SPIRITUAL WORLD: IMAGES OF GODS AND GODDESSES IN INDIAN ART

One of the most striking characteristics of the ancient and multi-faceted Hindu religious tradition is the importance of goddess worship. A considerable number of goddesses are known in the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Vedic hymns. No other living religious tradition displays such an ancient, continuous, and diverse history of goddess worship. The Hindu tradition provides the richest source of mythology, theology, and worship available to anyone interested. The dominant characteristic of traditional Indian art and culture is its spirituality. From birth to death, life is keyed to shrine, temple, or mosque, enriched by prayer, chanting, and spiritual exercises, and enlivened by rites of passage and religious festivals. The works of art brought together here portray gods and goddesses. They were used to aid as meditation or worship, and remind beholders of their sacred obligations. These objects offer more than aesthetic delight, and they are more than reflections of a remarkable cultural ethos. Rather, they are highly charged sources of spiritual energy and potent, almost animate ambassadors from a land that can be envisioned as a noble mountain inhabited by a hierarchal but interdependent and infinitely varied society, culture, linguistic, and ethnic blend. This Gallery shows representations of gods and goddesses in Indian art to explore their symbolism and how they are used in everyday art and life. Each of the gods and goddesses depicted has a special role in Indian and Hindu culture. Five gods and goddesses depicted in this collection are Vishnu, Durga, Ganesha, Saraswati, and Skanda. The Great Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini), c. 1750, Indian, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Durga Mahisasuramardini), 13th century, by Gujarat, India, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon Mahisha (Mahishasuramardini), early 10th century, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Two-sided Festival Banner, 17th century, Rubin Museum of Art. Vishnu With Attendants, earth 12th century, by Pala Dynasty, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The Six-Headed Skanda (Karttikeya), 12th century, by Chola Dynasty, India, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Saraswati, 1200 AD, National Museum of New Delhi. Ganesha With His Consorts, early 11th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Havel, E. B. The Ideals of Indian Art. London: J. Murray, 1911. Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Welch, Stuart C. India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900. Place of Publication Not Identified: Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2013. The Great Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini). 1759. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kota, Rajasthan, India, Rajasthan, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon [Durga Mahisasuramardini. 12th-13th Century. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gujarat, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon Mahisha (Mahishasuramardini). 

The Great Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini). 1759. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kota, Rajasthan, India, Rajasthan, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon [Durga Mahisasuramardini. 12th-13th Century. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gujarat, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon Mahisha (Mahishasuramardini). Early 10th century. Art of South New Wales. Rajasthan, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Two Sided Festival Banner. 17th century. Rubin Museum of Art. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Vishnu With Attendants. Early 12th century. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Shialdi, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Pala Dynasty (Early 8th-12th centuries). Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. The Six-Headed Skanda (Karttikeya). 12th century. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Tamil Nadu, India. Chola Dynasty (9th-13th century). Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web. Saraswati. 1200 AD-1300 AD. National Museum of New Delhi. Bikaner, India. Google Cultural Institute. Google. Web.  Ganesha With His Consorts. Early 11th century. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Google Cultural Gallery. Google. Web. 

The Great Goddess appears in many different forms. This sculpture depicts her as the beautiful and voluptuous yet fierce Durga Mahishasurmardini, the Slayer of the Buffalo Demon. Durga was created to destroy the powerful buffalo demon, Mahishasura, who threatened the cosmic order. Unable to defeat Mahishasura individually, the male Hindu gods combined to fashion Durga from parts of their own bodies and empowered her with their weapons. Here she holds the trident of Shiva in one hand and Vishnu's discus in another (Durga).
The image of Durga killing the Buffalo Demon is probably the single most popular and long-lasting image of the goddess of Indian art. While there are ten manifestations of the great mother goddess Durga, who is the embodiment of the female energy ('shakti'), it is this one of her as the victorious warrior goddess that is the most powerful. This is a very early representation of Durga, as well as being one of the great power and presence. The anonymous sculptor has ingenously interpreted the triumphant moment in a unique manner, with the buffalo trying to kick away the lion attacking his rump. The abstraction of shapes (caused partly by time and loss of Durga's arms) make the image even more potent than many representations of Durga (Durga).
The banner shows two matrka, or “mothers,” a group of goddesses representing the female counterparts of great Hindu gods and also considered to be those deities’ energies (shakti). The white goddess is Varuni, the goddess of the water, symbolized by the multiple snakes that form a hood above her head, the mythical water monster (makara) she dances on, and the lotus and serpent she holds in her hands. The red Varahi on the reverse is the shakti of the deity Vishnu’s boar incarnation. She has the head of a boar and stands on a bull with her four hands holding a fish, an elephant goad, and a skull cup (Banner).
This sculpture was created during the Pala dynasty. Pala kings ruled most of Bihar and Bengal, now divided between Bangladesh and India, from the second part of the eighth century until the twelfth century. Pala art had a significant influence on the art of Tibet, Nepal and Southeast Asia (Pala Dynasty).
Skanda is the Hindu god of war and the son of Shiva, known by many names, reflecting the history of the god as an amalgamation of different deities from older cults. This twelfth-century Chola-period sculpture shows the six-faced god seated in the position of royal ease (lalitasana) upon his vehicle, the peacock. Skanda has twelve arms, which hold attributes including a sword, a mace, a thunderbolt (vajra), a shield, a trident and a lotus. Skanda wears an elaborate crown and heavy circular earrings, several necklaces and a beaded cord that winds across his torso. Holding a snake in its beak, the peacock stands on a lotus pedestal, which also supports an arched, flame-edged aureole with a stylised lotus at its apex (Chola Dynasty).
Sarasvati, the goddess of music, learning, eloquence and intelligence is basically the deity of Brahmanical pantheon where she is considered as the sakti of Brahma. It is a highly sophisticated and delicate work of sculptural art made in white marble, the four-armed Saraswati, standing on a lotus pedestal, holds a lotus, a book, a rosary and a vase in her hands. Along with the rosary, the lower right hand displays the varada mudra. She is bedecked with minutely carved ornaments. The modelling of her limbs is very soft and delicate. The fingers are quite animated and their sharp and pointed nails attract the attention immediately (Saraswati).
Ganesha, elephant-headed god of goof fortune and auspicious beginnings, sits enthroned with his wives perched on his rotund thighs. The wife holding a lotus flower may be Riddhi ("prosperity"). The other may be Siddhi ("accomplishment"). She carries a bowl of the round sweets presented to the god in temple ritual. Below his throne, the rat, Ganesha's vahana (vehicle or compliment), nibbles at a stolen sweet. This image was probably once part of the many carvings that covered the exterior of a Hindu temple (Ganesha).
This painting, which originated in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, far from Nepal, demonstrates the popularity of the iconic form of Mahishasuramardini across the subcontinent. In this colorful illustration, the many-armed goddess leaps from her feline vehicle and slices through the neck of the buffalo demon. Splashing out through the blood, the demon emerges in his human form, although green and with horns. Across South Asia, the water buffalo is thought to embody ignorance, laziness, and pollution; it is associated with blood and is the vahana (vehicle) of Yama, God of Death. Although domestic water buffalo have long provided milk and agricultural power, ancient texts describe them as a nondomesticated species, representing the chaos of wilderness and the absence of cosmic order (Durga).
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