Highly symbolic and sensitively treated this wood-statue, a characteristic example of South Indian temple wood-carving, rendered with fine details and painted brilliantly discovering not merely the aesthetic beauty of the image but also its inherent dimensions, represents the four-armed goddess Lakshmi in her most accomplished manifestation covering the growth of her cult right since Vedic days. The divine dimensions of goddess Lakshmi as one who bestows abundance, plenty of food, progeny… are identified in the Rig-Veda itself, the head-source of entire scriptural knowledge. The subsequent Atharva-Veda further widens the divine aura of the goddess as the universal mother with large breasts full of abundant milk, the inexhaustible source of life. Hence, ever since Lakshmi has been perceived in scriptures and visual art forms as the goddess manifesting riches, prosperity, accomplishment and sustenance, and her form, essentially as large-breasted, as representing supreme beauty, absolute womanhood and timeless motherhood, the source of endless life.
In many of its verses the Rig-Veda lauded the earth for fertility and
for giving abundant food. Despite that she is not classed either as
the goddess or as the mother, or invoked as such, the text’s reverence
for the earth is very high. Fertility aspect and their power to bestow
abundant food being common, the reverence for the earth seems to have
subsequently merged with the divine aura of Lakshmi. In subsequent
days after Lakshmi was being seen primarily as the goddess
representing riches, prosperity and abundance – as the goddess of
rich, prosperous and wealthy traders and elite, hardly ever reaching
the farmers’ fields, a separate divine form, consecrated as Annapurna,
emerged for representing the food-giving divinity. An aspect of
Lakshmi, Annapurna developed her own iconography and got a number of
shrines, especially in southern part of the country, dedicated to her.
Delightfully, this image of goddess Lakshmi incorporates, besides her
own cult as the Rig-Veda initiated, also the aspects that the
mother-earth and Annapurna manifest.
Perfect in anatomy, modeling of figure conceived with large breasts
abounding in rare beauty and absolute womanhood, the statue represents
the four-armed Lakshmi in adherence to her form as evolved in Vedic
literature, the Rig-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. Enshrining the lotus
seat in her own right and with none of the Vaishnava attributes
defining her form she reveals the status of an independent divinity,
not one of Lord Vishnu’s consort, as subsequently the Puranas
attributed to her. As suggests the anatomy of her figure, especially
her well developed breasts clad with red and green stana-pata –
breast-band, red symbolising energy, green, fertility, and large
breasts, her power to feed and sustain, the artist has modeled his
figure of the goddess to reveal ultimate motherhood. He has styled the
apexes of the lotuses that she is holding in her upper hands like
pots, the attributes of Annapurna, the food giving mother, who stored
in her pots inexhaustible stocks of food. Further, he has preferred
her image to enshrine a large lotus, and another, to support her foot.
Both the lotus and the pot in Lakshmi’s iconography are denotative of
her dairy-agrarian links that she shared with the earth goddess.
The statue represents the golden-hued goddess seated on a full blown
multi-petalled lotus in ‘lalitasana’ revealing ultimate beauty, rare
grace and great majesty. Besides the larger lotus she is seated on,
she has a tinier one, quite cute as it looks, as the foot-raise under
her right foot suspending below. Consisting of five cosmic elements :
earth, water, fire, air and space, the lotus represents the cosmos.
While seated on it she pervades it and thus symbolically the cosmos,
which she upholds and sustains, the essence of her being. Lotus
symbolism further continues. In two of her upper hands she is carrying
lotuses, while the normal right is held in ‘abhaya’ – assuring freedom
from fear, and the normal left, in ‘varad’ – assuring accomplishment
of the desired. The upper hands are sometimes interpreted as
conducting divine energy that the goddess inherently draws from unseen
zones for accomplishing her divine act that her ‘abhaya’ and ‘varad’
granting hands symbolise. In aesthetic merit, craftsmanship, modeling,
plasticity, iconographic perfection, fluidity of figure, and
symmetrically balanced parts and anatomy, the statue is simply
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.
How to care for Wood Statues?
Wood is extensively used in sculpting especially in countries like China, Germany, and Japan. One feature that makes the wood extremely suitable for making statues and sculptures is that it is light and can take very fine detail. It is easier for artists to work with wood than with other materials such as metal or stone. Both hardwoods, as well as softwood, are used for making sculptures. Wood is mainly used for indoor sculptures because it is not as durable as stone. Changes in weather cause wooden sculptures to split or be attacked by insects or fungus. The principal woods for making sculptures and statues are cedar, pine, walnut, oak, and mahogany. The most common technique that sculptors use to make sculptures out of wood is carving with a chisel and a mallet. Since wooden statues are prone to damage, fire, and rot, they require proper care and maintenance.
It is extremely important to preserve and protect wooden sculptures with proper care. A little carelessness and negligence can lead to their decay, resulting in losing all their beauty and strength. Therefore, a regular clean-up of the sculptures is a must to prolong their age and to maintain their shine and luster.
Wood has been a preferred material for sculptures and statues
since ancient times. It is easy to work with than most metals and
stones and therefore requires less effort to shape it into any
desired shape or form. The texture of the wood gives an element of
realism to the sculpture. The selection of an appropriate wood
type is necessary for carving. Woods that are too resinous or
coniferous are not considered good for carving as their fiber is
very soft and thus lacks strength. On the other hand, wood such as
Mahogany, Oakwood, Walnut wood, Weet cherry wood, etc., are
preferred by sculptors because their fiber is harder.
A wood sculptor uses various tools such as a pointed chisel in one
hand and a mallet in another to bring the wood to the desired
measurement and to make intricate details on it. A carving knife
is used to cut and smooth the wood. Other tools such as the gouge,
V-tool, and coping saw also serve as important tools in wood
carving. Although the wood carving technique is not as complex and
tough as stone carving or metal sculpting, nonetheless, a wood
carver requires a high level of skills and expertise to create a
The process of wood carving begins with selecting a chunk of wood
that is required according to the type and shape of the statue to
be created by the sculptor. Both hardwoods and softwoods are used
for making artistic pieces, however, hardwoods are preferred more
than softer woods because of their durability and longevity. But
if heavy detailing is to be done on the statue, wood with fine
grain would be needed as it would be difficult to work with
Once the wood type is selected, the wood carver begins the
general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. A gouge
is a tool having a curved cutting edge which is useful in
removing large unwanted portions of wood easily without
splitting the wood. The sculptor always carves the wood across
the grain of the wood and not against it.
When a refined shape of the statue is obtained, it is time for
making details on the statue using different tools. This is
achieved by using tools such as a veiner to make and a V-tool to
create decorative and sharp cuts.
Once finer details have been added, the sculptor is ready to
smoothen the surface and give it a perfect finish. Tools such as
rasps and rifflers are used to get a smooth surface. The finer
polishing is obtained by rubbing the surface with sandpaper. If
a textured surface is required, this step is skipped. Finally,
to protect the statue from excessive dirt accumulation, the
sculptor applies natural oils such as walnut or linseed oil all
over it. This also brings a natural sheen to the statue.
Wood statues are lighter in weight and less expensive than metal
or stone pieces. Because wood is prone to fast decay by fungus and
algae, statues made out of this material are not preferred to be
kept outside. The rich tradition of wood carving in countries such
as Africa, Egypt, India, and Nepal has been followed for many
centuries. Indian craftsmen are specialized in this classic art
and continue to exhibit their extraordinary artistic skills.
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