The Great Goddess as Ishwari, with Bhadragaura
Artist/maker unknown, India
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The goddess Durga's vahana (vehicle) is usually depicted as a great cat, but just what kind of cat is often unclear. Ancient texts sometimes call it a lion, sometimes a tiger, and sometimes a more imaginary creature. In this painting there is even more ambiguity-the great cat has the thick, striped body of a tiger; the tufted tail, short mane, face shape, and color of an Asiatic lion; and the facial "tear-lines" of a cheetah (now extinct in India but once common and used as a royal hunting animal). The inscription at the top of this painting labels Durga as Ishwari (Sanskrit for a powerful female being) and identifies the dwarflike figure as Bhadragaura, a rare form of the god Shiva.