Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings, and Models

Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings, and Models

Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings, and Models

Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings, and Models


Provides information on female images in ancient arts and scriptures, the relationship of female divinities to erotic imagery, goddess shrines of the Himalayas, and the emergence of the great goddess Devi.


The ‘perennial’ flows through space and time constantly changing its contours and acquiring different forms and significance. Some myths have evolved across civilizations and cultures over a long period of history. They have captivated the human mind, and ignited imagination and have in turn affected the human existential state of being. One amongst the perennial themes of supreme significance is that of the goddesses. Many civilizations and cultures have embodied and articulated the principle of creative energy in distinctive ways. While in most other civilizations the goddess-myths are reminders of a primordial world unrelated to contemporaneity, in India they continue to hold sway at tribal, rural and urban levels in a vast variety of expressions ranging from simple domestic rituals to public celebrations and icons in places of worship.

The history and chronology of Hindu goddesses is complex. While it is possible to draw linear graphs, time and space overlap and there is much coiling and recoiling. Primary is the association of the female energy with the primal elements, especially water and earth. An impressive water cosmology emerges coupled with entwining of the female, the plant and the tree. This continues over centuries to give rise to the familiar motifs of Indian art of all streams: Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina. We recognize them as the Yakshinis and the Salabhanjikas who crowd the sculptural space of ancient and medieval art.

The earth is the sustainer mother. The Prithvi or Bhumi Sukta of the Atharva Veda presents a cosmic vision comparable and complementary to the Purusa Sukta of the Rig Veda. The theme perseveres over millennia, in different regions. The principles of fertility and energy and all embracing generosity are articulated in diverse ways and different modes. The mother goddess is the beautiful earth, single or collective, originator, protector and when occasion demands, destroyer. She is the archetypal mother in many forms. The cult of the mother goddess perseveres at the tribal, rural and urban levels. There are countless variations. The image of the “mother” dominates the Indian psyche in numerous forms. From prehistoric mother goddess to Bankim Chandra’s invoking the country as Mother to Sharada Ma of Ramakrishna to Aurobindo’s mother, she inspires the humble and the sage alike.

Indian mythology again of all streams—Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina—creates a vast panorama of the Devi, the goddess as Saraswati, Taras, the Vageshwaris and many others. Each follows a particular trajectory, not unconnected with the other. The goddesses are personifications of attributes, their physical form and stance are indicative of their psychical powers. Sometimes benevolent, at other times malevolent, alluring, attractive, fearsome and awesome they encapsulate several layers of myth in their iconic forms. The visual imagery attempts to collapse the narrative in a single frozen moment. The great image of Mahisasuramardini evokes the preceding confrontations with the demons and suggests that moment after the vanquishing of Mahisasura. So also is the case of the images of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga and Kali. All these are both ancient and contemporary. They . . .

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