, besides a pedestal comprising conventionalised lotus motifs. Maybe, such abundance of lotus motifs is for emphasizing the significance of lotus in her iconography, as prescribed in early canonical texts. Corresponding to the beauty of lotuses she has a sitting posture known in iconographic tradition as ‘lalitasana’ – the posture revealing exceptional beauty of form.
The red-complexioned and green-costumed image of the goddess has been conceived as abounding in great lustre : 'parama jyotiswarupa' – one born of the Supreme Light, the same as perceived in early scriptures : Vedas, Brahmans and Puranas. Texts perceive her as gold-complexioned, and as possessed of vigorous youth and rarest beauty. Essentially a mother, the Atharva Veda and several other texts visualize her as possessed of large breasts full of milk and its endless flow. Except that the artist has sensualized them a little by adorning them with beautiful floral ‘stana-patta’ – breast-band, the elegantly modeled breasts of the goddess adhere largely to these textual parameters. The figure of the goddess, conceived with perfect anatomical proportions and fine facial features, has been adorned with rich jewels and brilliant apparel and has on the face divine quiescence and around it an aura of rare divinity.
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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