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On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas:

The akti- or Devligas and Similar Sculptures*

Gudrun Bhnemann

Abstract: The paper discusses sculptures which appear to be ligas featuring four goddesses facing outward. These include a complex 17th(?)century Tantric sculpture from Nepal placed on a three-dimensional stone
maala and its possible prototypes, the so-called akti- or devligas
found in Bengal, which have tentatively been dated to between the 9th and
13th centuries. The significance of these sculptures and the identity of the
four goddesses pose major problems. The paper also addresses connections between goddesses and ligas and the phenomenon of feminine
ligas, namely ligas serving as a focus of goddess cult worship.

1. The Liga from Kathmandu

When the (Man)mohan courtyard of the Hanmnhok Royal Palace in
Kathmandu became accessible in 2012, a stone sculpture in the sunken
stepped fountain (hiti) caught my attention. It shows goddess figures whose
backs are attached to the four sides of a central shaft, which appears to be a
liga (Figs. 1-2). The girdle (mekhal) which adorns the shaft, and is similar
to others familiar as ornamentation of ivaligas,1 would support such an
identification. The four goddesses are three-headed and four-armed and are
I am very much indebted to Gerd J.R. Mevissen for providing material for this article
and for fruitful discussions. I would also like to thank Gudrun Melzer, Ryosuke Furui,
Hartmut Buescher and Katherine Paul for sending photographs, and Adalbert Gail, June
McDaniel, Corinna Wessels-Mevissen and Benjamin J. Fleming for helpful suggestions.
I would further like to thank Dieter Boschung and Gnter Blamberger for their support.
1 KREISEL 1986: 49, note 148 observes that representations of the mekhal are found in
India only up to the beginning of the Gupta period but continue to be seen on caturmukhaligas from Nepal.



G. Bhnemann


Fig. 1 Liga in the sunken fountain in the (Man)mohan courtyard of the Hanmnhok Royal Palace, Kathmandu. Photos: Gudrun Bhnemann

On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...



differentiated by their hand-held attributes. Common attributes are one to five

arrows in the lower right hand and a bow in the lower left. The attributes held
in the upper hands include variously a mace (gad); discus (cakra) or mirror
(darpaa); plough (hala); goad (akua); and conch (akha). Some of the
faces and hand-held attributes have been damaged. Details can be discerned
more clearly in four line drawings2 in a ca. 19th-century concertina-type manuscript (thysaph) labelled Nnstotracitrasagraha (Fig. 3). The drawings are numbered from 1 to 4 and correspond in most details to Figs. 2a-d
respectively. The goddesses hold the following attributes (right | left):
Goddess 1

mace | discus (or mirror?)

single arrow | bow

Goddess 2

mace | plough
three arrows | bow

Goddess 3

conch | mace
single arrow | bow

Goddess 4

discus (or mirror? 3) | goad

five arrows | bow

All goddesses are seated in lalitsana on the pericarp (karik) of an eightpetalled double lotus (vivapadma) from which the liga emerges. The sculpture show goddesses 1 and 3 with the right leg hanging down and the left leg
folded on the seat and goddesses 2 and 4 with the left leg hanging down and
the right one folded.4
The four Tantric goddesses have not yet been identified. Their iconography does not correspond with that of another group of four goddesses, namely
the sisters of a manifestation of iva called Tumburu as described in texts.
One would associate several of the hand-held attributes with Vaiava deities.
The top part of the liga (Fig. 1b) features a hexagram (akoa) consisting of two interlaced triangles (trikoa). Two such triangles are often
It is unclear whether the line drawings in this collection illustrate this sculpture before
it was damaged or an unknown similar sculpture in a different location.
3 The shape of this attribute (also held by goddess 1) in the sculpture resembles a discus.
In the corresponding line drawing a mirror is depicted.
4 Here the line drawings are at variance and show goddesses 1 and 4 with the right leg
hanging down and goddesses 2 and 3 with the left leg hanging down.


G. Bhnemann

Fig. 2 Details of the four goddess figures on the four sides of the Liga.
Photos: Gudrun Bhnemann



On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


Fig. 3 Manuscript leaf, ink on paper; National Archives of Nepal, Kathmandu (3/40).
Photo courtesy of Rajan Shrestha


G. Bhnemann


interpreted as representing iva and akti.5 An (apparently upward-pointing)

triangle, possibly with a point (bindu) in its centre, is seen inside the hexagram. Such a point is commonly understood as the principle from which all
form radiates. No other similar liga has been found in Nepal, although some
ivaligas from India, especially crystal ones, have a rcakra engraved on
the top (DYCZKOWSKI 2009: 248).
The liga to which the four goddesses are attached with their backs and its
eight-petalled lotus base are carved out of one piece of stone. The lotus is
placed in the centre of a (detached) base in the form of a three-dimensional
stone maala. Thus the ligas eight-petalled lotus rests on the pericarp of
the stone maalas twelve-petalled double lotus, and the twelve-petalled
double lotus rests on the pericarp of a sixteen-petalled double lotus. The sixteen-petalled lotus is supported by a circular platform comprising three concentric segments. These segments correspond to the three circles or girdles
(valaya) which often enclose the petals of lotuses in the more common twodimensional maalas. The rim of the middle segment of the circular platform consists of the profile of a divine serpent (nga)6 whose head has since
broken off. The circular platform is located inside a square consisting of three
lines with a protruding T-shaped gate in each cardinal direction. This structure is known as the earth citadel (bhpura), since the square is a symbol
of the earth. In the corners, between the gates, a band with the water motif appears and outside of it, a band with flames, representing the element fire. This
band is reminiscent of the circle of fire (jvlval) often seen on the outer part
of Buddhist maalas. The maalas directional orientation is indicated by
the ngas tail and the part of its raised head that remains resting on one of
the four maala gates.7 Goddess 1 faces this gate.
The upward-pointing triangle is said to represent iva and also the element fire and the
downward-pointing one the female sex organ or womb, akti and also the element
water. For more information, see BHNEMANN 2010: 570.
6 A nga circle is also found in Buddhist stone maalas in Nepal; see GAIL 2000: 330,
335, 344, figs. 23 and 24.
7 For a circle of flames as part of 19th-century Nepalese caityas, see GUTSCHOW 1997:
278. In these later caityas the half round profile of a nga is part of the structure. The
head of the nga and its tail (placed behind the head) project outwards in the north and
orient the building (GUTSCHOW 1997: 18, 20, 282 and fig. 556 on p. 299).


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


The sunken stepped fountain, which houses a large number of Tantric

sculptures, was constructed in 1652 under King Pratpamalla of Kathmandu
(r. 1641-74). It is, however, possible that, like some other sculptures, this
liga (with or without its three-dimensional maala base), which is now
among the sculptures in the upper tier of the fountain (Fig. 1a), was moved
here from another location. It may thus belong to a different time period. If
it was ever part of the original group of sculptures in the fountain, it is not in
the right place.8 It appears too close to the wall which surrounds the fountain
and which its maala base touches. (The wall is likely a later addition to the
fountain.) The goddesses featured on the detached liga are not properly
aligned with the cardinal directions as indicated by the gates of the maala.
The maala is made of another type of stone lighter in colour and rather
large in size compared to the dimensions of the liga. The three-dimensional
maala base may therefore not be integral to the sculpture, although one
would expect the latter to have some kind of a base.
2. The akti- or Devligas of Bengal
The closest related ligas with goddess figures attached to them are perhaps
the so-called akti- or devligas found in Bengal (Figs. 4-5). These ligas
were described, probably for the first time, by S.K. SARASWATI in 1932. Brief
references to eleven such sculptures and reproductions of two images are
found in Enamul HAQUEs 1973 Oxford dissertation (1973: 199-200, pls. 180181), which had a very limited circulation and was published in book form
only in 1992 (see pp. 134-135, pls. 105-106).
About twenty-five such stone sculptures can now be documented, in addition to three metal ones. I have provided a list of all known sculptures in the
Appendix. The stone sculptures have been dated tentatively to between the
10th and 13th centuries, and the three metal ones to the 9th, 11th and 11th or 12th
centuries, respectively. Since there are no comparable pieces it is hard to date
any of them precisely, and some of the roughly executed stone sculptures may
be considerably later. The sculptures fall within the general category of
mukhaligas or mrtiligas (HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 43), ligas featuring heads,

A comparison with older photographs shows that several sculptures in the fountain
were rearranged after the 1934 earthquake.


G. Bhnemann


Fig. 4 Threeakti- or Devligas from Bengal. a) State Archaeological Museum, West

Bengal, Kolkata (R.06.248); b) Balurghat College Museum, Balurghat, West Bengal (20);
c) Chittagong University Museum, Chittagong, Bangladesh (778). Photos: Ryosuke Furui
(a), courtesy of BCM (b), Gerd Mevissen (c)

torsos or whole figures. Some have been labelled caturmukhaligas in catalogues, but no corresponding textual descriptions have been found so far
which support this term. When S.K. SARASWATI (1932: 189) described the
stone sculptures, he labelled them ligas with four aktis, ivas female
energies. Enamul HAQUE borrowed this expression and noted that these
specimens are a Tntric exposition of a syncretic concept depicting phallic
emblem of iva in conjunction with the akti (1973: 200, and 1992: 135).
Adalbert GAIL coined the term catuaktiliga (HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 43).
The stone sculptures show four goddess figures facing outward with their
backs attached to a central shaft, which is more or less clearly recognizable
as a liga. The liga often rests on the base of a double lotus (vivapadma),
as in the sculpture from Kathmandu. However, in the stone sculptures from
Bengal, the goddesses have identical features. Either their whole bodies are
fully visible (Figs. 4a-b, 5a-c) or only the upper half of them, as far down as
their breasts (Fig. 4c) or their navel (Fig. 5d). The upper body is bare except
for a necklace. When the entire body is visible, the legs are in a cross-legged


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...

position, which is often the lotus

posture (padmsana). The hands
usually display the hollow ajali
(sampujali) or namaskramudr. Gouriswar BHATTACHARYA
(1993: 93 [2000a: 299]) and
Adalbert GAIL (in HAQUE/GAIL
2008: 43) assume that the ajali
gesture the goddesses exhibit
characterizes them as ivas devotees, and indeed this gesture
doubtless indicates a subordinate
status. In a few sculptures the
figures raise one hand, which
may be holding an attribute, up
to the breast or lower trunk,
while the other hand is lowered
and may display the wish-granting gesture (Fig. 5b). In one case
(Fig. 4a) animal mounts appear
on the pedestal below the female
figures. They are in the south/
front: a deer; in the west: an alligator; in the north: a tortoise;
and in the east: a bull.9
Since the goddesses have stereotyped features, they cannot
easily be identified. They wear
earrings, while some clearly
have their hair matted in the jamukua style of ascetics. This
feature is significant and could
indicate that they are yogins.
N.P. JOSHI (1996: 15) interprets


Fig. 5 Fourakti- or Devligas from Bengal.

a) Khulna Museum, Khulna, Bangladesh (KM 68);
b) Malda Museum, Malda, West Bengal (RL-1);
c) Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka (I-2003.
251); d) Varendra Research Museum, Rajshahi,
Bangladesh (83). Photos: Gerd Mevissen (a, b, d);
after Biea Pradaran 2004: 44 (c)

See SENGUPTA/SAHA 2013: 122, 125, fig. 3; SENGUPTA/SAHA 2014: 128, fig. 18.


G. Bhnemann


the four goddesses as representations of Prvat practising penance and worshipping iva, noting that [t]hese sculptures show Prvat on all the four sides
of a liga seated cross-legged with both hands joined together in adoration.
... The type can be named as rdhik just to distinguish it from tapasvin.
Although JOSHI does not discuss the matter further, his statement implies that
he does not consider the sculptures akti- or devligas in the sense of either
feminine ligas (namely, ligas serving as a focus of goddess worship) or
ligas emanating female figures, but as regular ivaligas worshipped by Prvat in her manifestation as a female ascetic. This interpretation does not explain why the four figures of Prvat appear with their backs against the liga
they supposedly worship. Such a position of the body would rather support
the assumption that the goddesses emanate from the liga (and are not worshipping it), but the question would then arise why the sculptures frequently
display the ajali gesture characteristic not of emanations but of devotees.
Since none of the sculptures has been found in situ, we can only speculate
about their placement. Some of the stone sculptures have tall shafts underneath them (Figs. 4c, 5c) and were apparently inserted into a base. Others
merely rested on lotuses (Figs. 4b, 5a/d)10. GAIL (HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 43) assumes that these ligas must have been connected with iva and not akti
temples. One could imagine that they were installed in sarvatobhadra-type
temples, that is, temples with openings in the four cardinal directions, with
each figure facing one of the entrances. Devotees could then view a goddess
from each direction. It is noteworthy that in Bengal comparatively few caturmukhaligas featuring male figures have been found. HAQUE 1992: 133 records only eight such sculptures as compared to eleven aktiligas that he
knows of. Apparently female figures traditionally mark the directions.
In passing, I will here mention a modern interpretation of similar sculptures featuring goddess figures in a standing position with their backs attached to a liga and much smaller in size than the liga. June MCDANIEL11
reports that an informant in Bengal explained to her that the four goddesses
are ivas four wives, Kl, Um, Prvat and akti (or, according to one
tantric practitioner, Kualin). If given offerings, the wives can channel the
blessings of their spouse, iva.
10 See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 193, *170 and 465, pl. 281; HAQUE 1992: pl. 105.
11 Two email messages, dated April 11, 2011.


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


For the attempt to identify the

goddesses, one metal sculpture
(Fig. 6) dating from ca. the 11th
century is of interest.12 It is also
from Bengal and made of copper
alloy that has undergone malachite
corrosion. The four goddesses display identical features. They show
the ajalimudr, are seated in a
cross-legged posture on a platform
which rests on a double lotus,
which is encircled by a row of inverted lotus petals. The base is supported by dwarf or gaa (?) figures
at the corners and by four animals
whose details cannot be discerned Fig. 6 Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
clearly. Jane A. CASEY (1985: 63) (89.153). After CASEY 1985: 63, pl. 35
takes them to be a goose, an elephant, a lion and a Garua, and assumes that they serve as the goddesses
mounts. Brahm is associated with the goose, Indr with the elephant,
Mhevar with the lion and Vaiav with the Garua. Gouriswar BHATTACHARYA (1993: 94 [2000a: 300]) initially accepted CASEYs interpretation,
but voiced doubt about the identity of Mhevar, who is usually associated
with a bull. He also wondered why Brahm is represented with only one instead of three heads (in relief). In a subsequent article (2000b: 1362), he suggested that the goddess associated with the lion should be identified as Durg
or Prvat rather than as Mhevar.
BHATTACHARYA (1993: 94 [2000a: 300], note 2) also drew attention to another metal sculpture when he wrote that [a] few years back we saw an earlier bronze image (c. 9th century) in the collection of Mr David Salmon of
London illustrating a Sivalingam surrounded by four Matrakas, vahana the
(sic) Brahmani having three heads. No photograph of this sculpture has been
12 Formerly in the collection of Dr. David R. Nalin (CASEY 1985: pl. 35), the sculpture is

now preserved in the Newark Museum and labelled Four Goddess Yantra (
89.153; see


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published and its current location is

unknown. It would be the only known
sculpture in this category from Bengal
in which the four goddess figures are
differentiated to some degree.
A comparable third sculpture
(Fig. 7) made of copper alloy is
found in an American private collection and was once offered for sale at
Carlton Asian Art, New York (KALISTA/ROCHELL 2008: no. 47). It
likely also originated in Bengal or
Bangladesh and is ascribed to the 11th
or 12th century. This liga to which
the four goddess figures are attached
rests on a four-legged tri-tiered base;
the animal vhanas are absent.
In addition to ligas, a few pots
or vases with similar designs have
Fig. 7 American Private Collection.
surfaced in different parts of India,
Photo courtesy of K. Kalista
which date from the 6th to 10th centuries.13 They feature one, four or six goddess figures with their backs attached to the pot or vase and facing outward. One metal vase featuring four
goddesses is of special interest in this context (Fig. 8). It was previously in
the Krishna Nathan Gallery, New York (BHATTACHARYA 2000b: 1357-1362,
figs. 15-17)14, and has been dated to the 10th century. Like the sculpture in the
Newark Museum (Fig. 6), the vase rests on a four-legged pedestal. It has a
long neck topped by eight large lotus petals bordering on its mouth, into
which a liga was likely inserted. The vase features four goddesses seated in
the lotus posture. All are two-armed and display the wish-granting gesture
with the right hand and hold the stalk of a lotus in the left hand, two fingers
of which are raised in what could be a gesture of blessing. From the animal
13 For more information, see BHATTACHARYA 2000b: 1356-1357.
14 The captions of figs. 15 and 16 have erroneously been exchanged in the publication.


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


Fig. 8 Metal vase, formerly in the Krishna Nathan Gallery, New York. a) Gag;
b) Brhm; c) Indr. After BHATTACHARYA 2000b: figs. 15-17

mounts shown to their right, Gouriswar BHATTACHARYA (2000b: 1358) identified the goddesses as Gag (with a makara), one-headed Brahm (with
a goose), Indr (with an elephant), and Durg or Prvat (with a lion). On
the rim of the pedestal, in front of each goddess, a snake hood is visible,
which possibly held offerings, and figures of two devotees are shown kneeling at the sides.
While the metal liga in the Newark Museum possibly features Brahm,
Indr, Durg/Prvat and Vaiav, the vase previously in the Krishna
Nathan Gallery (which was likely once topped by a liga) possibly displays
another group of goddesses (i.e. with Gag instead of Vaiav).
However, it remains uncertain whether the goddesses featured on the
Bengali ligas, who are not accompanied by animal mounts, correspond with
either group. In the absence of any textual material to provide clues, it is also
doubtful whether the term devliga or aktiliga is applicable to these sculptures, and so I hesitate to impose it on these objects.
3. Goddesses and Ligas
While the identity of the four goddesses and the ritual significance of these
ligas remain a puzzle, one can point to the many connections between goddesses and ligas. I will deal with this complex topic here only briefly, dividing the material broadly into three categories.


G. Bhnemann


Fig. 9 Goddesses carrying a Liga placed on a base. a) Tushiti, Royal Palace, Patan;
b) Sunken stepped fountain, (Man)mohan courtyard, Hanmnhok Royal Palace, Kathmandu; c) Manuscript leaf, ink on paper; National Archives of Nepal, Kathmandu (3/40).
Photos: Gudrun Bhnemann (a, b), courtesy of Rajan Shrestha (c)

3.1 Representations of Goddesses with a Liga Placed on a Base

Goddesses can hold a liga placed on a base as one of their attributes (Fig.
9),15 wear it on their body16 or carry it on their head.17 We also find sculptures
15 The iconography of the sculpture from Tushiti (Fig. 9a), a sunken fountain built in 1647

CE in the former royal palace of Patan, and its parallel, a damaged sculpture (Fig. 9b)
in the fountain in the (Man)mohan courtyard of the Hanmnhok Royal Palace in
Kathmandu, can be discerned more clearly in the line drawing in the aforementioned
manuscript Nnstotracitrasagraha (Fig. 9c). The four hand-held attributes (liga,
skull cup, noose and goad) correspond with the iconography of a yogin described, according to DYCZKOWSKI 2009: 248, in a Newar ritual manual. For a manuscript of this
manual, titled Pacimajyehmnyakramrcpaddhati, see National Archives of Nepal,
Kathmandu, 14/876 = Nepalese-German Manuscript Preservation Project, reel
no. B 191/8 (email message from Mark Dyczkowski, dated August 24, 2011). DEVA
1984: 49 and BANGDEL 1995: 279/58 labelled the sculpture as Bhairava. Pandit Magalnanda (in GAIL 1984-88, 2: 45 and in SHRESTHA 1996: 9/58) labelled it as a ketrapla.
A form of Klartri (My) holding a liga is described in Mahdharas Mantramahodadhi (BHNEMANN 2000-01, 1: 184-185).
16 See RAO 1914-16, 1: 362 for a description of the goddess Bhtamt wearing a liga
on her body.
17 See, for example, RAO 1914-16, 1: 375, pl. CXII, and MAJUMDAR 1943: 452 for a goddess carrying a liga on her head.


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


Fig. 10 Khulna Museum, Khulna, Bangladesh (KM 723). Photo: Gerd Mevissen

in which a liga on a base appears in close proximity to a goddesss hand (but

is not actually held by her)18 (Fig. 10)19, and still others where the liga appears above the figure of a goddess (Fig. 11)20. A large number of these latter
sculptures represent Prvat practising austerities (tapasvin), a theme recognizable by the appearance of agnikuas. Sculptures illustrating this theme
date from the middle of the 7th century and feature iva (frequently in the
form of a liga) and Gaea, often in the top corners21 (Fig. 12)22 but also in
the goddesss hands or elsewhere in the composition (JOSHI 1996: 20-21).
18 See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 76; and, for example, 490, pl. 355; 493, pl. 365; and Fig. 12.
19 See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 267-268, *416 and 462, pl. 272 (labelled Um); for updated re-

ferences, see MEVISSEN 2015: 60, *416.

20 See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 250, *357 and 354, pl. 52 (labelled ah).
21 See JOSHI 1996: 19-21, pls. 3/4, 4/3, 6/3, 7/2-3 and fig. 7.
22 See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 292, *501 and 463, pl. 273 (labelled Um); for updated references, see MEVISSEN 2015: 62, *501.


G. Bhnemann


Fig. 11 Mahasthan Museum, Mahasthangarh, Bogra, Bangladesh (13).

Photos: Gerd Mevissen

Occasionally, several ligas appear on the back-slab (JOSHI 1996: 32). A

monumental 12th-century stone sculpture from Vikrampur, Bangladesh, of an
unidentified goddess sometimes labelled Mahmy or Aptakuc (Fig. 13)23
is shown worshipping a liga on a base and possibly merging with it.24 This
unique sculpture is itself in the shape of a liga.
3.2 The Goddess in Union with the Liga
Authors of some gama texts identify the base, pedestal (pha, piik) or
altar (ved) into which the liga has been inserted with the Dev or akti
23 HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 141-142, *37, and 347, pl. 45; for updated references, see MEVISSEN

2015: 49, *37.

24 The sculpture has been discussed by scholars such as BANERJEA 1966, RAHMAN 1972
and BHATTACHARYYA 1974, but their interpretations are not wholly convincing; see the
summary of research on the sculpture in LEFVRE/BOUSSAC 2007: 256-257.


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


Fig. 12 Chittagong University Museum,

Chittagong, Bangladesh (664). Photo:
Gerd Mevissen

herself. The pha, sometimes explicitly called a yoni, is assumed to

be in union with iva.25 This concept is expressed in a statement
in the 11th-century Somaambhupaddhati: The liga is iva, the
pha is akti, and the pratih is
their Union, with the help of mantras (quoted in BRUNNER 1998: 94)
(Fig. 14).

Fig. 13 Bangaladesh National Museum,

Dhaka, Bangladesh (69.171). Photo: Gerd

25 See RAO 1914-16, 2: 62, note 4; MITTERWALLNER 1984: 25-27; BRUNNER 1998: 91, 92,

94-96; STHAPATI 2002: 36; AGRAWALA 2008: 216, 249; DYCZKOWSKI 2009: 260-261.


G. Bhnemann


The pairing of ivaliga and yoni,

even though well known in contemporary Hinduism, is referred to only in
comparatively late texts, and specifically in the gama literature.26 Structurally, the pha is meant to collect and
drain the water after the abhieka bath.
Some authorities equate the innermost part of a liga with the goddess
(DYCZKOWSKI 2009: 242-246). Chapter
76 of the Klik-Pura and other texts
narrate how a goddess manifests herself
by bursting out of a liga.27 A similar
concept seems to be expressed in a reFig. 14 liga and pha. After BRUNNER
lief sculpture (Fig. 15) in the lower1998: 90
most row of the northern prkra wall
of the Mallikrjuna Temple complex at railam in Andhra Pradesh.28 It
shows two elephants pouring water over a liga inside of which a female
figure manifests herself. The sculpture appears to be a female counterpart of
a ligodbhavamrti, in which iva manifests himself. In addition, the composition invokes the image of the so-called Gajalakm, who is flanked by
elephants bathing her with water from jars.
3.3 Ligas as the Focus of Goddess Worship
Ligas can be installed and be the focus of the worship of deities other than
iva. Passages from Puras, for example, indicate that male deities, such as
Viu, Brahm and the sage Vysa, can be worshipped in the form of ligas
(BONAZZOLI 1980: 223-224). Occasionally, the word devliga is used in the
sense of a liga serving as the focus of goddess worship (BONAZZOLI 1978).
26 For a discussion of this topic, see FLEMING 2012.
27 See BONAZZOLI 1980: 226 and DYCZKOWSKI 2009: 247, 249-251.
28 In her detailed account of the relief sculptures on the prkra wall, ANURADHA 2002:

xviii, 92, 128 (with photo 28) erroneously classifies the sculpture as a male ligodbhavamrti. A colour photograph of the sculpture was recently published in DALLAPICCOLA 2014: 56, fig. 6 (the image has erroneously been flipped horizontally).


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


Fig. 15 Relief sculpture at the prkra wall of the temple complex at railam.
Photo courtesy of Hartmut Buescher

This is especially well attested in the case of Sarasvat but also of other goddesses.29
David SHULMAN (2014: 12) describes a liga in the Mayranthasvm
Temple at Mayiladuturai, Tamilnadu, which is decorated as a female and
worshipped as the goddess Anavidy/Anavidymbikai.
The practice of worshipping a goddess in the form of a liga is, however,
not widespread.
4. Concluding Remarks
Taking all the evidence into consideration, it appears that despite some similarities the stone or metal akti- or devligas of Bengal belong to a different tradition than the stone sculpture on the maala base from
(Man)mohan courtyard of the Hanmnhok Royal Palace in Kathmandu.
The ligas from Bengal are simpler in design and much earlier. The fact that
they are only found in certain parts of Bengal points to a local tradition. That
some of these sculptures were only roughly executed, resulting in indistinct
features, would indicate a folk tradition of worship.
The complex stone sculpture from Kathmandu is a refined and unique piece
of art of a later time period. The four goddesses attached with their backs to
the liga belong to a specific yet unidentified Tantric tradition. They are
29 See BONAZZOLI 1980: 220, 226, 227; see also EICHINGER FERRO-LUZZI 1980: 50.


G. Bhnemann


clearly differentiated by their hand-held attributes and appear to play much

less of a subordinate role than the four identical figures exhibiting (mostly)
the ajalimudr featured on the Bengali ligas. The three-dimensional maala base, regardless of whether it is integral to this liga or not, is of great interest as a work of art, since three-dimensional stone maalas are rarely found
in Hinduism with the exception of the rcakra.30 Taking into account the
Tantric concepts previously referred to, the liga from Kathmandu might be
interpreted as a cult object in which the male (liga) and female aspects (four
goddess figures) of a deity are worshipped somewhat akin to the concept of
Ardhanrvara. The two intertwined triangles atop the liga, which are commonly taken to represent iva and akti, seem to support this interpretation.
5. Appendix: A List of akti- or Devligas31
5.1 Stone sculptures
5.1.1 In Bangladesh
1. Chittagong University Museum, Chittagong, CUM 778; ht. 56 cm. See
HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 289, *495; 464, pl. 280; HOSSAIN 2009: 39-40, pl. 24.
(Fig. 4c)
2. Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka, I-2003.251; 26 x 8 cm. Original
site: Srinagar, Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Published in the exhibition catalogue
Biea Pradaran 2004: 44. (Fig. 5c)
3. Baigungaon, Dinajpur. See SARASWATI 1932: 189; SARASWATI 1936: 17;
HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1798. Unpublished.
4. Khulna Museum, Khulna, KM 68; 32 x 13 cm. See HAQUE/GAIL 2008:
277, *455; 464, pl. 279. (Fig. 5a)
5. Mahasthan Museum, Mahasthangarh, Bogra, not available; 37 x 13.5
cm. See HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 264, *407; 464, pl. 278.
6. Varendra Research Museum (VRM), Rajshahi University, Rajshahi, 83;
44 x 16 cm. Original site: Baruipara, Rajshahi. See HAQUE 1992: 134, 395, no.
1788, pl. 105; HAQUE/GAIL 2008: 193, *170; 465, pl. 281. (Fig. 5d)
30 Three-dimensional Buddhist dharmadhtu stone maalas found in Nepal, which are

different in design, were studied by GAIL 2000. These maalas date from the 17th century onward.
31 This list is necessarily preliminary in nature and some entries in it may overlap.


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


7. VRM, Rajshahi, 248; ht. 27.8 cm. Original site: Amrail, Mohanpur,
Rajshahi. See HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1793; RAHMAN 1998: 181, no. 471. Unpublished.
8. VRM, Rajshahi, 265; ht. 31.7 cm. From Dinajpur district, original site
unknown. See HAQUE 1992: 134, 395, no. 1787; RAHMAN 1998: 181, no. 472.
9. VRM, Rajshahi, 788; ht. 7.4 cm (?). Original site: Tetulia, Panchagarh.
See HAQUE 1992: 134, 395, no. 1790; RAHMAN 1998: 181-182, no. 473. Unpublished.
10. Santa, Bogra. See HAQUE 1992: 396, no. 1807. Unpublished.
5.1.2 In West Bengal, India
11. Balurghat College Museum (BCM), Balurghat, 20, ht. 46 cm. (Fig. 4b)
12. BCM, Balurghat, 34. Unpublished; photographed by Gudrun Melzer
and Gerd Mevissen in 2011.
13. Dakshin Dinajpur District Museum, Balurghat, 43; 39.6 x 22.9 cm. See
BHATTACHARYA 2002: 8; GHOSH 2008-09: 132 pl. 11.19, 139 no. 50.
14. Dehabandh village (near Birhatta) at Kushmandi Police Station, Dakshin Dinajpur District. See SARASWATI 1932: 188-189. Unpublished.
15. Jhargram, Medinipur. See HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1799. See also GHOSH 1978:
345, pl. 17 (as referred to in DAS GUPTA 2011: 1097, 1100, note 20) or pl. 27
(as referred to in HAQUE 1992: 395).
16. Murshidabad District Museum (MDM), Jiaganj, not available. Unpublished; photographed by Gudrun Melzer and Gerd Mevissen in 2011.
17. MDM, not available. Unpublished; photographed by Gudrun Melzer and
Gerd Mevissen in 2011.
18. Asutosh Museum of Indian Art (AMC), University of Calcutta, Kolkata, acc.
no. not available. See GHOSH 1961: 70, pl. LXXXI.E; HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1783.
19. AMC, Kolkata, not available. From Burdwan district, original site unknown. See HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1784. Unpublished.
20. AMC, Kolkata, not available. Original site: Debipur, Dinajpur. See
HAQUE 1992: 395, no. 1785, pl. 106.
21. State Archaeological Museum, West Bengal (SAM), Kolkata, R.06.248;
43.5 x 15.5 cm. Original site: Shyamchangra, Jaugram, Bardhaman. See SAM
2008: [14],; DAS GUPTA 2011: 1098; SENGUPTA/SAHA 2013: 122, 125,


G. Bhnemann


no. 2, fig. 3; SENGUPTA/ SAHA 2014: 128, fig. 18. On the pedestal, below the
goddesses, the figures of the following four animal mounts have been noted:
in the south/front: a deer; in the west: an alligator; in the north: a tortoise; in the
east: a bull. (Fig. 4a)
22. SAM, Kolkata, R.06.06; 5.5 x 4.6 cm. Original site: Baruipur, South 24
Parganas. See SENGUPTA/SAHA 2013: 122, 125, no. 1, fig. 2; SENGUPTA/ SAHA
2014: 130, no. 22; 266, no.13. It seems to me that the three inscribed letters
(see SENGUPTA/SAHA 2013: 122, 125; SENGUPTA/SAHA 2014: 130, 266
[appendix 1, fig. 13]), are a later addition. I am not completely convinced that
the figures attached to the liga are actually female.
23. Malda Museum, Malda, RL-1; 43 x 26 cm. Original site: Bamongola,
Malda. See BHATTACHARYYA 1982: 11, no. RL-1 Caturmukha linga (sic);
BHATTACHARYA 2002: 8. (Fig. 5b)
24. Mandirtala, district of South 24 Parganas. Preserved in Panchayat office
Mandirtala (Sagar Island) (DAS GUPTA 2011: 1100, note 21); described in
DAS GUPTA 2011: 1097-1098.
25. Paikore, Birbhum. See HAQUE 1992: 396, no. 1805. See also GHOSH 1978:
160, pl. 27 (as referred to in HAQUE 1992: 396, and DAS GUPTA 2011: 1097,
1100, note 18).
26. Purkayetchar, South 24 Parganas. Preserved in a local temple, in Mathurapur
Thana, but now lost (DAS GUPTA 2011: 1100, note 21); described in DAS
GUPTA 2011: 1097-1098.
5.1.3 In Nepal
27. Stone sculpture in the sunken stepped fountain (hiti) in the (Man)mohan courtyard of the Hanumnhok Royal Palace, Kathmandu (Figs. 1-2).
See also the four line drawings in a concertina-type paper manuscript (thysaph) labelled Nnstotracitrasagraha in the National Archives of Nepal in
Kathmandu, 3/40 (= Nepalese-German Manuscript Preservation Project, reel no. A 1174/24) (Fig. 3).
5.1.4 In Collections in Europe
28. Russek Collection, Switzerland, 238 I BIP; ht. 29 cm. Originally from
Bangladesh (BHATTACHARYA 1993: 93 [2000a: 299]). See RUSSEK/HANSMANN/HANSMANN 1986: 168, pl. 193; BHATTACHARYA 1993: fig. 1 (2000a:
pl. 28.1).


On ivaligas with Goddesses and Female Ligas ...


5.2 Metal Sculptures in Collections in the UK and USA

29. Formerly in the collection of David Salmon, London. Described in BHATTACHARYA 1993: 94 (2000a: 300), note 2; original site and present location
unknown. Unpublished.
30. Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, 89.153; ht. 8.7 cm. Originally
from Bangladesh; formerly in the collection of David Nalin. See CASEY 1985:
63, pl. 35; BHATTACHARYA 1993: 94, fig. 2 [2000a: 300, 590, pl. 28.2];
BHATTACHARYA 2000b: 1362-1363, fig. 18. (Fig. 6)
31. American private collection. Originally from Bengal or Bangladesh; displayed
and offered for sale at Carlton Rochell Asian Art, New York (KALISTA/
ROCHELL 2008: no. 47). (Fig. 7)
32. Metal vase, topped by what was likely a liga; formerly in the Krishna Nathan
Gallery, New York; originally from Bangladesh. See BHATTACHARYA 2000b:
1357-1362, figs. 15-17. (Fig. 8)
AGRAWALA, P.K. (2008) Liga. Kaltattvakoa: A Lexicon of Fundamental Concepts
of the Indian Arts. Vol. VI, eds. S. Chattopadhyay & N.C. Panda. Delhi: 193-266.
ANURADHA, V. (2002) Temples at railam (A Study of Art, Architecture, Iconography and Inscriptions). Delhi.
BANERJEA, J.N. (1966) The Kagazipara Sculpture. Nalini Kanta Bhattasali Commemoration Volume: Essays on Archaeology, Art, History, Literature and Philosophy of the Orient, Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Nalini Kanta Bhattasali
[1888-1947 A.D.], ed. A.B.M. Habibullah. Dacca: 151-153.
BANGDEL, L.S. (1995) Inventory of Stone Sculptures of the Kathmandu Valley.
BHATTACHARYA, G. (1993) Identification of a Group of Strange Sculptures from
Bengal. South Asian Studies (London) 9: 93-95. Republished in 2000a: 299-301,
590 & pls. 28.1-28.2.
(2000a) Essays on Buddhist Hindu Jain Iconography & Epigraphy, ed. E. Haque.
(2000b) The Enigmatic Pot. South Asian Archaeology 1997: Proceedings of the
Fourteenth International Conference of the European Association of South Asian
Archaeologists, held in the Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, Palazzo
Brancaccio, Rome, 7-14 [11] July 1997, eds. M. Taddei & G. De Marco. Rome,
Vol. III: 1341-1365.


G. Bhnemann


BHATTACHARYA, M. (2002) Art of Bengal. The Sculptures Of the MahnandKaratoy Valley. Vol - I. Kolkata.
BHATTACHARYYA, D.C. (1974) An Aptakuc Image from Kagajipara, Bangladesh.
Artibus Asiae (Ascona) 36, 1/2: 89-94.
BHATTACHARYYA, M. (1982) Art in Stone: A catalogue of Sculptures in Malda
Museum. Malda.
Bie(a) Pradaran (2004) Nidaran(a) Sagraha o Karmaka 2003. hk (exhibition catalogue of the Bangladesh National Museum; text in Bengali).
BONAZZOLI, G. (1978) Devliga: A Note. Pura (Varanasi) 20/1: 121-129.
(1980) A Dev in Form of Liga. Pura (Varanasi) 22/2: 220-231. [The text of
this article, without mentioning the name of its author, is reprinted in Swami
Parmeshwaranand (ed.), Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puras. New Delhi, 2001,
vol. 2: 454-459.]
BRUNNER, H. (1998) The Sexual Aspect of the Liga Cult according to the Saiddhntika Scriptures. Studies in Hinduism II: Miscellanea to the Phenomenon of
Tantras, ed. G. Oberhammer. Wien: 87-103.
BHNEMANN, G. (2000-01) The Iconography of Hindu Tantric Deities. Vol. I: The
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(2010) Maalas and Yantras. Brills Encyclopedia of Hinduism, eds. K.A. Jacobsen et al. Leiden/Boston, Vol. 2: 560-573.
CASEY, J.A., ed. (1985) Medieval Sculpture from Eastern India: Selections from the
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DALLAPICCOLA, A.L. (2014) Srisailam Wall Reliefs. In A.L. DALLAPICCOLA, G.
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DYCZKOWSKI, M.S.G. (2009) Manthnabhairavatantram. Kumrkhaa. Volume
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and Paradoxical Associations of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Current Anthropology (Merced, California) 21/1: 45-68.


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GHOSH, R. (2008-09) Second Report of Archaeological Investigation in Two Dinajpur
District (sic) (Dakshin and Uttar) of West Bengal. Journal of Bengal Art (Dhaka)
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GUTSCHOW, N. (1997) The Nepalese Caitya: 1500 Years of Buddhist Votive Architecture in the Kathmandu Valley. Stuttgart/London.
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A.D.). Unpublished doctoral dissertation submitted to Oxford University, printed
in book form in 1992.
(1992) Bengal Sculptures: Hindu Iconography upto c. 1250 A.D. Dhaka.
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Berliner Indologische Studien

Berlin Indological Studies
gegrndet von / founded by
Klaus Bruhn

22 . 2015
herausgegeben von / edited by
Gerd J.R. Mevissen

WEIDLER Buchverlag

Inhalt / Contents
Wissenschaft ist nach meiner Meinung nur ein anderer
Ausdruck fr Humanitt .... Letters of A. Grnwedel to
W.W. Radloff from the Collection of the Archives of the
Russian Academy of Sciences, St.-Petersburg Branch . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Who should pay for Indological Research? The debate
between 1884 and 1914 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Eine buddhistische Sicht auf den Buddhvatra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Dionysisches in Gandhara. Zu einem bemerkenswerten
Gandhararelief der Kuschanzeit (ca. 2.-3. Jh. AD) in der
Sammlung Florence Gottet/Schweiz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
Unpublished Inscriptions from the Amarevara Temple,
Mndht . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
Corrected Reading of a Nepali Inscription . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Was there any Deity called Madhureika? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
From Gaddev to r/Lakm and from Cakrapurua
to Pui/Sarasvat: A Critical Appraisal of Sculptures
Depicting Vius Two Consorts in Eastern India . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159


Meavhin Sarasvat in the Sculptural Art of Bengal . . . . . . . . . . 173
An Iconographic Note on the Trivikrama Image from
Bengal in the National Museum, Karachi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Exploring the Jaina Sculptural Remains in Ancient Manbhum . . . 205
Four Goddesses Attached to a Liga: The akti- or
Devligas and Similar Sculptures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
The Choreography of Identities: A Peculiar Type of Statue
from the Dali Kingdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263
Review: Devangana DESAI, Art and Icon. Essays on Early
Indian Art. New Delhi, 2013 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
Thirty Years Berliner Indologische Studien 1985 2015.
Cumulative Author Index BIS 1 (1985) 22 (2015) . . . . . . . . . . 285
Mitarbeiter / Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301