Ritual vessel



2nd–1st century BCE
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General Description

This impressive ritual vessel, used for the purification of sacred objects or as an offering, is from the region of Bengal in India. The area was a center of sea trade between India and the Mediterranean. During the Shunga dynasty (c. 2nd - 1st centuries BCE), Bengal was part of a rich international culture, with far-flung contacts, both in commerce and in art. The art style of the time reflects both Hindu and Buddhist themes and includes stories from the Hindu epics as well as Buddhist imagery related to those on the stupas.

The main image on the vessel is the panchachuda, or five-weapon goddess, who wears lethal weapons in her hair as ornaments. She may be an early form of Shri Devi, the Hindu Great Goddess. This warlike form of the goddess was to become important as Durga, Shiva's wife and the defeater of demons. The figures on this vessel that surround the central goddess include attendants, flying vidyadharas (minor divinities whose name means "knowledge bearer") holding out garlands, and three female goddesses and a winged male around a tree. The decorative motifs include lotuses and other flowers, conveying a sense of nature and fertility.

Adapted from

Anne Bromberg, "Ritual vessel," in The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 36.

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