Art News & Views

Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting


New York. Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting started at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from June 29 and will continue till November 27, 2011. It features 40 works from the Museum's collection that depict Devi in all her various aspects  The female principle was expressed in a number of ways; as the bearer of life, we see the appearance of the cult of the yakshi personified female nature spirits who embody the fecundity and fertility of nature. Perhaps the most widely worshipped deity in India, Devi stands alongside Shiva and Vishnu in the first rank of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain pantheons. The enthroned goddess with a cornucopia and children, from northwestern India, represents this tradition. Devi, the Indian goddess, is the omnipresent embodiment of power and wisdom given expression in all of India's ancient religions. From the beginnings of figurative representation in early India, she has been the frequent subject of sculpture and a favoured subject in later devotional painting.















About the sixth century a variety of early sources on devi in her myriad forms were brought together in the seminal text the Devi Mahatmya. Primarily devoted to narrating the origins of Durga and her relationship to the pantheon of male deities, the text represents Durga as the ultimate destroyer of demons. It also introduces the awesome forms that emerge from her being, Kali and Camumda, who give expression to Durga's terrible aspect, as do the seven matrikas (mothers).

The exhibition presents enduring images of the feminine in Indian art from the first millennium BCE through the late 20th century. Devi in her myriad forms benign, maternal, empowering, and fearsome expressed the range of human emotions. Later Indian paintings, such as Mahadevi, the Great Goddess, from 18th-century Bikaner, Rajasthan, showed her assuming the form of Durga, displaying the cosmic weapons lent to her by the male gods but standing on lotus flowers, rather than slaying the customary buffalo demon. The artist Y. G. Srimati represented Saraswati, the benign patron of the arts and learning in a mid-20th-century painting.

Sculptural forms range from proto-historic goddess figurines to medieval Durgas of awesomely ferocious look. These will include rare, early molded clay images of the goddess, such as Goddess and Attendants, from Chandraketugarh, in Bengal, dated to the Shunga Period (circa first century BCE).

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