Parvati - Iconography

Iconography

Naturally, Parvati’s unique characteristics have become more and more obscured, as she absorbed more and more goddesses into her iconography. Therefore, her depictions have become rather generic today. When shown with Shiva, she carries a blue lotus in full bloom, shows the abhaya mudra (hand gesture of fearlessness) and usually has one of her children on her knee. The only hint of her former occult status is the somewhat languid appearance of her eyes, as one who has recently emerged from deep meditation. Other goddesses are usually shown with large staring eyes as this is considered a mark of beauty. The consorts of the other two Gods of the trinity, Saraswati and Lakshmi, may be depicted alone, but Parvati hasn’t been depicted this way for many centuries.

The goddess is usually represented as a fair and beautiful. The colour of her vestments is milk-white, the colour of enlightenment and knowledge. Since white is a combination of all hues it shows that She has all the qualities or Gunas. Since white also depicts huelesness, it indicates that She is devoid of all Gunas. Hence, She is referred to as Trigunatmika (having the three gunas—Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas)—and at the same time being Nirguna (without any gunas). She has three eyes. Her accoutrements tend to be those of a Rishi (seer). She is also usually depicted with jatamukuta or a crown of matted hair, as Shiva is usually depicted. She is also shown as having a crescent moon bound in her locks, like Shiva.

Images of Parvati, wearing a sacred thread something not many women are associated with and as this marks the second-birth or dwija it is seems an advanced concept far beyond early pashupatas, and with her hair styled in a top knot like a Rishi (seer) survive into the Chola period (approximately ninth century A.D.). In fact, these two particularities were the only means of distinguishing her statuary from the images of the Goddess Shri of the time.

Her Mudras (symbolic hand gestures) are Kataka—fascination and enchantment, Hirana—the antelope, the powers of nature and the elusive, Tarjani—gesture of menace, and Chandrakal—the moon, a symbol of intelligence. Kataka must be affected by one of the foremost hands as it is a means of drawing the worshiper closer. Tarjani must be described with the left hand, which symbolises contempt, and usually in the back set of hands. If Parvati is depicted with two hands, then Tarjani and Chandrakal may be dropped but Hirana and Kataka are signature except in very modern representations, where Abhaya (fearlessness), and Varada, (beneficence), are used.

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