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Marcel Nies

7. Bhu-Devi
India; Vijayanagar
14th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, fine patina
height 38.5 cm.


Bhu-Devi, 'the earth goddess', can be identified by the Utpala, the blue lotus in her right raised hand. In the Hindu pantheon Bhu-Devi is one of the consorts of Vishnu, the sustainer and preserver who is associated with the concept of a stable universe and is dedicated to the maintenance of Dharma, the universal order. In Hindu belief, the goddess has the role of nourisher or sustainer and is considered as the deity who called the attention of the other gods to the depredations and the oppression of the demons and to the need for Vishnu's interventions.

Seated in lalitasana on a lotus throne, Bhu-Devi's right hand is holding her symbol, the Utpala. Her left hand is in varada mudra, the gesture of charity. The goddess is wearing a diaphanous pleated dhoti, jewelled hipband, beaded meditation cord falling between her breasts, two necklaces, kirtimakha earrings terminated in the head of a makara, and a tiered conical karanda mukuta, surmounted by a bud-shaped finial. A circular open work nimbus is depicted behind her head. This temple bronze, originally enshrined in a sanctuary, has holes in the throne, which are evidence that the piece was designed to be used in processions.

The occupation by Islamic forces in South India in the 14th century was followed by a period of renewed artistic production of Hindu temple images in the 15th and 16th centuries; the reconstruction, renewing and enlargement of the old sanctuaries, gave space for the founding of new temples and the production of statues. The capital was the fabulous city Vijayanagar, which was positioned on a high rock plateau. Based on the Chola and Pandyan traditions, the art of Vijayanagar exhibits a high level of technical casting and artistic conviction, making some examples among the best-ever produced in South India. The many characteristics of this particular Bhu-devi are the full breasts placed high upon the torso, the flowers above the ears, the shape of the conical karanda mukuta, the construction of the meditation cord, the line of hair on the shoulder, the engraved double lines of the dhoti, the typical prominent nose and mouth, and the fine chiselling. In addition the goddess has large hands, feet and lotus leaves, pronounced shaped bracelets and ears; all elements which are typical for a bronze made in the beginning of the Vijayanagar period, dating to the 14th century.

Originally this temple bronze may have been part of a group comprising Vishnu and Lakshmi. Depicted with striking movement, this lively image of Bhu-devi is powerfully seated in lalitasana, turning slightly to her right (towards Vishnu), enlarging the emerging tension of the figure. The wonderful well balanced construction exhibits her oval face with bow-shaped pronounced mouth turned up at the corners, full rounded breasts, large straight nose and almond shaped eyes with incised pupils. The piece can be considered as an important temple bronze, revealing the high artistic level and skills of the South Indian masters during the first part of the Vijayanagar period.

Formerly in a private collection, U.S.A.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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