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A Tantric Goddess
Nepal, 14th century
Copper alloy, 5 7/8 in (14.7 cm)
Catalogue #115

Originally, the goddess would have been seated either directly on a lotus, which is now missing, or on a mount placed on a lotus. Her posture is the graceful lalitasana, though the right leg is not extended fully. She wears an animal skin around her loins and a garland of severed human heads. Another noteworthy feature is her hairdo, which, like that of Bhairava, rises vertically to form a fan?like halo. The tiara is adorned with grinning skulls, and the forehead is marked with the third eye. The upper hands are now without their emblems. The lower two hold the chopper in the right and a skull cup in the left.

All her attributes and appurtenances make it clear that she is a tantric emanation of the great Hindu goddess, though without the additional attributes in the upper hands, an exact identification is not possible. The chopper and the skull cup are common emblems of various forms of the goddess in Nepal. Several of her attributes, such as the garland of severed heads, the third eye, and the tiara of skulls, are common to Kali, but in Nepal the more popular form of the goddess is the emaciated Chamunda. However, in eastern India and in the South, Kali is never emaciated but is portrayed with a beautiful body that she is not shy to flaunt, as indeed is the case here. Moreover, neither the Bengali nor Tamil Kali wears an animal skin, as does the Ford Kali. Her distinctive hairstyle is seen only in South Indian Kalis.

Thus, this robustly modeled and delicately detailed figure reflects both the originality of tantric iconography in Nepal and the technical virtuosity of an unknown Newar master sculptor. It may have been gilded once. Close stylistic parallels may be seen in several fourteenth?century works (von Schroeder 1981, nos. 95B?95G), crafted during the early Malla period, when the Newar artists created refined works of art in various media.

Detail: close-up

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore


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