A luminous brass cast with gold-like lustre, one of the most popular mediums of artistic representation, the statue represents a beauteous maiden engrossed in her own beauty and vigorous youth. The statue, a contemporary artifact, revives the millenniums old tradition of Indian doctrine of ‘nayika-bheda’ that sought to classify across ages beauteous women in love under different classes. Such classification is made sometimes in accordance to the period of their age, such as ‘Mugdha’ – adolescent, ‘Madhya’ – one in middle age, or ‘Praudha’ – a matured one, and sometimes, in relation to their virtue especially as revealed in their love-relationship, such as ‘Swakiya’ – a faithful wife, ‘Parkiya’ – the other man’s wife, ‘Kulta’ – in love relations with different persons, and so on. The term ‘nayika’ that defines such maidens is often translated into English as ‘heroine’, though the two terms are widely different in meaning. ‘Nayika’ meant a cultured youthful maiden in love, ‘heroine’ is a term related to one performing a main role on the stage.
Not merely in Indian literature and aesthetics, right since fourth-third century BC, that is, since the Natya-shashtra by sage Bharata, the first known treatise on Indian poetics and stage-craft, but also in Indian art, the Nayika-bhed has always been one of their most popularly portrayed themes. Obviously, seen by a lover’s eye, a ‘nayika’, whichever her class, is always a beauteous female. Thus, the ‘nayika’ doctrine has always presented to the illustrator the most lustrous model of feminine beauty, and hence, for any visual representation the most readily available subject. In sculptural art ‘Nayikas’, often in the same order of classification as prescribed various treatises, begin appearing during early centuries of the Christian era. Sanghol, a Kushana site on Punjab-Hariyana border, and Mathura, another Kushana site, have revealed in excavation a wide range of ‘Nayika’ icons. The tenth-eleventh century sculpted temples like those at Khajuraho, Konarka , Bhoramadeva … have complete range of Nayika sculptures.
As is obvious, this brass-statue represents ‘Mugdha-nayika’ – the maiden in her adolescent days. As ‘swakiya’, the faithful one, is the highest class of ‘nayikas’ in relation to virtue, ‘Mugdha’ is her most beauteous and vigorous model of a woman in relation to her appearance. Inexperienced in love not knowing what exactly she pines for a ‘mugdha nayika’, as is the maiden in this statue, is lost in herself, engrossed in her own beauty and vigorous youth not knowing what to do with it. She seems to delve deep within her but is unable to find what she desires and what shall accomplish the goal of her life. Forgetful of herself she is lost in her own being. Uneven are the ways of desire, frisking – ascending, descending, gliding … like a bird, blooming like a lotus and moving like a wheel, such state of her mind the artist has translated into the form of the arch that frames her figure within it. A strange parallelism, the creeper-like curling arch embossed with flower-vine patterns rises on the left from a form that looks like a young fawn; on its extreme right terminates into a wheel, and immediately before it is a bunch of lotuses, all revealing one state of her mind or the other.
The image of the ‘nayika’ has been installed on a tall multi-tiered oval shaped pedestal with the base moulding consisting of conventionalised lotus design, the top, plain, and the rest, variously conceived and cast. The fingers of both of her hands seem to be moving as on the strings of an instrument. As driven by the tune of this unheard melody her left foot curves to right, and the right leg moves to left. A tall build with slim body structure the figure of the ‘nayika’ has been cast with mild ‘tri-bhang’ – a three-curved posture, the curves in belly and neck being more pronounced. Besides the subdued belly, the figure has been cast with elegantly modeled breasts – unclad and well defined, broad shoulders, voluminous hips, long fingers and a bit oval round face : well fed cheeks, fine nose and eyes as in meditative trance. Besides a highly ornate ‘antariya’ – lower wear, her figure has been conceived as putting on an elaborately worked waist-cloth enriched with gold thread and precious stones – the most beautiful component of her ensemble. The ‘nayika’ has been represented as wearing large ear-rings, various necklaces, girdle, armlets, wristlets and anklets. Her hair has been braided into a large knot carried on her right shoulder.
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.