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Sculptures > Hindu > Goddess > The Most Sacred and Auspicious of All Divine Forms
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The Most Sacred and Auspicious of All Divine Forms

The Most Sacred and Auspicious of All Divine Forms

The Most Sacred and Auspicious of All Divine Forms

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To the common eye, Ardhanarishvara is an androgynous form comprising half of male and half of female – the biological unity of the outward duality. The Vedic seers saw it as the unity of aprana and saprana – matter and life, which they called the Golden Egg, wherein two merged into oneness, and the one split to become more. Thus, the Vedic seers saw Ardhanarishvara as the cosmic seed, which comprised both, the pistil and the anther, pita and mata – father and mother, bhuta and prana –matter and spirit, and prakriti and purusha – outward nature and enlivening spirit, and propounded the metaphysics of procreation. They asserted that the single one could not effect creation, and so the two, unless they merged into inseparable oneness. The creation might only be effected when the fusion was absolute – not only of the male and female but also of their act, which the seers identified as copulation, for in copulation alone, the maleness and the femaleness of the agents vanished.

Ardhanarishvara form is sometimes interpreted as combining half male, who is Shiva, and half female, who is Parvati. Such interpretation suggests dvaita, duality of existence, a proposition unacceptable to both, Shaivism and Vedanta. According to Shaivism, it is one – Shiva, who wished to split into many and thus the cosmos came into being. The Vedas saw existence as monogenic, and the male being as much female, as the female as much male. The Vedas perceived maleness and femaleness as attributes contained in one frame. Several myths, contained in various Puranas, too, suggest that Shiva, being Ardhanarishvara – one who had inherent in him the male and female aspects, split himself and thus caused the creation.

Whatever the metaphysical position, traditions of faith perceive Ardhanarishvara as the form combining Shiva and Parvati, and as the most sacred and auspicious of all divine forms. Arts, by and large, adhere to what the traditions of faith pursue. Otherwise also, femaleness as a personality-aspect could not be a theme of formal arts. Hence, arts, barring a few exceptions, render the left half of the Ardhanarishvara image pursuing Parvati's iconography, while the right, of Shiva's. Shiva, as Ardhanarishvara, is in absolute union with Parvati; hence, love is the essence of his being and saumya – placidity or lalita – beauty, his roop – appearance. This Ardhanarishvara image is exceptional in its saumya-roop. The entire figure is in a posture of dance. But for a goad, it does not carry any weapons. Snakes, which are an integral part of his iconography, are missing, and so his garland of skulls and other attributes that are ferocious. In absolute ease his lower right arm appears to be placed on his Nandi. In the statue, two forms united, not to reveal distinction but rather to dilute it completely.

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.

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