This type of bronze is referred to as ‘jungli bronze’, the literal meaning is ‘bronze from the forest’. But there is nothing complimentary in its connotation.
The concept of worshipping a group of Goddess, loosely grouped as Mothers (Matrikas), is dated back to Mahabharata. The concept probably evolved from village goddess cults central to folk and tribal tradition.
The Mahabharata refers to the Matrika’s as dangerous and associates them with non-Brahminic deities. Later on, in medieval period they were associated with male counterparts and assumed more protective nature. Somewhere in between, they were associated with Devi and were part of Devi’s retinue in defeating demons.
The number of goddesses also changed over a period, four, seven, eight and sixteen being the common numbers. Somewhere, if only time can tell the story, the numbers got standardised to seven and they are now commonly known as Saptamatrikas (seven mothers).
The names and nature also changed over time. For example, they are referred to as Sapta Kanniga (Seven Maidens) in Tamil Nadu, Sat Bahini (Seven Sisters) in Madhya Pradesh, Sata Asara ((Seven Water Nymphs) in Maharashtra and SaptaMatrikas (Seven Mothers) Pan-India.
The most commonly accepted names of the Saptamatrikas and their male counterpart (in brackets) are Brahmani (Brahma), Maheshwari (Siva), Kaumari (Kartikeya), Vaishnavi (Vishnu), Varahi (Varaha), Narasimha (Narasimha) and Aindri/Indrani (Indra). Despite the protective nature, they continue to be associated with negative qualities/emotions. Despite carrying ‘mother’ in their names, they continue to be associated with vices or inauspicious emotions according to Varaha Purana.
Mahabharata, Natya Sastra, Devi Mahatmya, Devi Bhagrata Purana, Matsya Purana, Varaha Purana, Vishnu Dharmottara have references to Matrika’s.
This bronze is modern as in recent production, the twentieth century. It is most likely from Central India/Maharashtra. It is about 8 cm in height and 14 cm in length. All the pieces are moulded and attached to the base. The figure on our right side is likely to represent Bhairava. Sometimes the Matrika’s are shown with Ganesha. The significance or purpose of the pole on our left is not known. This bronze shows signs of worship.
This jungli bronze is a very simple depiction of “Mothers’ worship” which is a complex concept. Shows the power of faith and that is what made me include it on this blog.
B N Aryan visited us in March 2018 and he was thrilled to see a jungli bronze in my collection. Carrying on his father’s work, B N Aryan is deeply involved in promoting folk and tribal art. See http://www.museumoffolkandtribalart.in/