Worshiping Women: Power and Devotion in Indian Painting

Exhibition Website

Jun 28 2016 - Feb 26 2017

O Goddess, by you everything is supported; by you is the world created; By you is it all protected, and you always consume it at the end of time...   — Devi Mahatmya (The Glory of the Goddess), Sanskrit text, 400–600 CE

Female power and its personifications hold an important place in Hindu devotional practices. The goddess figure represents the primordial female force underlying nature (prakriti) and power (shakti)—both in its generative and destructive aspects. As Devi (Great Goddess) or Ma (Mother), divine female energy is worshiped under different names and visual forms. She may be the local village goddess, the powerful Durga, the frightening Kali, the benevolent Lakshmi, or the devoted Sita. Goddesses are sometimes divinities worshiped in their own right or are vital companions (consorts) of gods such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Krishna, in which role they provide essential support and balance to their male counterparts. 

To devotees, goddesses offer models not only for expressing the potential of one’s own inner strength but also for realizing virtuous and pious conduct. Piety requires humility, determination, and morality, and women as devotees of gods and holy men can be understood as possessing this character trait. In another form, female power is embodied in the figure of the yogini (female yogi). As an ascetic who gives up home, family, and material possessions to devote herself to gaining spiritual knowledge, a yogini is perceived as holding enormous—and sometime dangerous—power. She can also represent the yearning soul pining for the divine beloved. 

In this intimate exhibition, a selection of paintings from the museum’s collection focuses on three aspects of female power: as devout worshipers; as goddesses and consorts to male gods; and as ascetics (yoginis). The galleries nearby display additional manifestations of the goddess figure in sculptural form.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Painting
  • Asian
  • Sacred
  • India

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