The statue of a dancing girl is among a horde of goddesses from the pantheon that includes pagan goddesses like Mansa Devi, representing a range of polytheism among the masses. And although some have argued that this was organised in a monistic way, there is a stark difference in how Abrahamic religions view monotheism. Some might even say they all represent the one god in Hinduism.
Whether the goddesses represent one or many, the collection at the Bihar Museum manifests empowerment of expression in history, and while many have attributed the feminine principle to such representation, in the laterite statue of the twelve-armed Buddhist female deity Chunda from the 8th century AD, excavated in Odisha’s Cuttack, you see a serpent, a book and a noose, among other objects. Then there is Hariti, a Buddhist goddess in bronze who was an ogress and devoured children, but became a protector of children after converting to Buddhism. The Dancing Girl from Mohenjo-Daro with the decorative headgear in terracotta, from around the 2nd century BCE, found in Bihar’s Buxar, can also be an antidote to “othering”, and to the gender inequality that continues to plague societies, particularly in India.
An initiative by the Bihar Museum and the Outlook group seeks to start conversations around museums and art, how they have evolved, and how they can be the points of interaction between the past and the present and the future. The first such conversation around art and museum biennales will happen at the NGMA in Mumbai on June 3.