Devotional silk shawl with woven designs of feet and religious text in 	Bengali script. This type of shawl was usually worn by Hindu priests who prayed to Kali, goddess of destruction. The text gives Kali's various names, including Bhuvneshwari, Chandi and Bhadrakali.Varanasi, early 20th centuryP88.45Photo: Peter Paterson
Devotional silk shawl with woven designs of feet and religious text in Bengali script. This type of shawl was usually worn by Hindu priests who prayed to Kali, goddess of destruction. The text gives Kali's various names, including Bhuvneshwari, Chandi and Bhadrakali.
Varanasi, early 20th century
P88.45
Photo: Peter Paterson

In the Footsteps of the Divine

In the ancient Indian scripture The Rigveda, which was compiled between the 13th and 10th centuries B.C.E., the word pada (foot) is used to describe the four quarters of the universe (earth, air, sky and the realm beyond the sky). The deities manifest their power through the actions of their feet, creating a structure of thought and belief.

Fertility: The touch of the shalabhanjika yakshi's foot, as she wraps her leg around the trunk of a dormant tree, causes it to blossom and bear fruit. Shalabhanjika yakshi were often used as architectural bracket figures before temples.

Transcendence: In three strides, the deity Vishnu encompasses the universe. With his first step he covers the earth, with the second, heaven; the third extends to hell.

Submission: Because of a curse placed on his father, King Dasharatha, Prince Rama was obliged to go into exile. Rama's wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana accompanied him. Bharata, another younger brother, stayed at home to look after the kingdom as Rama's deputy. As a sign of Rama's continuing sovereignty, a pair of his golden sandals were placed on the throne. Bharata walked around them and with great reverence took up the sandals and placed them on his head to demonstrate his submission.

Adoration: Devotees adore the footprints remaining on the stool before the empty throne under the bodhi tree following Buddha's enlightenment.

Destruction: The personification of death and destruction, the goddess Kali is depicted garlanded with severed heads. She tramples the prostrate body of her husband Shiva.
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