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Lajja Gauri-Type Figures in the Indus Valley. New Discovery in the Harappan Seals

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lajja Gauri-Type Figures in the Indus Valley:
New Discovery in the Harappan Seals

See here a related article on Lajja-Gauri in this journal

Max le Martin
(Max le Marin is mainly a collector living in Phuket, Thailand and says that  these pieces he has published here from  private collections are genuine. His specialization is the study of the iconographic origins of the Shakti goddess Durga. Since no deep studies have been published on the relation between Durga and Lajja Gauri. This absence motivated him to write about this topic.)

"Dancing Girl," Mohenjodaro (Photo - National Museum, New Delhi)

During the 3rd millennium b.c., the Fertility cult is dominant in the trade cities of the Indus valley. The Nude goddess with bangles and her male counterpart, the Proto-Shiva, are the divine deities on the Saraswati river banks. The trading cosmopolitan people bring their influences and their skill in the Indus valley. The Sumerians from Ur, main powerful civilization of this period, give off their cylinder seals and the images of their goddesses.

They worship Inanna, their divine fertility goddess and her avatar, dedicated for causing erotic dreams: the goddess Lamashtu, Lilitu, (Ardat-Lili for the Akkadians), simply represented nude, spreading her legs, showing her vulva for well make understand that it is the  way of procreation and birth. She is surrounded with scorpions which are the symbol of genital and sexual organs.

268-270 - Leon Legrain.Ur excavations III, Archaic seal-impressions. Oxford Univ.Press 1936. Plate 14 

The representation of this goddess will be retaken on the seals of the Indus valley civilization to become the forerunner of the goddess Lajja Gauri in India.
 Plae 47

The first “evidence” of the squatting goddess surrounded with scorpions was found in the earliest excavation level at Rehman Dheri (early Kot Diji.3200-2800 bc) :

 Kot Diji phase.2800-2600 bc.Harappa.com

This carved ivory pendant figures a “frog” surrounded with scorpions. This frog is like a stylized squatting woman and the whole drawing of the pendant is very close the topic of the sealing of Ur. It is sure that this interpretation is subject to discussion but the comparison, specially with the bitumen seal from Susa below, is disturbing. At Kot Diji phase (2800-2600 b.c.), one must bring the symbol of a button seal compound of a M and a V overlapped to the M shape of the goddess’ legs supporting the V female sex.

Kot Diji phase.2800-2600 bc.Harappa.com

These symbolic representations of sexual topic appear acceptable in the fertility cult, main religion of these early civilizations.
The following cylinder seal, 2700-2300 b.c., of the Mature Harappa period, published for the first time, from a private collection, shows the “Shameless lady” in her squatting position.

The Indus script sign between the goat and the zoomorphic buffalo deity  as represented above, confirms its belonging to the Saraswati river banks civilization as it can be seen on other Indus seals.

A similar figure on a stamp seal of bitumen compound from Susa is reported by the Doctor Kalyanaraman, that I thank for providing his immense documentation : People called MAR-TUwww.hindunet.org with reference : Louvre, MDAI, 43, no 1725.

It seems, but the picture is not so clear, that the similar Indus sign found on the Harappan cylinder seal can be seen below the goddess of the bitumen seal from Susa.
This cylinder seal shows outstandingdetails :
1 - The water buffalo is personified with a collar around the neck – dancing girl design. This representation is close another Indus seal figuring a female (with breasts) water buffalo as a deity fighting with the tiger.
2 - The goat and the buffalo are females and pregnant.


The sculptor having carved this seal in a hard black stone in hollow has had to dig the stone for obtaining this effect in impression. The big paunch of the buffalo and the goat and the absence of male sex are deliberate to figure pregnant females. It’s an outstanding representation in the Harappan seals which figure only male cattle. (cf: Corpus of Indus seals) A people of farmers-breeders should have represented pregnant cows or cows with calf, as other neighboring civilizations, if the subject of the Indus seals was only the trade.
Ninhursag Temple. Tell Ubaid. Ca 2475 bc
Ninhursag Temple. Tell Ubaid. Ca 2475 bc

This argument militates in favor of the sacred character of the Indus seals. In this cylinder seal, the pregnant goat and buffalo are associated with the sacred representation of a fertility goddess dedicated to the procreation. This Mature Harappan seal confirms the presence of the Lajja Gauri-like in the Indus Valley at the early period.
The seal, often quoted, of the nude lady issuing a plant (?) from her womb, is not convincing to be compared with the squatting goddess.

Harappa. 2100-1750 bc. New Delhi Museum.Huntington archives.
The reverse of the seal, on the other hand, figures a woman, legs forward and may be apart too, pulling her hair with her hands. A nude man seems to drum in front of her.

Interesting to note that the Indus signs on the harappan seal are the same on the reverse and on the obverse. This links the two drawings as the same story. Seal impressions of Ur show such a nude woman, “pulling her tresses in both sides”. This expression is associated on the sealings of Ur with a party, a dancing and sexual context.

 Leon Legrain.Ur excavations III, Archaic seal-impressions. Oxford Univ.Press 1936
The confusion, generally done, between Lajja Gauri, Aditi and Prithvit as the same goddess with various names needs to be cleared :
The iconic model of Lajja Gauri takes its source in the Mesopotamian civilization. Her representation was brought by the trade in the civilization of the early Indus which adopts her as a pleasant image of sexuality and fertility compatible with this time customs.
Lajja Gauri-like pre dates the Vedas from where are issued Aditi and Prithvit, quoted in the founder texts of the Vedic civilization.
What is the Vedic civilization ? Invaders from Central Asia, through the Caspian sea, about 1800/1500 bc, corresponding to the collapse of the Indus civilization ?
Migrations from north to south were permanent, by waves, from Siberian and Caspian tribes bringing their skill and adopting the civilization of their settlements, mixing the people by the trade and sharing their lives together. Chinese settlements too, bringing their influences in the terracotta making of the Balutchistan plateau.
No references to Lajja Gauri can be found in the Vedic literature and consequently of her iconographical details.
I am not convinced that the headless female from Inamgaon (circa 1200 b.c.) drawsup a step in the perpetuation of the image of the crouching goddess.
Upinder Singh. A history of Ancient and Early Medieval India
See original picture of the Inamgaon Mother Goddess figurines in Indian archaeology –A Review- 1970-71- Plate XLIV

Same remark for the nude goddess of Navdatoli (1000-800 bc) :
Indian archaeology A review 1957-58,pl.34.
The picture of a gold leaf from Lauriya Nandangarh published by Edward James Rapsonin The Cambridge History of India shows only a Mauryan fertility goddess type as they can be seen on the Mauryan ringstones and a steatite plaque from Rajgir (ca245-105 bc). 

I.A. A Review 1962-63,pl.XII B.
  V&A museum. Maurya. Ringstone.

British.mus. 3rd c.bc.Northwest Pakistan.

Some findings in the pre-Maurya period, era of the Janapadas (600-300 b.c.), allow to note that the fertility cult dedicated to the squatting goddess is still enduring along the centuries.

Surashtra janapada. Gujarat. Silver karshapana. 450-300 b.c. coinindia.com
On this Surashtra Janapada punched marked coin, a fertility goddess, the legs apart, shows her vulva in procreative position. Her arms and legs are shaped like cow’s paws.
In the ancient texts, to compare a lady with a cow is synonymous of beauty. Lunar symbol in the hair and Shiva’s trident may give a relation with the Shaktist cult.
The squatting position can have two interpretations :
- A sexual invitation to procreation, goal of the fertility cult.
- A childbirth position, result of the procreation.
Jitamitra Prasada Simhadeba is wondering about the representations of Lajja Gauri in Tantric Art of Orissa, p.66 :
“ Pregnant lady should have large swelling of the belly. Strangely enough, the Lajja Gouri images are not shown with swelled belly. Most probably the iconographical details were forgotten by the artists…”
A swelled belly is shown on the following representations of the medieval era.

  Ancient Indian coins. Ibibo.com
 Early medieval coin of Vidarbha.indiacoingallery.com
On the other hand, the images of Lajja Gauri represent, for most of them, a sexy lady with a slim waist, only worried to show the details of her vulva in a invitation for sex.

1st c a.c. IGNCA. Allahabad museum.
  Mansar.Pravarapur. 1st half 5th c.ac. RUG.
Amravati.Maharashtra. 150-300 a.c. State museum Chennai..

The artists devote their skill to the beauty of a young and slim woman body and their statues cause another emotion than those of a childbirth.

  Naganatha temple.650 ac. Badami
Naganatha temple.650 ac. Badami
                                                     Deccan. Naman Ahuja. Indianiconography.info
Deccan. Naman Ahuja. Indianiconography.info
Mahakut. 7th c. ac.

The Dr Baba Mishra remarks in the Headless goddess of Nuapada-Orissa :
“The vulva region is carefully carved. Probably the artist had shown the clitoris, which is, however, illegible at present… But sufficient care was taken to exhibit its genital prominently… the figurine does, not only reveals its fertility and vegetative feature but also demonstrates a stark sexuality about it.”
Nuapada.Orissa. Limestone.
To concentrate the attention on her genital way, the artists did not figure the head or replace it by a lotus flower, the fertility symbol of the bearer of the seeds. More, in early medieval representations, the goddess is armless to simply reduce her expression to the procreative system.
 Deccan. Naman Ahuja. Indianiconography.info
Osmanabad. Gov. images from an old book.
Ter . 3rd c. ac. British museum
This preoccupation of seduction, by the choice of the artists to represent a beautiful and sexy lady for inciting the worshippers to the fertility cult, is the same in the representation of the Great Mother of the Mauryan period in northern India.
Grey ware terracotta. Mathura. 400-300 b.c. Private collection.
This fertility goddess of the upper Indus valley (Mathura,Taxila,..) is slim and pretty. She is nude, the body only decorated with strips and lotus seeds, symbol of the seed. The terracotta statue is punch marked with the same mode that the coins of the period, to bring wealth to the worshippers, with the solar symbols which can be found on the Maghada kingdom coinage.
Maghada. 300 b.c. Columbia edu.         Maghada. 300 b.c. Noble coins.
This fertility goddess with bangles of seeds, in all her majesty, is the direct heir of the Nude goddess with bangles of the Indus valley. Same her, she is the Great mother , the One before the one, in a matriarchal society of the Hindu gods that paves the way to the birth of the goddess Durga, during the Shunga empire.
                          IGNCA. Maurya. 320-200 b.c.                    LACMA.Mathura 300 b.c
Goddess of wealth, she bears a purse.
LACMA. Mathura. 200 b.c.                                  Guimet mus. 4th-3rd c. b.c.
By extension, she is too the goddess protecting the family, as Parvati further.
Good mother, she breast-feeds and takes care her baby.

 New Delhi National museum. Mathura. 3rd c. b.c.

Beside this Great Mother, too divine for the only sexual and procreative preoccupation, the cult of Lajja Gauri is spreading at the end of the last millennium b.c. Friezes of the squatting goddess decorate the fertility ring stones and the bracelets to favor the procreation and the childbirth during the Maurya and Shunga empires.
Metmuseum. Maurya. 323-185 b.c.
Slim waist squatting fertility goddess, the legs apart. The goddesses are circling the hole of
the ring stone with their vulva, hole figuring the way of procreation.

 Ivory bangle. Shunga period.Bengal. Naman Ahuja. Indianiconography.info

The frieze of goddesses, nudes and the legs apart, with a swelled belly, are circling the exterior edge of the bracelet – way of expulsion. Beautiful story of the procreation act until its result : Presentation of an offering of seeds, procreation act with a slim belly and the arms up to be offered, then the belly is growing and the childbirth with the arms down to push the baby out, surrounded by 2 ladies offering some present and a purse for good wealth.
This story of the Shunga period is to link closely with the enduring of the iconography of Lajja Gauri in Shunga art and not with the mithuna scenes of the period. The seals of the Kashmir Smats consecrates the goddess Lajja Gauri in the 2nd c. a.c.
Silver seal. Kashmir Smat. 2nd c. a.c. Private collection.
 Impression of a bronze seal. 2nd c. a.c.

The image of the squatting goddess is giving off inside and outside India.
Roman. 1st c. a.c. Christies sale Karanis.Egypt Roman period . Egypt. 2nd c. ac. Edgard L.Owen
1384. 8/6/2004. Rockefeller pl. 3rd c.ac. Kesley mus.
The cult of the fertility goddess Lajja Gauri spreads in India with the Chalukyas of
Badami, around the 6th century a.c. , then the Chalukyas of Kalyani.

Badami.575 ac.
For the Medieval period :
Carol Radcliffe Bolon : Forms of the goddess Lajja Gauri in Indian art.
Foot notes on Lajja Gauri-like :
Lajja Gauri, the shameless woman … the “ nameless woman” . The name of “Gauri” appears, in particular, in the chapter V (verses 8-82) and the chapter XI (verses 1-35) of the Devi Mahatmya dedicated to the goddess Durga. This name is only a noun to designate Durga, as Bhagavati or Devi. “Lajja” means shame, referring to the sexual iconography of the goddess, nude and the legs apart. It’s a pejorative term inherited from the morals of the Victorian period. The Review of Indian Archaeology doesn’t use the term until the beginning of the 80’s and classifies the sculptures coming from excavations under the terms of “nude goddess” or “great mother”. Even so, there is treasures to find in the pages of “ A Review” :
As this special representation of Lajja Gauri found at Bangarh, dated of the Shunga period, in A Review 1961-62, pl.XCVI A :

Or these, in the Central museum of Nagpur, 1969-70 Pl.LXIV A&B :
Or these other ones,
1978-79 Pl.XXXVIII, found in Keesaragutta Hyderabad district, where the goddess is presenting a linga and a “lion head” with Nandi and a worshipper on her sides, showing the strong link acquired by Lajja Gauri in the Shiva’s cult. In the same place, was excavated an eccentric pot with “ seven snakes and five female demon-like” (they are only nude to be demonic …) that feels associated to the Lajja Gauri ‘s cult.
1977-78 Pl.XXXVII, that shows in the museum of Calcutta a Lajja Gauri-Nuapada design many years before the discovery of the limestone plaques in Orissa.

About the frog and the scorpions .

The ivory pendant found in Rehman Dheri dated 3200-2800 bc. with a stylized frog.A similar stylized drawing on a stamp seal dated 3300 bc, north Mesopotamia, Gawra period :


The eight-pointed star “Rosette”, Inanna’s symbol, fertility goddess of love and sexuality, is surrounded with scorpions. Rare evidences of frog representations were found in the artifacts of the Mesopotamian and Indus valley civilizations.

In Egypt, from the early dynastic period, the goddess Heqet , froggoddess, represented fertility. She was associated with the penis erection : Osiris’s raised penis and frog-goddess Heqet :

Egypt.Drawing from sarcophagus art.Goddess and the divine feminine by Rosemary Radford Ruether,

Women wore frog amulets during the childbirth. The frog was associated with the rain to become a fertility symbol.

Egyptian amulet.New kingdom.1567-1085 bc. forumancientcoins.com
Lamashtu, in Akkad – Lilitu, in Sumer.
The ancient texts, by syncretism, mention Lamashtu or Lilitu (Sumer Dimme) as the handmaiden of Inanna, the goddess of love and sexuality. They are the lascivious deities, sexual predators, seeking to seduce men in the night. These deities are not preoccupied to warm the childbirth.

Sumerian terracotta.1950 bc.British mus.                                Ishtar vase. Early 2nd mil.bc. Louvre.
“The Queen of the night “ Inanna/Ereshkigal/Lilitu

 Ereshkigal and Nergal. Sexual intercourse in the underworld. 3000 bc.

Lamashtu, a scorpion between the legs, lion headed and Anzu bird feet, is suckling a pig and a dog, riding the back of a donkey and holding snakes. Sexual predator, as Lilitu, she will become, in the later period, the demon of the diseases and the sickness of pregnant women in Babylon.
800 bc. Neo Assyrian. British mus.          Lamashtu.Unidentified. Louvre mus.

In her original expression, Lamashtu presides at the offering of a young nude lady, an Inanna’s maiden, to a bearded man, under the patronage of Inanna/lilitu :
The first assistant of the nude young lady asks Lamashtu, lion-headed and Anzu bird feet, about the presentation by the second assistant, facing the bearded man in an invitation gesture. Inanna/Lilitu, owl feet and large pubis area, is in the center of the story, her lower part of the body in the underworld with the fantastic zoomorphic deities.
Babylonian cylinder seal. 2000-1600 bc. Isin Larsa.
Sacred prostitutes and prostitution temple.
Modern prostitution designes the sexual marketing of the body in exchange for money. The antique  “prostitutes” were the priestesses of the fertility cult of Inanna in Sumer, Ishtar in Babylonia, Astarte for the Canaanites and the Phoenicians …worshiping the same fertility goddess under various names.
The Inanna’s hymns, of En Hedu Ana, high priestess in Akkad (2285-2250 bc), show the hot erotism of the sacred fertility cult :
A balbale to Inana as Nanaya (Inana H) 7-15A. 
"Let me …… on your …… -- Nanaya, its …… is good. Let me (?) …… on your breast -- Nanaya, its …… flour is sweet. Let me put …… on your navel -- Nanaya, ……. Come with me, my lady, come with me, come with me from the entrance to the shrine. May …… for you. {(ms. c adds 1 line:) Come my beloved sister, let my heart rejoice.}"
“1-9. "…… on your navel. My sweet illustrious sister, ……. On your back ……. My  illustrious sister, …… hand. In your vagina …… the gardens. Nanaya, ……. In your anus …… the fields. My illustrious sister, …… the acres. Come to me, my sister, ……." …unknown no. of lines missing .
A šir-namšub to Inana (Inana I)
16-22. When I sit in the alehouse, I am a woman, and I am an exuberant young man. When I am present at a place of quarrelling, I am a woman, a figurine brought to life. When I sit by the gate of the tavern, I am a prostitute familiar with the penis; the friend of a man, the girlfriend of a woman.
Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL) - 25 -
It is interesting to note the association of the pearl necklace with the sacred
prostitutes :
A hymn to Inana as Ninegala (Inana D) :
“ … then, my lady, like the nameless poor, you wear only a single garment. The pearls of a prostitute are placed around your neck, and you are likely to snatch a man from the tavern.”
 The pearl necklace identifies the nude sacred prostitutes. In iconography, to decorate a sculpture with a pearl necklace would refer to the sexuality in the fertility cult.
Adorning Inanna and Ishtar with a pearl necklace, the artists want to confer the high status of fertility priestesses, sacred prostitutes, in these representations of the goddess.

                Terracotta from Susa.2000 bc.             Terracotta from Susa.                  Ishtar. 1700 bc.
                Louvre mus.                                      Elamite period.1150-1100 bc.    Sterling memorial library.
The pearl necklace identifies the nude sacred prostitutes. In iconography, to decorate a sculpture with a pearl necklace would refer to the sexuality of the fertility cult. Adorning Inanna and Ishtar with a pearl necklace, the artists want to confer the high status of fertility priestesses, sacred prostitutes, in these representations of thegoddesses. This traditional detail of art is enduring in the Indian medieval period and Lajja Gauri, too, is adorned with a pearl necklace, conferring a sexual topic to the representations.

100 ac. matrika-india.org
Traditional detail borne too by Lal Led, a Shiva’s devotee, in Kashmir during the 14th century, whose sculpture retakes all the art elements of the goddess Lajja Gauri.
Max8899. All rights of publication are reserved.
Contact me for authorization at maximum888@hotmail.com. If not for commercial use, it will be confirmed by email.

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