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Artist Unknown, India, Tamil Nandu, Kanchipuran

Artwork Details

circa early 10th century
Artist Unknown, India, Tamil Nandu, Kanchipuran
28 1/8 in x 21 in x 13 in (71.4 cm x 53.3 cm x 33.02 cm);28 1/8 in x 21 in x 13 in (71.4 cm x 53.3 cm x 33 cm)
Museum Purchase


March 28, 2009
Indian deities are complex: the forms they take are many and, at times, seemingly contradictory. On one level, the gods are believed to be beyond human comprehension. Yet images draw the varied aspects of a divine power into a coherent whole—a single physical body composed of human, animal, and superhuman features. Varahi, one of the Hindu pantheon’s Seven Mothers, was created from the shakti, or embodied energy of Varaha, in order to subdue demons. Like Varaha, she is boar headed, and her rear hands would have held his signature weapons. However, protective powers are expressed in purely maternal terms here. She has taut, youthful flesh and full breasts, signifying fecundity, while the gentle tilt of her head suggests motherly affection. Her crossed legs form a cradle, offering a tender sanctuary.
(Label for UMMA South and Southeast Asia Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

This image was discovered in 1926 by the French archaeologist Gabriel Jouveau-Debreuil in Kancipuram, an area about 70 km southwest of Chennai (Madras), along with a large group of other sculptures of goddesses and one image of Siva. Varahi is one of the Saptamâtrikâ, or "seven mothers"—mothers of the principal gods of the Hindu pantheon. Several other, larger images goddesses at the site have been identified as Yoginis, or tantric goddesses. Companion images from the series are now distributed among major museums of the world, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Musee Guimet, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
One of the set of goddesses often grouped into the Saptamatrika, the Seven Mothers, Varahi is the female counterpart to Varaha, the boar-headed incarnation of Vishnu. In Hindu mythology, the Seven Mothers are extremely powerful and as a group represent the power of all of the gods. The female principal is the active one in Hinduism and the Mothers as a group can destroy demons and protect against diseases.

Physical Description:

Varahi has a crowned boar’s head on a woman’s body. She sits with her ankles crosses and originally had four arms, the back two have broken away as has the front right hand which had probably been held up in a reassuring gesture. Her left from hand is held down at her left knee with the palm held facing out in a gesture of giving. Her body is softly modeled with a narrow waist and full breasts. She wears jewelry that is in sharp but low relief and includes a series of necklaces forming a collar of decoration and a longer one that falls between her breasts which suggests the sacred thread extending down to her waist at her right. She is naked from the waist up and the lower garment is merely suggested by the heavier folds at the waist. Her head is tilted and her chin/snout had jutted out to the left, but the lower snout is broken away. She wears a conical crown that accents the long diagonal of her face. Originally there was an arch behind the image which would have supported her back arms, so the image would have appeared denser, with only the cut away empty space to the sides of her waist.

Usage Rights:

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