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Navagraha (The Nine Planets) - With Each Deity Facing the Correct Direction, Highly Auspicious and Suitable for Rituals and Worship of Navagraha

Navagraha (The Nine Planets) - With Each Deity Facing the Correct Direction, Highly Auspicious and Suitable for Rituals and Worship of Navagraha

Possessing this ornate sculpture from the Exotic India collection is equivalent to having the entire heavens upon a small stand in your house. Navgrah (Sanskrit for 'nine celestial bodies') is the collection of deities in Whom are manifested the divinity contained within each celestial body of the solar system. Soorya, Chandra, Mangal, Budha, Guru, Shukra, Shani, Rahu, and Ketu are arranged delicately on an elaborate, common base, each facing the direction ordained to them by the essence of the universe.

Bronze has been the preferred metal of sculpturors since time immemorial. Even though sculptures of brass are more abundant due to the commercial availability of the alloy - especially across the Exotic India website - it is bronze that has a more artistic, elite whiff to it. The members of the Chola dynasty constituted the key patron group of bronze sculpture, who demanded great skill in this art form, funded innovative methods that have gone down in history, and caused the golden age of bronze casting to flourish in the subcontinent.

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Dancing Ganesha, Four-headed, Eighteen-armed, Captured In Vivid Red In Brocadeless Newari-style Thangka

Dancing Ganesha, Four-headed, Eighteen-armed, Captured In Vivid Red In Brocadeless Newari-style Thangka

Ganesha is as popular with Nepalese Buddhists as He is with Indian Hindus. Called Vinayak in the Kathmandu Valley, which is the origin of the Newari style of art and architecture, this widely loved and venerated deity has been captured in vibrant colours and detail in this brocadelss thangka. He is dancing on a large, black, rather vicious roopa of His vahana, the rat, as His eighteen arms flailing around His portly frame as He motions in dance. His silken dhoti is a pastel red, matching the dye on His inner palms and complementing the pastel-coloured sashes on His troso. In fact, red is the dominant colour of this thangka, from the rich red of the aureoles (even those of the accompanying deities in the corners) and the inner flaps of the Lord's ears, to one of His four pastel-hued heads. The colour, together with the lifelike stance of His limbs and the ecstatic composure of countenance, conveys motion supremely well.

The thangka has all the hallmarks of Tibetan art. A vivid colour palette, Dikapals and other guardian deities that flank the central figure, and a cheerful lotus pedestal. From the bejewelled gold crown and the halo rimmed with gold petals to the entirety of His delicate shringar, the sheer amount of gold in this thangka matches the generous proportions of red that characterise the Neweari style. In each of His hands are objects of dharmic significance, more of which are painted against the dense turquoise background. Note how fiercely He guards His favourite laddooes from toppling over as He dances with a bowlful in one of His hands.

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Devi Gayatri On Blooming Lotuses

Devi Gayatri On Blooming Lotuses

Anybody even remotely associated with Indian culture has listened to and probably chanted the Gayatri mantra, an amalgamation of sacred Sanskrit syllables that expresses one's veneration of Paramatma. Many sources identify Her to be the prakriti roopa of Gayatra (Savitra), a solar deity described in the Vedas. The Devi Gayatri is the parlokiya (otherworldly) personification of this all-important mantra, wife of the majestic Sadashiva, and a roopa of Parvati. Like Her husband, She is panchamukhi (five-headed) and dashabhujadhari (ten-armed), the most powerful form of the Hindu Devi that there is. In each of Her hands are dharmic implements such as the begging bowl, the dharmachakra, and divine weapons to defeat adharm; while the anterior pair of hands are poised in blessing.

The sculptural depiction of the Devi is flawless in terms of the beauty and power expressed. Her gaze is straight; Her composure of Her full-featured countenance, determined. The folds of Her silken saree gather over Her lalitasana in lifelike folds. Starting from the crown and the kundalas to the rest of Her shringar, their luxuriance conveys Her divine presence. Zooming in on the back would enable you to appreciate the sheer amount of detail that the sculptor has put into this work - the five cascades of gorgeous hair gathering in one superb mane down the back, the petalled halo. What sets this Gayatri Devi sculpture apart from the usual Hindu devi iconographies is the majestic lotus arrangement that functions as Her pedestal. Two freshly bloomed lotuses have been placed with the bases of their pistils together, and the Devi Gayatri is seated amidst the flared petals of the one opening upwards.

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Nandi Muzzling The Feet Of Ardhanarishvara

Nandi Muzzling The Feet Of Ardhanarishvara

Of all the folk art forms in India, pattachitra is the most complex. One of the oldest art forms to have flourished in the subcontinent, it is what a lot of people know the state of Odisha by. 'Patta' in Sanskrit means canvas, and 'chitra' picture. And it isn't your run-of-the-mill canvas that functions as the foundation to the pictures. The patta of pattachitra is made in a week-long process that starts with soaking tamarind seeds for the first 3, pestling them thoroughly, and heating them in an earthen pot. The natural paste that emerges is called niyas kalpa in the local language, which is used to glue 2 pieces of fabric. This is further given double coats of soft powdered clay and polished with a rough stone followed by a smooth stone to produce the finished canvas.

The natural pigments that are used for the chitras look great on this patta. While themes usually revolve around Jagannath (for the obvious reasons) and avataras of Krishna, this pattachitra depicts the Ardhanarishvara instead. The deity is stands on a blooming lotus with the seated Nandi muzzling Shiva's feet. Parvati's saree is long and flowing, while Shiva is draped in an austere tigerskin. Her shringar is ampler and more feminine than the grim bands of rudraksha on His limbs. The curves of Her anatomy are more defined, Her thick straight tresses cascade down Her back while His wavey locks are flying in the wind. His jatamukuta is complemented by Her luxuriant crown. Winged celestial beauties floating amidst the clouds on either side of the pattachitra on top complete the composition.

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Vajrayogini - Tibetan Buddhist Deity

Vajrayogini - Tibetan Buddhist Deity

This image is that of dakini Vajrayogini. A dakini is the most important female principle in Tantric Buddhism, representing the ever-changing flow of female energy. They are the guardians of teachings and are considered the supreme embodiments of wisdom. The dakini can help change human weaknesses into wisdom and understanding, and the concept of self into enlightened energy.

There are two kinds of dakinis-supramundane or "beyond worldly," and mundane, or "worldly," ones. The second are usually referred to as yoginis. Yoginis are mystical partners of yogis, to whom they give secret wisdom and magical powers. In fact to reach Buddhahood, the practitioner (yogi) requires the help of the following three:

1). His lama or teacher,

2). His yidam, or meditational deity, and

3). His dakini.

There are three different types of Vajrayogini, according to how three different masters viewed her. One of these masters was Mahasiddha Naropa who received his teachings from Vajrayogini around the eleventh century. His disciples began calling this aspect of Vajrayogini as Naro Kha Chod, or Naro Sky Goer, according to the vision and teachings of Naropa. The teachings of Naro Kha Chod were first introduced into Tibet by the Nepalese brothers named Pom Ting. There thus followed a lineage of teachings of Naro Kha Chod that continues to the present day. She is very popular, and all sects follow her practice.

It is according to the sadhana written by Naropa that the present statue is sculpted. Her face is semiwrathful. She has three eyes, and her mouth is open. Her crown is made up of five dried human heads. Her right hand holds a chopper pointing downward. Her left hand holds a skullcup filled with swirling human brains inside. Under her bent left hand there is a khatvanga, a staff decorated with human skulls, vajra, scarf etc. Her naked body glistens with her vehement passion. She is very youthful-looking, and has a beautiful shape with large, pointed breasts and firm nipples. Her necklace is made up of dried human skulls, and she is wearing bone ornaments on her arms and feet, and also a bone apron on her body. She is crushing under her outstretched left leg Dushenma, lying face up. Her bent left leg is stepping on Bhairava, who lies face down. A large fire halo representing wisdom is behind her.

This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.

References:

Lipton, Barbara, and Ragnubs, Nima Dorjee. Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collection of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Short Description of Gods, Goddesses and Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal, Handicraft Association of Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal, compiled by Jnan Bahadur Sakya.

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Ganga Aarati In One's Solitude At Dashashvamedh

Ganga Aarati In One's Solitude At Dashashvamedh

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India, home to no less than 2,000 temples of Hindu culture and tradition. The ghats and mandirs in this city provide ample opportunity to spiritually cleanse oneself, so strong is the presence in the city of all that is holy. Its patron deity is Kashi Vishvanath, whose temple is the biggest of all the ones located along the banks of the Ganga that flows through Varanasi. It attracts numerous pilgrims throughout the year, and houses one of the twelve jyotirlingas in the subcontinent. He is a manifestation of the Lord Shiva. The surrounding ghat, the Dashashvamedha Ghat, has its own legends. The name comes from the ten (das) horses sacrificed by Brahma in the Ashvamedha yajna that He performed here, having built the ghat to welcome Shiva to ihaloka (this realm). It is the largest and the liveliest of the ghat of Varanasi - with the fall of dusk, it comes alive with numberless aratis that are conducted by local priests in honour of the sacred river. This painting is aglow with one such aarati, the goblet being majestically swung by a priest at a relatively quiet spot on the Dashashvamedh Ghat.

The priest is in traditional saffron and ivory clothing. The sindoori rug he stands on is strewn with petals from the flowers of offerings he has made to the mother of all rivers. On a raised platform are arranged the stuff of traditional Hindu offering and aarati - a conch, a handheld bell, a bunch of fresh moist marigolds, and some libation contained in a jar. More lamps are placed at the side, from the earthen diyas to the traditional Indian lampstick and the crackling dhunuchi letting out the auspicious smoke. Note how naturalistic is the portrayal of the flames dancing in the winds brought forth from the Ganga. A number of rickety wooden boats are parked near where the dhoti-clad priest stands offering his arati, which one could make out against the inky blue of the Ganga by zooming in. The same is separated from the all-encompassing darkness of the nightsky by a film of black paint that constitutes the Varanasi cityline.

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The Ethereal White Tara, Tibetan Buddhist Devi In Superfine Brocadeless Thangka

The Ethereal White Tara, Tibetan Buddhist Devi In Superfine Brocadeless Thangka

White Tara is one of the great Bodhisattvas who confers longevity on Her devotees. Her strange prowess was actually revealed to Vagishvarakirti, an Indian sage who then captured Her in a series of three texts called Cheating Death. He further passed these on to Atisha, a Buddhist master, who had these tajen to and translated into Tibetan in 1042. It is said that White Tara had always been Atisha's guardian deity, having looked after him since his childhood and appeared in his visions. Today, the White Tara practice comes to us through more than one lineages. Gampopa, Milarepa's disciple and founder of the Kagyupa Order, is one line of transmission; Gedundrup, the first Dalai Lama, is another. The thangka on this page is a picture of the devotion that She inspires in the hearts of the pure to this day.

The White Tara is the very picture of beauty and serenity. As if sculpted from a pearl, She is bedecked with gold and jewels, rubies and emeralds and turquoises no less. Her pastel-coloured silks and sashes float about Her body, setting off the graceful poorna-padmasana that She has assumed. Clouds and lotuses and wild Tibetan foliage, all quintessential elements of the traditional thangka, frame Her figure, seated as She is on a gorgeously coloured lotus in full bloom. The aureole that surrounds Her has been painted in intricate detail. The foresty green hue of Her halo, rimmed with gold lotus petals, sprouts shocks of ethereal greenery throughout the circumference. Beneath Her lotus-pedestal is a hint of the ocean's blue, at the mouth of which is a bunch of precious Buddhist offerings. Two wrathful deities surrounded by their respective flame-aureoles hold up to Her a plateful more of offerings each.

The beauteous countenance of Tara is framed by lengthened earlobes, and a tiara of gold, jewels, and flowers rests on Her brow. Her half-shut eyes radiate an otherworldly calm and collectedness possible only for a deity as powerful as She is. Note the eyes on the palms of Her hands as well as the soles of Her feet.

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Haloed Parvati Seated On An Exquisite Pedestal, A Flower In Her Hand

Haloed Parvati Seated On An Exquisite Pedestal, A Flower In Her Hand

Bronze is a select medium, somewhat of the elite as opposed to brass, in sculptural traditions across the world. Having flourished in the South under the patronage of the Chola dynasty rulers, it continues to be the medium of choice for sculptors devoted to spiritual art. In this seated depiction of the most popular of Hindu devies, bronze brings out the ethereal beauty of Parvati, the wife of Shiva who is responsible for the cyclical destruction of all creation post preservation. It has been handpicked from Swamimalai, the home of modern bronze art. Her long gracious limbs are arranged in the characteristic lalitasana; one hand supports Her frame on the inverted lotus asana (seat), while the other seemingly holds a flower. Her lissome proportions are matched by the typical Southern-style crown resting on Her haloed head, tri-layered with a lotus petal in the centre at the hem, with a generous proportion of Her gorgeous locks escaping from underneath. Note how the rays of Her halo resembles the petals of a freshly bloomed lily.

Her shringar is relatively simple but replete. A clutch of necklaces, a sash cascading down across Her distinctly maternal torso, a kamarband to hold the silken dhoti in place, and a profusion of bracelets all along Her arm and anklets and rings. Her sweet sharply featured face is framed by long, kundala-laden ears, the beautous brow dotted with an elongated bindi. Despite the minimalistic sculpture of the countenance, the radiance of wisdom and maternal calm pours forth from the composure. Note how the silk of the dhoti clings against Her superb musculature, revealing Her divine proportions. In fact, the hallmark of good sculpture lies in the precision with which the limbs and the digits are carved. The pedestal is atypical of Indian iconography - numerous layers, freshly blooming lotus, a world of intricate engraving in each layer.

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The Intelligent Eyes Of Ganesha, Lover Of Laddoos And Son Of Shiva

The Intelligent Eyes Of Ganesha, Lover Of Laddoos And Son Of Shiva

There is much that is unique to the Madhubani painting tradition. A number of factors have contributed to its being accorded the Geographical Indication status. The skills required to produce something that is authentic and conforms to the highly specialised style is limited to the women of India's Mithila region found in present-day Bihar. Two-dimensional imagery is the primary characteristic of these paintings. The imageries are simplistic, the pigments employed plant-based (with the occasional inclusion of lampblack and ochre). These paintings are made using rudimentary twigs and brushes, sometimes nib-pens, and even matchsticks and fingers. In a bid to beautify their traditional mud-hut dwellings, the women of this highly compact geographical pocket have been making these paintings on their freshly plastered walls and floors. The Ganesha before you is a vivid example of this folk art form that conforms to the style and tradition of Mithila.

Madhubani paintings are evolving. Today they are not only the stuff of mud walls but also mobile works of art done on cloth, canvas, and handmade paper. This painting is done on handmade paper, and depicts a popular religious subject, Lord Ganesha, like most Madhubani paintings do. He is the boy-deity loved and worshipped by all for His inimitable innocence and generosity with divine boons. The laddoo-wielding trunk and the broad kundala-adorned ears are signature aspects of Ganesha. Superbly intelligent eyes and the Shaivite tilak indicative of His parentage complete the countenance. His shringar-laden and janeu-clad torso resembles that of a chubby child; the dhoti-draped limbs are no different either. A plateful of laddooes lies before Him, whilst He holds naother pot of His favourite Indian sweetmeat in one of His four hands. The remaining hands (in anticlockwise direction) bear a nutcracker, a mudra of blessing (this one is tattooed with the swastika), and a gorgeously blooming lotus. Unusually enough, jet black hair cascades down His back from beneath the rim of His crown, and the background resembles some sort of a darbar that He is holding.

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The Incomparable Beauty Of Ganesha, Seated On An AUM Pedestal

The Incomparable Beauty Of Ganesha, Seated On An AUM Pedestal

Much has been written about Ganesha. As Hindu dharma's most adorable boy-deity, He has inspired countless artisans and painters and poets across the subcontinent since time immemorial; and how could He not? So overcome by love are His devotees - and so widespread His followers - that His form is ubiquitous on the streets, inside homes, and across commercial establishments in India. This is because He is generous with His blessings, so everyone set to begin some venture seeks His attention; and many find His childlike demeanour irresistible. The innocent yet wise elephant head, the form of a chubby little boy, and His undying love for laddoos are a few aspects that add to His demeanour. Folklore has numberless explanations for this one-of-a-kind anatomical quirk, each surpassing the other in terms of how reasonable it all sounds to us mere mortals. The long and the short of it is that Shiva-Parvati's son was born a very handsome baby but due to circumstances possible only within the parlokiya (heavenly) realm, He is now revered more for His svabhaava than svaroopa.

And what a svabhaava is contained within that svaroopa. With the mace He holds in His posterior right arm, He overpowers the adharmee; with the conch in His posterior left, He heralds the victory of dharma over adharma. His anterior right hand, its palm tattooed with the sacred AUM syllable, is raised in the eternal dispensing of blessings and boons. Between the remaining hand and the tip of His baby-trunk He cradles a freshly made laddoo, His favourite Indian sweetmeat without which His iconography is incomplete. This sculpture is a fine example of the Ganesha svaroopa. Luxuriant silks and shringar that cover almost entirely His bare torso, the intricately sculpted crown fit for a ruler of the divine realm, the characteristic halo. The charm of His countenance, set off by the trishool tilak that indicates His parentage and the beauteous engraving along the length of His trunk, lies on the painstakingly sculpted arch of His lifelike brow. Ganesha is the wisdom of a child personified.

The pedestal that Ganesha is sitting on in this composition is what sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill Ganesha murties. It consists of two platforms separated by two rows of petal engravings. A georgeous engraving of AUM constitutes the centre of the pedestal. To one side of it is a laden kalash, to the other is His vahana the mouse. Even the vahana also holds a laddoo for His lord in its little paws. The sincerity and attention to detail that have gone into this sculpture could be gauged from the photograph of the back of Ganesha. Note how the silk drapes across His shoulders, the gorgeous engraving on the back of His crown as well as the entirety of the halo, and the naturalistic musculature down to the tips of the limbs.

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