In the excitement of upcoming Durga Puja and Navaratras, one would not really bother to wonder about the origin of ‘Shakti’. According to historians, the concept of worshipping the Goddess originated from the worship of Mother Earth and can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation (2600 to 2000 BC). In subsequent centuries, the concept of Yogini developed between 6th to 10th century and soon was forgotten.
“The concept of Yogini is not very well-known because it is a tantrik cult and used to be practised secretively. Therefore, all Yogini temples are situated far from human habitations,” informs J E Dawson, curator of the ongoing single-object exhibition titled ‘Return of the Yogini’, at the National Museum.
As one enters the Ajanta Hall in the Museum, the sight of an approximately five ft high, stone sculpture of a female form with buffalo-head sitting on a swan, captivates the visual senses, leaving one intrigued. “This is ‘Yogini Vrishanana’ belonging to Lokhari in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and dating back 10th century,” shares the curator with Metrolife. What interests one more is the how the 400 kilogram (approx) sculpture came back to India after having been taken to France illegally!
In 2008, the National Museum received a letter from the Indian Embassy in Paris mentioning that it has accepted a donation of a stone-sculpture from a lady named Martine Schrimpf. “She stated in her letter drafted by her lawyer that the sculpture was acquired illegally and taken to France by her late husband Robert Schrimpf who was an art collector and she is unaware of the source of acquisition,” says Dawson who was then sent on a mission to get the sculpture back to the country. But he soon realised that his task was not just to bring it back but also to prove its authenticity.
It is during his research that Dawson chanced upon the book Yogini Cult and Temples: A Tantric Tradition by Vidya Dehejia, which proved crucial in establishing the fact that the sculpture belongs to India. “When comparing the image in the book and the sculpture I realised that the entire back portion of sculpture had been chiselled to give an impression that it is new. But a patch left unchiselled proved that the patina (a green or brown film produced by oxidation) in the front and back was the same. Secondly, the thickness of the bottom base of the object was less than what could be seen in the printed image in the book,” informs Dawson who is of the opinion that these changes would have probably been the modus operandi to take it out of the country.
Whatever may be the course, the object has reached its original destination and is an opportunity for historians to research and document ‘Yoginis’ which should be 64 (developed from the concept of Ashtamatrika or eight mother goddesses). While this is one of them, the other 12 sculptures from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu are still in different museums across Europe!