In early sculptural traditions, as at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh or Konark in Orissa, parrot is more often sculpted as striking or titillating with its beak the maiden’s breasts mistaking it for a fruit, a pomegranate or any, just ripening, for representing her vigorous youth, almost a conventionalised image-form used for portraying a ‘Mugdha-nayika’, a maiden in her trans-adolescent age or in early youth. The maiden in this statue has as vigorous youth and ripened breasts as any that chisel and hammer ever sculpted, beyond the stretch of ‘stana-pata’ – breasts-band, to contain, but the stoically poised parrot, unlike a conventional motif or tool used for defining the state of her youth, seems to have been conceived with thematic thrust, perhaps conversing with her. In medieval Indian romantic literature, as also in her art, especially in early sculptures, parrot has often served as the messenger between lovers. As narrate a number of texts, many of the princesses confining to the palace-four-walls used to have parrots speaking man’s tongue and understanding it for carrying their messages to their lovers and bring back theirs.
One of the earliest texts to be illustrated at Mughal Emperor Akbar’s royal studio, the ‘Tutinama’, as well as its Sanskrit source-book ‘Shuk-Sapt-shati’, a collection of seven hundred verses on parrots, are books fully devoted to parrots, usually their role as messengers. The parrot Hiramana is as significant a character in the great epic ‘Padmavat’ by Malik Mohammad Jayasi, a mid-sixteenth century Awadhi poet, as any human character in the poem, even Padmavati or Ratna Sen, its heroine and hero. Padmavati, an unparalleled beauty, was the princess of Sinhala Desha – a mythical geography with ocean around in far off south sometimes identified as Lanka or present Sri-Lanka . Many suitors reached Sinhala Desha for wedding her but all inferior none won her hand.
Padmavati had a parrot, named Hiramana, that knew a number of languages and was a holy soul. One day, when it came back after a pilgrimage it had gone along a group of pilgrims, the parrot narrated to Padmavati how it had a chance to reach the terrace of Prince Ratna Sen, the king of Mewar and see the unsurpassed beauty of the prince. Hearing all about Ratna Sen Padmavati fell in love with him and decided, if ever, she would marry Ratna Sen, none other. She sent Hiramana back to Chittor. Hiramana reached Ratna Sen’s terrace and speaking to him in his tongue narrated Padmavati’s beauty and convinced him of her love and virtue. Along a large army Ratna Sen reached Sinhala Desha and married Padmavati.
Maybe, when conceiving his model of sublime beauty in the form of this nymph, the artist of this metal-cast had Padmavati’s vision in his imagination. With its well composed figure and saintly bearing the parrot looks much like the mythical Hiramana. The face of the maiden, deeply immersed in thought, suggests that the parrot’s discourse has deeply moved her. Unlike a nymph, even a celestial one having divine links, or a conventional ‘Nayika’, who has her figure more sensuously modeled and exposed, the magnificently bejeweled and gorgeously and most gracefully attired maiden in the statue betrays royal dimensions, such as would define Padmavati of the Jayasi’s epic. Apart her royal bearing, the statue has in addition a tiny attendant figure close to the bottom, another sign of her royalty.
The figure of the maiden, her attendant and the tree she is standing along have been installed on a three-tiered pedestal : the bottom section comprising a plain base moulding with an upwards graded stretch faced with stylized lotus creepers, the middle, styled lotuses, and the top, a plain moulding. A ‘prabhavali’ like arching tree or rather its well-trimmed trunk and branches, a form usual in early Shalabhanjika sculptures, bursting with different sorts of flowers, from lotuses to sun-flower, fruits to include berries and different styles of leaves to include ferns, affords rare perspective to the maiden’s image. Close to its base is posted the attendant icon with her left leg lifted and held in her left hand as if removing a thorn or a sticky irritant. The figure of the maiden is unique in iconographic features : round face, large eyes with arching eye-brows, broad forehead, sharp nose, cute small lips, pointed chin and a well-defined neck, in its anatomical proportions : tall slender figure, sensuously swelled breasts, subdued belly, voluminous heavy hips, large fingers and proportionate arms, legs and every body-part. The style of her hair-dressing, hair-ornaments and other ornaments, especially the girdle with an exclusive style of pendant and gussets on the backside, as well as her ensemble : the ‘antariya’ – lower wear, and ‘stana-pata’ – breasts-band, abound in rare lustre and amazing beauty.
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.