Yogini with a jar

(India, early 10th century)

G211

This yogini holds more benign implements than some of her counterparts, demonstrating that goddesses frequently embodied contrasting human traits—they could be at once fearsome and benevolent, beautiful and terrible. Her upper left hand holds a jar, possibly containing medicine, while her upper right hand holds a small spear or spatula.  Her now missing bottom left hand would have held an outstretched skull cup for drinking fluids used in Tantric ritual. Other yoginis hold much fiercer tools, such as clubs, spears, and shields, portraying their martial identities.

The yogini is sitting cross-legged in a meditative yoga position. She embodies feminine power or Shakti, which controls all action in the universe and is an inexhaustible source of energy and supernatural powers. Thousand-year-old texts describe yoginis as fearsome flying goddesses who could impart gifts of flight and the ability to transcend death and time to mortals.

Indian sculptures, while revealing the body, are never nude, and always adorned with elaborate jewelry. Heavy necklaces, lion-faced arm bracelets, belts, anklets, and large earrings adorn our yogini’s voluptuous body, and she wears an elaborate headdress.

The lightly incised bird at the base suggests the yogini’s power of flight.

Indian sculptures are frequently curvaceous, even sensual, going back to the earliest temple monuments. Ancient Indian texts speak of love and sexual satisfaction as one of the four goals of life, and it is clear that worldly practice and religious belief merged in public monuments. The veneration of fertility was embedded within sacred monuments from the inception of stone carving.  The voluptuous body of Mia’s yogini is also a symbol of her feminine power, from which devotees derived strength.