Sarasvati is the beloved Hindu goddess of arts and learning. One of the most important figures in Indian art, the goddess is a serene and ancient form of the great Mother Goddess or Devi—the power of the universe and source of creation. Sarasvati is closely associated with the powerful Hindu gods Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver. She is also revered in the Jain and Buddhist traditions of India.
In this sculpture, Sarasvati is adorned in lavish jewellery and seated cross-legged against a magnificent throne. Each of her four hands holds a symbolic attribute—an elephant goad to nudge humankind towards virtuous living, a garland of beads for prayer, a noose to indicate the destructive hold of worldly desires, and a palm-leaf manuscript to signify knowledge and wisdom. Sarasvati’s majestic beauty and multiple arms indicate her divine nature.
The sculpture and architecture of the Hoysala dynasty of south India are renowned for their elaborate ornamentation. The characteristic deeply carved intricacy of Hoysala art was achieved through the use of chloritic schist, a fine-grained stone that is moderately pliant when freshly quarried but becomes dark and durable over time. The Hoysalas were great supporters of the visual arts and literature, and their temples—more than 100 of which endure—are extravagantly detailed.
This sculpture was acquired with the support of Pauline and John Gandel AO. Known for their exceptionally generous commitment to the arts, they are founding donors to the National Gallery of Australia and, last year, presented the Gallery with a landmark gift of $7 million. Earlier this year, Pauline Gandel gave the Gallery an exquisite Kiddush cup or seihai (chalice) by renowned contemporary Japanese lacquer master Unryuan (Kitamura Tatsuo).
Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 67, spring 2011