This exquisite figure of Brahmani belonged to a set of seven goddesses, known as the Sapta Matrikas, or “Seven Mothers,” comprising Brahmani, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda. Each goddess is the divine female counterpart to a principal male god of the Vedic and Hindu pantheon; she is equally a singular and prominent deity who simultaneously embodies the benign and ferocious aspects of the divine mother. The three visible faces identify this goddess as Brahmani, wife of Brahma, who is the Creator of the Universe, as do the water pot and mala she holds in her upper right and left hands respectively. She is typically the first Matrika depicted, placed directly beside an aspect of Shiva or Skanda and leading the line of goddesses.
Previously worshipped independently throughout India during the Pallava period in South India (ca. 7th – 9th centuries AD) as emanations of shakti (the divine feminine energy), the Sapta Matrikas were absorbed into the Shaiva pantheon and given great artistic expression in the subsequent Chola period (ca. 9th – 13th centuries AD), when they were represented in monumental form, often accompanied by a figure of Skanda in the context of a Shiva temple. This figure of Brahmani is a superb example of the Matrika, produced at a time when stone carvers throughout Tamil Nadu had achieved consummate skills with which to represent divinized human forms. The granitic stone of Tamil Nadu is particularly difficult to carve, making the figure’s deep sensuousness all the more remarkable.
The supple lips, ovoid face, naturalistically rendered flesh, and the treatment of the base, which includes lotus petals that are flat and broad, suggest a date in the 12th century. While smaller in scale because of the subject matter, the present figure may be compared with an important group of figures depicting Sadashiva, in which the god has four faces arranged similarly to Brahmani’s and is seated with one foot pendent on a double-lotus base that has the broad, flat petals; see examples from the Collection of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 42.120), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (27.79) and The Cleveland Museum of Art (2007.155).