Statuette of Bhu Devi
Materials: cast iron
Dimensions: 22 centimeters high
Place acquired: car boot sale, north London
Place of manufacture: probably India
For the big three monotheisms – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – sex is a highly proscribed subject. By their nature patriarchal and puritanical, these religions strive to limit the sexual act to the confines of marriage and reproduction and the tidy lineages that result. Any celebrations of sex and fertility for its own sake, and certainly any hint of female sexuality, are discouraged and if they exist at all they tend to be the survivals from earlier pagan religious practices.
But in this respect these religions are in a minority. For most other belief systems, past or present, sexuality, sexual union and fertility seem to be a major preoccupation and tend to be frankly celebrated. Just take a look at this little figure of the Hindu goddess Bhu Devi. It’s difficult to imagine a better example of a female figure at once so sexualised (maybe what I mean is ‘sexy’) and at the same time so naturally at ease with, and totally in control of, that sexuality.
Bhu Devi is one of the various forms of Lakshmi, the consort of the god Vishnu. Bhu Devi is Mother Earth, and represents the fertility form of Lakshmi. So even at an abstract level this figure is really about fruitfulness through sex.
The statue itself is a modern copy in the style of the famous Chola bronzes of the 10th and 11th centuries. The pose is traditional with the goddess holding a lotus in her right hand (mostly missing on my cast) and her left arm and hand in the Lolahasta Mudra pose that is said to aesthetically mimic a cow’s tail. It is made by the same method of casting as the originals and in this example there are several casting failures where the molten metal has failed to reach every extremity of the mould. So it has a slightly nibbled appearance. It’s a cheap imitation, let’s be frank, but an imitation of an original that has such stunning grace and beauty that these qualities still come shining through.