This exquisitely carved 12th century Sen dynasty stone sculpture of a beautiful and serene Durga setting out to engage in a cosmic battle to defeat evil forces was likely commissioned by bhakti for their private chapel. Durga is the woman warrior manifestation that Paravati takes when she must battle evil. As in her manifestations, she is represented in the animal world by the lion or tiger on which she rides to battle evil.
Traces of red on her lips and a golden yellow on her robe indicate that she, and many of the other sculptures in this museum, may have been brilliantly painted when they were worshiped. This contemporary sculpture of the Buddhist GreenTara can explain how magnificent the stone sculptures in this museum may have looked when painted.
The sudden appearance of magnificently carved stone sculptures in the 8th century when the Buddhist Pala dynasty came to power raises the question of whether there were no sculptures in Bangladesh before this time?
The creation in Bangladesh of unbaked clay images of Durga that are worshipped for only a brief period and then immersed in sacred rivers and ponds may answer the question. Mother goddesses, of which Durga is the most important in Bangladesh and their household worship, this can take us back more than 3000 years to the ancient urban center of Mohenjo Daro and countless other urban settlements across north India and Bangladesh.
Small clay images and prints of Durga, available in village markets and at seasonal fairs, can be found in every Hindu household in north India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In almost all of these images, Durga is depicted riding on a tiger in deference to a folk tradition where the tiger, not the lion, is the most powerful animal in the jungle. These images of Durga are prayed to every day in Hindu households to protect the family.
In the months leading up to her festival of Sharadiya Durga Puja, traveling artists make images for her festival. Over a bamboo and rice straw core, the artist creates sculptures using smooth clay from sacred rivers and ponds.
The images are painted with water-based paints and, as in this village, puja pandal often dressed with fabrics donated by villagers. In the center, Durga on her lion kills Mahesh, the evil king. On each side, Durga's other important manifestations, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Saraswathi, the goddess of learning, observe the battle. Ganesha, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, and Kartikeya, Shiva's army's general, are Shiva and Parvati's children and identify Durga as another manifestation of Parvati.
In larger towns, the number of images and the setting they are displayed and worshiped by the community with prayers, songs, and dance will be very elaborate. In big cities, communities compete by hiring artists to produce huge puja pandals quite possibly influenced by "action" movies! The clay images may be richly painted with lots of gold detail.
This photo is from Pixabay.com
The most traditional will be decorated with "Sholay" decorations made from the glistening white inner stalk of the water hyacinth, flattened and dried to be cut like paper and attached in thousands of small pieces to make crowns and jewelry and the background details for the images. Crowns of this same material are made for Hindu brides and grooms for their marriage ceremony, for on that day, they are also gods and goddesses!
Why are there no Durga images from puja pandals in museums?
On the last day of Vijayadashami, all of the images are taken in a procession and immersed in a sacred river or pond. The same is done with the clay images of Kali, Saraswati, and Vishwakarma following their pujas. These images made of straw and unbaked clay dissolve instantly when immersed, and it is believed that The blessings of the gods and goddesses flow to the ocean and spread around the world to benefit all of humankind.
It is this long tradition of sculpting in clay, literally millions of clay images over thousands of years: idealized human figures following rules of proportions, communicating ideas and identities through hand gestures and ritual objects and depicting scenes of multiple figures re-enacting cosmic events to tell stories, that when the Pala kings expanded their empire to regions where the stone for carving sculptures was available, the sculptors had the knowledge and experience to create masterpieces.