In Vaishnava iconographic tradition the two female images flanking the four-armed image of Lord Vishnu are identified as Shridevi, Lakshmi’s other name though in context to this image-group she is called only as Shridevi, and Bhudevi, the earth goddess, both Lord Vishnu’s consorts. As he had the responsibility of maintain the creation he was bestowed with Shri after she was obtained in ocean-churning. As Varaha, the Great Boar, Lord Vishnu had rescued the earth from the clutches of the demon Hiranyaksha and thus the earth goddess was his consort. The artist has given priority to the image of Vishnu which has been treated with greater resplendence than the other two. Unlike the ensembles : simple pleated ‘antariyas’ of Shridevi and Bhudevi, the pleats of the ‘antariya’ of Lord Vishnu have been adorned with laces of pearls. With exclusive ornaments on arms and bellyband, a greater number of necklaces and more elaborate girdle with extra strings and tassels the image of Lord Vishnu has been ornamented more lavishly than the other two. The images of Shridevi and Bhudevi have been identically cast except that Shridevi on Lord Vishnu’s right has her breasts covered with a ‘stana-pata’ – breasts-band, whereas Bhudevi has them fully exposed, perhaps suggesting her prime role as the goddess of fertility to endlessly feed. Her breasts filled with milk might be her identity symbols as the mother-earth.
Humbler of the two Bhudevi stands on Vishnu’s left, a humble wife’s place, while the vane Shridevi stands on his right, a position of priority. The characters and the roles of Lord Vishnu’s two consorts best reveal in a related myth. Once, Indra gifted to Vishnu the Parijat tree, the tree of never fading celestial flowers. Both Shridevi and Bhudevi argued to have it planted in their gardens and a wall to be raised for separating one from the other. Convinced with Bhudevi’s argument that fertility being her domain to have Parijat in her garden was her natural privilege Vishnu decided to plant it in Bhudevi’s garden, though with the condition that Bhudevi would have the tree but its flowers, when it bloomed, would fall in Shridevi’s garden. Mocking Bhudevi Shridevi said that rearing and maintaining the tree was Bhudevi’s responsibility whereas its flowers were her. Vishnu heard vane Shridevi and said that Parijat would bloom only during the period when he was with Bhudevi in her garden. The myth illustrates the earth-goddess’s zeal to grow, though not without the divine help, perhaps rains, a function of Vishnu, and bestow its fruits on others, and Shri priding over what she does not create, and further that riches are the earth’s bounties, and when undeservingly reaped and used them to inflate one’s arrogance, divine powers desert their holder.
The three images : Lord Vishnu in the centre, Shridevi, on his right, and Bhudevi, on the left, are installed on independent circular lotus seats laid over a rectangular platform consisting of a plain base-moulding rising to half of the upper moulding’s height in taper, and the rest, straight. The top of the platform is again a plain moulding. From the two corners on the longer side of it elevates a beautifully wrought ‘prabhavali’, the base-parts on the two sides being aesthetically incised dwarf-pillars over which rises its upper section consisting of corbels and an elaborate Kirtimukha motif with beautiful tassels and strangely styled whiskers releasing from its mouth, atop. The four-armed image of Lord Vishnu is holding in his two upper hands the disc and conch, the normal right is held in ‘varad’ – bliss and redemption imparting posture, and the normal left, suspending as in thoughtful mode. Both, Shridevi and Bhudevi are normal two-armed figures. As prescribe texts, Bhudevi is carrying a lotus in her right hand, and Shridevi, in her left, that is, towards Lord Vishnu, though while Bhudevi’s lotus looks like a bud, Shridevi’s, like a ‘Purna-ghata’.
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.