India, early 18th century
Lent by Bette Weiss
Sarasvati is the goddess of speech, rhetoric, poetry, and intuition. She is also the patron of the arts, especially of music. She is held in high regard throughout India, and on her special day she is worshipped by school children as the goddess of learning. She was originally considered to be the embodiment of the Sarasvati River (which in modern times has mostly dried up), and as such she was the earliest example of a goddess to be associated with a river in the Indian tradition. She is sometimes regarded as the wife, sometimes as the daughter, of the god Brahma––essentially understood as the feminine component of his own essence.
As depicted here, Sarasvati is most always shown holding a stringed musical instrument. Her special animal (vahana) is sometimes a goose, sometimes a peacock––the latter is shown beneath her right foot in this sculpture. The manner of depiction of this statue does not follow classical norms but instead exhibits a charming folk style.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association