India, Madhya Pradesh – Khajurāho
Circa 11th century
H. 71cm or 28 in
Apsarāḥ are the celestial dancers in Indra’s heaven. Their name signifies “moving in the water”, in the celestial vapor. While the Yakṣinī are movement in vegetation, they are movement in the atmosphere. Therefore, their bodies are not built of the gross substance of earth such as flesh and bones, but of the attributes of air so they are usually bending, stretching, jumping and running. They belong to the Āvaraṇa-devatā, surrounding divinities of the main figure, that appear carved on the walls of the Hindu temples, their body supported by their immanent breath.
This particular Apsarāḥ raises gracefully her right arm to hold an ornament to her head. Very likely, the broken left hand once held a mirror. In the Tantric context of the 8th – 12th century period to which the sculpture belongs, the Apsarāḥ are considered the embodiment of the Great Śakti, the primordial power and substance of the world. As a Śakti, they might be “mirror women”, and are represented as they are here, holding a mirror in their hand. The reflection of the face seen in the mirror is nothing in itself if separated from the face of the God or the Light of Consciousness-Bliss.
The delicate realism with which the abdomen has been sculpted is excellent. The curve of the hip dominates the lines of this obviously young body and is balanced by the countercurve of the right arm, creating an “S” that slides sinuously down the body from the tip of the right hand to the right foot, producing a graceful, yet seductive and complacent, posture. Most probably, the sculpture belonged to a Khajurāho temple, built during the short Chandela dynasty (10th-11th century), famous throughout the world for the erotic sculptures on their façades.
Provenance: Private collection, Barcelona, since 1970s.
Exhibited: A India, Pórtico do Norte. Auditorio de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, 3 October 1998 – 10 January 1999.
Published: A India, pórtico do norte. Auditorio de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, 1998, p. 121, n° 57. Arte Sagrado de las tradiciones índicas. Hinduismo, busdismo y jainismo. Casa Asia, Barcelona, May 2005.