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5. Dantura Chamunda
India, Sena, 12th century
height 29.3 cm
Dantura Chamunda

In the Hindu pantheon the goddesses Kali and Durga are fearsome aspects of Shiva’s lovely spouse Parvati. Both are worshipped in different forms. One famous story tells how Kali does battle with two powerful demons, Canda and Munda. Though fighting fiercely she feels victory slipping away from her, and in response to her dismay and anger a terrifying goddess springs from her brow and slays the demons. And so this manifestation of Kali came to be called Ca-Munda, the destroyer of Canda and Munda. Camunda became one of the Saptamatrikas, tutelary mother goddesses each bearing the female version of the name of her consort – Brahmani, Maheshvari, Indrani, Vaishnavi, and so forth. She has multiple arms and wields a varying number of weapons that are usually attributed to Shiva, particularly the trident (trishula), dagger (churi), club (gada), a skull staff (khatvanga), and a skull cup (kapala). She is almost always depicted as a frightening crone, utterly emaciated, with withered pendulous breasts.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries a sizable part of north-eastern India, including Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Bihar up to Varanasi, was ruled by the Sena – a dynasty contemporary with the Pala. There, tantric theories and practices developed in which Camunda played an important role. She appears independently in diverse terrifying forms. One of them, a rare but very powerful manifestation of Camunda, is Dantura, which in Sanskrit means ‘having strong teeth’. Here, she adopts a somewhat unusual pose for a goddess, squatting on her haunches. One hand on her knee and the other flat on the ground, she surveys her devotees, grimacing horribly and displaying her fangs. Her glaring eyes are sunk deep in her skull-like head. Swollen veins snake all over her emaciated body.

This figure corresponds perfectly to the iconographic description of a piece in the Indian Museum in Kolkata: ‘…the two-armed emaciated goddess sitting on her haunches with long distended ears, lean pendulous breasts and projecting ribs, an evil cruel smile lurking in her broad bare face; the mocking and ghastly expression is emphasized by the way in which the eyes are shown…’ [1] The author also mentions that the city of Jaipur, in the state of Orissa [Odisha], used to be referred to as Virajakshetra, so named after the temple there, one of the ancient seats of tantric worship in north-eastern India. In the early twelfth century this was part of Sena territory.

Our sculpture also provides some additional clues to Dantura’s identification and her unique status of veneration. She squats on a double lotus, a throne reserved for important deities, between a pair of pillars in front of a vaulted edifice, suggesting her own dedicated temple. In the corner below is the small figure of an animal with a long head, presumably either a jackal or an ass, both regarded as her vehicle. Occupying the opposite corner is a kneeling devotee. The floral motifs beneath the lotus throne and the temple’s decorative details are stylistic elements typical of twelfth-century production.

This beautifully executed sculpture is a rare and remarkable example of the early tantric image in medieval India, which would exercise a major influence on the later development of tantric imagery in Tibet and Nepal.

1 L.J.N. Banerjea: ‘The Development of Hindu Iconography’ Calcutta 1956/1974, p. 507.

Private collection, Belgium.
Collection Mr. Gleiter, Germany, 2012-2018.

The European Fine Art Fair -TEFAF, Maastricht, the Netherlands, March 2012.

L. J. N. Banerjea, The Development of Hindu Iconography, Calcutta, 1956/1974, Pl. XLV, fig. 1.
J. Leoshko, Bodhgaya, the site of Enlightenment, Bombay, 1988, fg. 2.
I. Menzies, Goddess, Divine Energy, Sydney, 2006, fig. 66.
V. Lefèvre and M. Fr. Boussac, Art of the Ganges delta, Masterpieces from Bangladeshi museums, Paris, 2007, figs. 81 & 103.

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all text, images © Marcel Nies
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