The Goddess Purneshvari. India, 1150-1200AD. Museum no. IS 71-1880

The Goddess Purneshvari. India, 1150-1200AD. Museum no. IS 71-1880

The Goddess Purneshvari
Eastern India (Jaynagar, Bihar)
1150-1200 AD
Basalt, carved relief
Museum no. IS 71-1880

The Mother Goddess was popularly worshipped under a variety of local names throughout India. During the Pala period (about 760-1142 AD) in eastern India, Purneshvari was venerated by both Buddhists and Hindus.

This rare and beautiful sculpture was found in 1877 during an excavation of a tank at Jaynagar, Monghyr District, Bihar. Here the four-armed goddess is seated on a double-lotus throne with one pendant foot resting on a lotus stem. She is beautifully formed, richly bejewelled and smiles benignly as she supports an infant on her lap. Her upper hands hold rods, one with an elephant emblem, the other a fly-whisk.

Above her a pair of celestial garland-bearers hover in clouds, and a wondrous ‘kirttimukha’ ('face of glory') presides over all from above. Purneshvari is flanked by the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha. However, the inscription gives an indication of a Buddhist sectarian affiliation. It offers merit to the ‘siddhas’ (community of tantric masters) and ‘sramanas’ (ascetic monks), as well as to the relatives of the donor, named as ‘Utakva’.

The inscription also names the goddess and the place of installation – the ‘illustrious (city of) Campa’. It dates the sculpture to the 35th year of the reign of a king called Palapala, entitled ‘Lord of Gauda’ (Gaudesvara). This king may have been the last of the Pala rulers, as these regions rapidly succumbed to the Muslim invaders between 1199 and 1201.