This striking bronze sculpture portrays the important Hindu Goddess Uma, and originates in the Khmer Empire. Known mainly for the staggering city of Angkor, the Khmer empire covered much of SE Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries AD, and was a trading hub for much of the surrounding area. From the great citadel of Angkor, the kings of the Khmer empire ruled over a vast domain that reached from what is now southern Vietnam to Yunan, China and from Vietnam westward to the Bay of Bengal. The original city was built around the Phnom Bakeng, a temple on a hill symbolizing the mountain that stands in the center of the world according to Hindu cosmology. Successive kings enlarged the city, building other temples devoted to various Hindu deities and large reservoirs used for irrigation, which also symbolized the ocean surrounding the holy central mountain. The finds made from this dynamic period of Asian history have been highly informative as to the cultural and religious characteristics of Khmer society, and this is an astonishing example of their sculptural traditions.
Uma is also known as Parvati, and is a goddess, reincarnated from Sati, who is the second consort of Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction and rejuvenation) and mother of Ganesha and Skanda. Her role in Hinduism varies between groups and areas; Shaktas consider her to be the ultimate Shakti, the embodiment of universal energy. She is given a gentler interpretation elsewhere – such as being a representation of Shakti, softened by her maternal leanings – and is widely considered to be the Daughter of the Himalayas. Generally held to be fairly benign, she is also believed to have a malevolent and destructive side. When she finally attracted Shiva, after a long and physically grueling courtship, he shared with her the secrets of the world, a conversation that would lead to the dispersal of this elite knowledge amongst the wise. Shiva’s exploits were represented on the relief carvings of Angkor Wat; Uma’s presence in this World Heritage monument reflects her stature as a major deity in the Hindu pantheon.
This outstanding bronze sculpture portrays Uma standing with head raised, bearing a lotus flower in her right hand (the lkeft, now empty, presumably held another such item). She is naked from the waist up, with a slim waist, firm breasts and broad shoulders that convey both delicacy and strength. Her elbows are flexed, with floral-motif armlets around each bicep and an ornate diademic torque around her neck. She has a square, determined jaw, her face dominated by sardonically arched eyebrows, a broad nose and a half-smile on her lips. She has pendulous earlobes and an ornate coiffure that imitates the form of a lotus bulb, decorated with medallions and a central spike at the apex. She is wearing something approximating to a sari, tied at the waist with a textile belt. The cloth flows down to the mid-calf, exposing bare feet, each ankle decorated with a large anklet. The impression conveyed is one of strength and solidity, which is perhaps appropriate for the bride of the god of destruction. This is a beautiful piece of ancient art and a credit to any serious collection.