Celestial Entertainer

India, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh
11th century
H. 21 1/4 in. (54.0 cm); 1979.033

Artist Comments

Beth Forer

I love how unselfconscious this dancer is, how at ease she is with her sexuality. Ornately bejeweled, provocatively posed, she spirals dynamically yet is balanced and in command of her movements. Everyone should be as self-assured as she. Imagine how different she would appear if her eyes were pieced like those of a haniwa. Not for her is the emptiness of hollow eyes; she is too vital a being for that. Her eyes are for seduction, their demurely averted gaze playfully mocked by those other orbs staring intently at the viewer.

Gita Mehta
Displaying the unique ability of India's master carvers to make stone appear as fluid as water, the sculptor of the celestial entertainer has taken the figure's tribhanga, or three essential curves from shoulder to waist to hip, required in classical Indian dance, and repeated it in the curve of the tree overhanging her head to create a continuous flowing movement.

A tree represents the fertility which is synonymous with divinity in India. Here it also re-enforces the fecund sensuality of the celestial entertainer's breasts and hips. The image of ripeness is further emphasized in the heavy fruit hanging in the tree above her, and the playful eroticism of two monkeys fighting over the fruit. The artist adds an elaborate head-dress, necklaces, arm-bands, bangles and girdles, all depicted with a delicacy that serves to re-enforce the dancer's curving grace.

Outside observers, overwhelmed by the sensuality of Indian sculpture, have often expressed moral or aesthetic censure. The indologist William Archer even described Indian art as suffering from "gargantuan excess." But excess implies vulgarity. Here there is no vulgarity. Only a perfect-and perfectly desirable-abundance.