Place of Origin: PAHARI, MANDI (INDIA)
Date: Circa 1820-30
Height: 21cm (8 ¼ inches)
Width: 29.8cm (11 ½ inches)
This exquisite gouache painting, highlighted in gold, depicts the Hindu goddess (Devi) Parvati seated on an ornate dais and surrounded by vessels and offerings. The powerful enthroned mother goddess, wife of Shiva, is a deity linked to fertility, love, beauty and devotion, and can be presented with various aspects. Parvati, as shown in the image, is her gentle and benevolent character, recognised in the image thanks to the red sari which is here delicately adorned with gold motifs. In one of her four hands she holds an ankus (the hooked spear-tool used as an elephant-goad and a typical attribute of Parvati’s son Ganesha), and in another she grasps her pasha.
The Devi, with one of her arms extended in varamudra, is lavishly attired, bejewelled, and surrounded by offerings – candleholders, vessels of food and drink, and incense-burners. Her lotus-petal golden dais, complete with a jewelled and enamelled parasol with green tassels and patterned silk cushions. The setting appears to be a garden covered in flowers, depicted as if they were a fabric pattern covering the ground, with an orange stylised flower border and a banister overlooking the blue sky. Adding further layers of decorative ornament, the scene is framed by a pair of red damask curtains, a white ogee-styled arch – as if the viewer were viewing the scene through a window – with a delicate green and pink floral pattern, and a black inner floral border.
A few further iconographic elements – the crescent moon on her forehead, the abundance of jewels, her crown and the lotus seat – point towards a specific manifestation of Parvati, that of Tripura-Sundari, unparalleled in beauty in Hindu mythology. In the visual tradition, aside from being enthroned and gracefully bejewelled, she often carries the attributes of the elephant goad and the noose (pasha) in two of her four arms, as in this instance.
At the top of the image, on the outer ornamental border, stippled in reddish-pink and orange, is the Parvati yantra, a six-pointed star with a central dot (bindu) encased within an eight-petalled lotus and outer square with t-shaped gates in the four cardinal directions.
For comparable depictions of Devis, see Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch, Indian and Persian Painting 1590-1840, London 2014, no. 27; and S. Stronge, (ed.), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, London, 1999, p. 113, pl. 124. The latter, belonging to the collection of the National Museum of India, is dated to circa 1835, and shows the famous leader of the Sikh empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), with his head bowed and his hands folded worshipping the Devi. The goddess shows remarkable iconographical similarities with the present miniature: four-armed, similarly enthroned on a rich lotus dais, carrying the noose, lavishly dressed, crowned and bejewelled, it is not surprising that the beautiful goddess was an object of devotion to the great figures of the period, such as the Maharaja.
Royal Collection, Mandi (stamp verso)
 For further reading on yantras – the mystical and geometrical cosmograms used to worship deities as an aid in meditation – see Madhu Khanna, Yantra – the Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity, Innter Traditions International, 2003 and Bühnemann, Gudrun, Maònòdalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions, Boston, 2003, p. 48.