Carved ivory from India’s Sunga period is relatively rare. Sculptural objects from this period typically are of molded terracotta or stone.
This piece shows a demonic female figure, with ample breast and a pot belly, holding in both arms what appear to be weapons and with a fierce grimace. The figure wears multiple earrings, necklaces, stomach bands, waist bands, bracelets and anklets. As such, the figure may represent an early version of Durga.
The image has the patina that might be expected of a piece of ivory more than 2,000 years old. It is a grey-brown colour and has become calcified.
The Sunga (or Shunga) empire was a royal dynasty that controlled much of the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent from around 185 BC to 73 BC. It was founded by Pusyamitra Sunga, the commander-in-chief of the last Mauryan ruler, whom he assassinated. Sunga ruled for 36 years. The Empire’s main capital was at Pataliputra. Hinduism was the state religion. Education and the arts flowered during the period. Terracotta images, larger stone sculptures and various important architectural monuments survive as testaments to this. The Sungas were succeeded by the Kanva dynasty around 73 BC.from a private European collection since around 1970.
Lerner, M. & S. Kossak, The Lotus Transcendent: Indian and Southeast Asian Art from the Samuel Eilenberg Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991.