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The Brahma Purana alludes to Gayatri as one of Brahma's consorts, though this allusion itself has symbolic dimension. Once Brahma was going to perform a 'yajna'. He wanted his other consort Swara to accompany him in performing it. Swara was not, however, available at that time. As mandated under ritual norms, the 'yajna' could not be accomplished singly without a consort. Brahma hence asked his other consort Gayatri to sit with him and perform the necessary rites. In the meantime Swara came back. She lost her temper as soon as she saw Gayatri seated with Brahma in her place for the 'yajna'. Infuriated Swara cursed her to turn into a river. However, before the curse materialised Gayatri accomplished the 'yajna'. In the Puranic tradition, Gayatri hence symbolises in simultaneity the 'mantra-shakti' for which she initially stood, sacred river by Swara's curse, and accomplishment of 'yajna' for being instrumental in performing it.
Perhaps for her diverse attributes, Gayatri subsequently emerged as one of the most powerful Tantrika deities. She is often meditated on as an aspect of Mahalakshmi. Though in the north not many shrines are devoted to her, she is in live worship all over, and is the presiding deity in various Tantrika practices. However, in South she is one of the most popular female divinities worshipped on par with Padmavati. The five-faced coral complexioned goddess represents multi-faceted female energy and thus embodies in one supreme form all feminine potentials manifesting in different individual goddesses. Though the deity's complexion is all over the same, her all five faces have different colours suggestive of energy's different constituents. She is required to deliver various goods and hence her ten hands, carrying different attributes disc, mace, wine cup, lotuses, conch, goad and cane, besides, two hands in the posture of 'Abhaya' and 'Varada' assuring fearlessness and bestowing bliss. In her usual iconography she carries also a whip and noose and hardly ever imparts 'Abhaya' and 'Varada'. The artist in the painting has substituted with 'Abhaya' and 'Varada' at least two instruments of war, perhaps for perceiving in her a more benevolent protective and bliss-bestowing mother, not much of a chastiser. Alike, not splendour, the painting strives at attaining a kind of cosmic mysticism, which its background reveals. From its oceanic depths and against its darkness she illuminates like rising sun which the colour of her body, costume and lotuses symbolises. Tantrikas revere Gayatri as the most auspicious and as one whose bare presence accomplishes all desired.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.