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Annapurna Devi

Goddess of Abundance

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A4 Size 7.3 x 9.75 in.
(186 x 247 mm)
8.3 x 11.7 in.
(210 x 297 mm)
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A4 Mounted 7.3 x 9.75 in.
(186 x 247 mm)
11 x 14 in.
(279 x 355 mm)
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(272 x 362 mm)
11.7 x 16.5 in.
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Annapurna Devi :

Annapurna, the 'Giver or Nourishment or the 'Abundance (Skt. purna) of food (Skt anna)’, is the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, whose name is given to the spectacular Annapurna Range of Himalayan peaks that ascend to the north of Pokhara in Nepal. Originally this goddess may have been named Ammapurna, meaning the 'Mother (amma) of plenty (purna)', whose name is phonetically similar to the Roman goddess of abundance, Anna Perenna, meaning the 'Eternal Stream', whose New Year festival was celebrated on the Ides of March.

In traditional Hindu iconography Annapurna is an aspect of Lakshmi, and she is usually depicted as a benign white two-armed goddess who holds the attributes of a spoon or ladle and a pot filled with food in her right and left hands. In India one of her most important temples is located next to the famous Vishwanath Temple in the heart of Varanasi, where she is lavishly venerated during her autumnal Annakuta or 'Mountain of Food’ festival.

This exquisite goache painting is based upon Uday's early original oil painting of Annapurna, which has since been copied by many other Newar artists. This version was originally painted by Uday's student, Madan Kiju, but was then completely reworked by Uday, with the only remaining parts by Madan being the three small skulls on top of the skull-cup that Annapurna holds. Of particular note are her exquisite facial features, body shading, ornaments, attributes, and severed-head garland. As are the background details on Annapurna’s triple-roofed temple, and the small crests of the breaking waves in the foreground. These wave crests are identical to those sublimely depicted in the "Great Wave off Kanagawa" woodblock print by the famous Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). However, when I mentioned this to Uday he said he'd never heard of Hokusai

In Kathmandu the temple of Annapurna is located at the intersection of six roads in the old market area of Asan Tole, where shops and street vendors sell spices, grains, cooking oils, fruits and vegetables. Her small triple-roofed temple is probably the most sacred Lakshmi shrine in the Kathmandu valley, with countless devotees coming to worship and make offerings throughout the day. Known as Lachamikalasa (Lakshmi-kalasha), her aniconic shrine takes the form of a natural or ‘self-created’ stone vase (kalasa) that is covered with embossed silver. On either side of this small temple are the bronze statues of a rotund Newar khyak spirit and a skeleton, representing the extremes of gluttony and hunger, wealth and poverty, life and death. The central image on the temple’s upper torana depicts the eight-armed form of Annapurna seated upon a naga-serpent, as she appears here.

Annapurna is peaceful, youthful, and radiantly white in complexion, with eight arms, three lotus-like eyes, and a sweetly smiling face. Her breast are firm and full, her waist narrow, and she wears lower garments of embroidered and multicoloured silks, heavy golden Newar earrings, bracelets, anklets, an ornate neck choker, and a chained silver medallion. A fiery naga-serpent serves as her sacred thread, and she wears a garland of freshly-severed, blood-dripping, and incredibly life-like asura heads, that are strung together on three delicate golden chains. Her five-skull crown is adorned with radiant jewels, long silver kinkinpa blades, and two victory flags. Half of her hair is bound up into a topknot, while the other half billows freely above her shoulders.

With her first pair of hands she makes the bindu-kapala-mudra in front of her heart, with her right hand supporting her skull-cup, and her left index finger and thumb touching in the gesture of blessing or granting refuge. With her second pair of right and left hands she makes the boon-granting varada-mudra of supreme generosity, and holds a lotus-topped golden ritual-vase filled with amrita, the nectar of immortal wisdom. With her third pair of hands she holds a golden vajra and a ritual-bell. And with her fourth pair of hands she wields aloft a fiery sword and a shield.

Annapurna sits in a posture of ‘royal-ease’ upon the massive coils of a giant naga-serpent, which symbolizes her control of the Eight Great Nagarajas or 'serpent-kings' that can cause drought, epidemics, and famine. This writhing and fiery naga-serpent is crowned by a radiant wish-granting gem and disgorges flames from its fanged and forked-tongued mouth. Behind Annapurna’s back is the silver-encased stone kalasha or ‘vase of plenty’ that embodies the form of this goddess within the shrine of her temple. This fire-shrouded vase rests upon a dark lotus base, which in turn rests upon a pink lotus that arises from a turbulent ocean. The three-tiered roof of the Annapurna Temple appears in the upper left behind her fiery aura, and below this is one of the two gilded bronze lions that serve as guardians in front her temple.

© text by Robert Beer

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