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Asian Art
Indian subcontinent gallery

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Hoysala dynasty (11th?mid 14th century) Sarasvati, Goddess of Arts and Learning early-mid 12th century Karnataka, India
sculptures, chloritic schist stone
Technique: chloritic schist stone
91.0 h x 58.0 w x 27.3 d cm
Pauline and John Gandel Fund, 2011
Accession No: NGA 2011.938

MORE DETAIL

  • 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).

    Melanie Eastburn
    Curator, Asian Art


    in artonview, issue 67, spring 2011

  • Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of arts and learning, is closely associated with the powerful gods Brahma and Vishnu. Adorned in lavish jewellery, Sarasvati is here seated cross-legged on an elaborate 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 indicating the destructive hold of worldly desires, and a palm-leaf manuscript to signify knowledge and wisdom.

    The sculpture was created in south India during the Hoysala dynasty, a period renowned for its rich and intricate ornamentation. The elaborate carving of Hoysala sculptures was achieved through the use of chloritic schist, a fine-grained stone that is moderately pliant when freshly quarried. The temples of the Hoysalas, great supporters of the arts, were similarly opulent.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
    From: Asian gallery extended display label