Skanda, Parvati, Yamuna, 7th - 8th century
Stone (63.5 cm x 52.07 cm x 20.32 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from an anonymous donor and the William P. & Edith E. Cleary Fund2005.97
This three-sided piece was probably installed as part of a low wall around a raised walkway encircling a temple. Based on the treatment of the pilasters to either side of the female figure, it was likely made in the region around Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, or in the Jaipur region of Rajasthan. The three-sided carving, with the river goddess Yamuna on the narrow end, suggests it stood at the top of the entrance stairs, since the auspicious river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna were traditionally placed on either side of the temple door.
The narrative relates the story of Skanda’s consecration as the general of the gods (the God of War) who will defeat the demon Tarakasura. According to the epic Mahabharata, and the Sanskrit texts the Matsya Purana and the Skanda Purana, various gods performed the lustrations, carried out here by the three-headed Brahma and another figure pouring water over Skanda’s head.
If we assume that there is a relationship between Skanda and the female figure carved on the reverse, the iconography for this particular sculpture likely derives from the Skanda Purana, which describes Parvati (top right) as giving “two dustless cloths” to Skanda (note the scarf draped over her shoulder and held forth in her right hand). The text also describes the river goddess Ganga offering Skanda a jar. Here instead is the river goddess Yamuna, identifiable by the tortoise upon which she stands; one might surmise the artist confused the two goddesses.