The Welcoming Deepalakshmi
51.5 inch X 16.5 inch X 16.5 inch
This exceptionally ornate brass statue, sublimity enshrining the faceof the represented figure, and rhythm, wreathed into her form – intoevery curve and gesture of her parts, an icon usually classed asDeepalakshmi in Indian iconographic tradition, represents a youngwoman holding in her hands a large lamp. In ancient and medievalIndia, and even till recent times, transporting light in the form oflit lamps was a regular activity performed invariably by women, a maidor a household, at a palace or a hut. Held close to the bosom andoften protected from winds by a part of one’s ensemble the lightcentring and reflecting on the face of the courier always multipliedits glow : the sensuous beauty of the young spouse and the divine auraon the mother’s face. A local version of Rama-katha alludes toAnasuya, the wife of the known sage Atri, emerging from her hut with alit lamp in hands when around the evening Rama, Sita and Lakshmanareach Atri’s hermitage. The tradition contends that the light thatSita saw reflecting in the divine eyes of mother Anasuya was Sita’slight for ever and whenever she recalled it, darkness illuminated withlight.Obviously, in Indian context light always had divine dimensions, andeven when its courier was a maid possessed of sensuous beauty, she wasseen as having an amount of divinity as had an enlightening goddessand commanded respect. Sculptures of a lamp-carrying maiden beginappearing quite early, however, her classification as a goddess,especially as a form of Lakshmi who was associated with Diwali, thefestival of light, since long before, is datable to around the firsthalf of the seventeenth century. These statues of lamps’ carryingyoung women were initially used as articles of gift made to relatives,superiors and friends, a tradition which emerged first in South,perhaps at Vijayanagar. Later, it was widely followed all over theland. Deepalakshmi has been ever since a cultural icon that harbourslight, keeps it up, and promotes all that light promotes.Far ahead of the Western concept of ‘torch-bearer’ – the guide or thementor – an intellectual being, in Indian tradition the courier oflamp was seen as a divine presence that lighted the path by its merepresence. It was for such reasons that statues of a woman carryinglamp in her hands were often seen posted on the entrances to temples,palaces, mansions or houses. These Deepalakshmi statues, a name theysubsequently acquired, presented a strange blend of spiritualism andsecularism. They manifested divinity but not linked to a sectarianline they were completely secular, and hence, adorned any door, or anysitting chamber, even an Islamic or Christian ruler’s, by their sheeraesthetic beauty and inspired by their power to spread light. Now forover three hundred years a Deepalakshmi statue is one of the mostauspicious object in any house, and as significant an image for Diwaliworship as Goddess Lakshmi herself.This brilliantly conceived brass-cast is outstanding in the figuralquality of the image, in its modeling, plasticity, grace, divine auraand iconographic details : round face with sharp nose, rounded cheekswith cute lips socketed within and deep thoughtful eyes arching over,a large bead-like moulded chin and a blissful composure on the face.As absolute is the figure’s anatomy consisting of a well defined neck,sensuously moulded breasts, subdued belly, broad shoulders, voluminouships twisted to right that adds to the part greater volume, and aproportionate height. Wearing a towering Vaishnava crown,‘makara-kundalas’ – ear-ornaments designed like crocodiles, broadnecklaces, elaborate waist-band and armlets conceived with two peacockmotifs, strange and delightful, as a pair of the dancing bird isperching over shoulder-joints. An auspicious icon peacocks enhance theimage’s auspicious influence. Elegantly pleated and embellished‘antariya’ – lower garment, is another exceptionally artistic elementof the figure.This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.