A tiny diorama, or a miniature in brass, with all figures and components cast independently, assembled together and painted, as in any diorama representing a theme, this brass-cast represents goddess Bagala, one of the Ten Mahavidyas, who is hailed in scriptures as ‘Vak-Stambhanakari’, one who stupefies and paralyses her opponent’s power to speak. Illustrative or rather narrative like a miniature painting, and not statue type compact, the artifact is more like one providing the stage for enacting the drama and as enacting it.
Unique in its dramatic effects and portraying force and motion, the artifact has goddess Bagala in lead role. Stepping down from her seat – a dramatic dimension, she catches hold of the tongue of her opponent invading her premises with her left hand and thrashes him with the mace held in her right. Overpowering him with the wind’s force the ferocious goddess pushes him with her bent leg, though before he fell on the ground he manages to support his body on his arms and a bent leg and holds it above the ground as hanging in between – something as would occur in a real combat. He carried a sword and shield but with his grip loosened in the conflict the same fall far away from him.
This representation of the goddess Bagala synthesises various contentions prevalent in regard to her form made in accordance to various connotations of the term ‘bagala’ spelt also as ‘vagla’, ‘vagala’ and sometimes as mere ‘vaka’. Contextually to the term ‘vaka’, meaning duck, a few scholars, claiming ‘vaka’ as being her name’s prefix, and hence ‘Vakamukhi’ her name, perceive her as the goddess who makes her opponent duck-faced; a few others perceive her as herself being crane-faced – both views not shared by many. Greater unanimity prevails in regard to the contention that ‘vagala’ and finally ‘bagala’ are terms derived from ‘vagla’, their root. ‘Vagla’ means ‘bridle’, and accordingly Bagalamukhi is contended to be the goddess who puts bridle in the mouth of her opponent, that is, arrests the flow of his speech.
In Tantra where Bagalamukhi is one of the most celebrated and invoked deities, she has been conceived, though with greater elaboration, almost identically to this ‘bridle’ theory. The Tantra perceives her as the goddess with two normal arms, yellow-hued and as clad in yellow. With her left hand she catches hold of her opponent’s tongue and pulls it, and strikes him with a mace held in her right. She is not claimed to kill her opponent but to only paralyze his power to speak, which symbolically suggests that she quietens or controls her devotees’ opponents and does not allow them to use their tongue against them for in Tantra she is invoked for stopping someone from revealing a secret he knows, and the goddess’s devotee does not want that it is revealed.
The primary imagery in the artifact has been conceived in accordance to her form as it is perceived in Tantra. Though the entire artifact has been dyed in black, the folds of her wear and the curves of her body reveal traces of yellow. The ‘antariya’ that she is wearing has a masculine touch but the sash put around her right shoulder and belly is completely male-like. The identity of the goddess is determined primarily by her act of holding the tongue of her opponent but a pair of ducks on the two sides of the seat the goddess had been sitting on before she stepped down, and the seven bird-motifs, the crested bird-faces, comprising the apex of the fire-arch right under the umbrella motif, are also significant aspects of the artifact as they reveal the bird contexts, duck or crane, of the myth of the goddess Bagalamukhi, a name that simply means ‘one with the face of crane’.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.