15. Lotus with 9 goddesses

15. Lotus with 9 goddesses
Copper/ Height:
Sixteenth century; Nepal
Catalogue number 15.
Accession number 90.400.

Collapsible shrines offer worshipers a remarkably intimate way of relating to the deity. This copper lotus appears to rise out of the water, with its square support decorated by waves. The lotus had eight petals hinged by a loop at the base of each petal. On each sits a female deity with distinctive attributes and animal vehicles. These nine aspects of Durga are Maheshvari, the power of Shiva; Varahi, consort of the boar incarnation of Vishnu; Vaishnavi, the female aspect of Vishnu; Indrani, the feminine power of Indra on an elephant; Camunda, a powerful and warlike aspect of Durga; Narasimhi, the female aspect of the incarnation of Vishnu as man-lion; Kaumari, the power of Kartikeya on his peacock; and (missing) Brahmani, the female aspect of Brahma. The central calyx cup of the lotus once supported a figure of Durga.

Images such as this one, purchased in Nepal, were often brought by travelers and used in home shrines in eastern India. Worship of Durga as personification of universal energy became widespread in Bengal between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and from this time onward her complex representations became very popular. Pala-period lotus mandalas representing Vishnu's incarnations, sets of goddesses, and Buddhist deities are well known.

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