Pratima Kosha – Excerpts from Encyclopedia of Indian Iconography

Indian culture is the story of the incessant endeavour of man to attain eternal bliss by surrendering to the Universal Being manifested in various forms. Art, music, literature and all other activities of man in India are directed and dedicated to the achievement of his merger with the universal consciousness. Kalpatharu Research Academy has undertaken the task of illustrating this divine object of man through the publication of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Iconography in three volumes entitled Pratima Kosha, a first-of-its-kind endeavour. Drishti is publishing excerpts from these volumes. It will be useful to everyone interested in Indian iconography.

Pratima Kosha is especially of great relevance to dance choreographers, serious students of dance and dancers and dance scholars. The book gives abundant information on various hand gestures and poses for choreography. To accompany the textual descriptions, the book is profusely illustrated with line drawings of images in temples, museums, etc.

The book has been prepared with great devotion by Pujya Sri S. K. Ramachandra Rao, Bangalore, a well-known scholar in Sanskrit.

Drishti would like to appreciate the Kalpatharu Research Academy for undertaking this monumental work as a project of the Academy and thanks Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao for giving Drishti an opportunity to share parts of  his invaluable work with its readers.

We continue the series with the descriptions of Ambika, as published in Pratima Kosha.


Meaning “the mother”, the word Ambika has been in use for mother-goddesses since great antiquity. In Vajasaneyi-samhita and Taittriya-bhrahmana, Ambika has been described as the sister (svasr) of Rudra (viz. Siva), but in Taittiriya-aranyaka, she figures as the wife of Rudra. She receives worship both as a form of Parvati (the consort of Shiva) as well as an independent Sakti. She is identified in the Tantrik texts variously with Bhuvanesvari, Mahalakshmi, Visalakshi, Vajra-prastari, Savitri (the deity of Sandhay), Durga and Kaumari (the spirit of Karttikeya).

In the ‘Ambika-dhyana’ section of Tantra-sara, she is pictured as either two-armed or four-armed, either seated in lalitasana or standing with her left foot on a jar of gems. Her vehicle is lion (simha-vahini), as she is a form of Durga. She has three eyes, and wears the moon on the crown. She has a smile on her face, and her breasts are well developed. She carries in her hands, a drinking bowl (panapatra) and a red lotus. According to Devimahatmya, she has the form of Kaumari, when she carries a magic spear (sakti) in her hand, and rides on a peacock (mayura-vahana). She sets out in this aspect to fight against the demons (yoddhum daityan ambika guhu-rupini). Brahmavaivrata-purana mentions that Ambika is the benign form of Durga.

Her iconic representation is also to be found as a vimana-devata (a goddess represented on the vimana on the top of the sanctum in a temple). Her location in the vimana is in the north-eastern direction (which is the quarter of Durga). Naradiya-samhita prescribes that she should be represented as standing on the head of the buffalo-demon (mahishe sirasi sthitam).

She is also worshipped as Kushmandini by the Jainas, as a vakshini attending on the twenty-second tirthankaru Nemi-natha, and also as an independent domestic divinity (grha-devata). In the latter aspect, she is shown with a baby, suckling her or playing around her. She is associated with the lion as vehicle or emblem.