What is it:
A brass sculpture of a goddess holding a ladle in the right hand and a jewelled bowl full of rice in her left hand. Her bowl of grain represents the food and nourishment she offers.
The iconography of Annapurna is given in the Agamas as a youthful goddess of red complexion having a face round like moon, three eyes, high breasts; the left hand carrying a vessel set with rubies and containing honey, and the right hand spread, holding ladle.
Long time ago, Shiva and his wife Parvati were playing a game of dice where Shiva ended up losing everything to his wife including his bowl, serpent and trident. Upset with this, he spoke to Vishnu who asked him to play another time, assuring him of winning everything back. Sure enough, with Vishnu rigging the game, Shiva won everything back. In his excitement, he ended up revealing to his wife about Vishnu’s advice. Parvati then remarked that there was just an illusion of a game, whereas in reality Vishnu was willing the dice and that he was cheating all the time. With nothing to say in his defence, Shiva quipped that everything in the world is an illusion, including things like food.
This got her really furious – being the Goddess of Nourishment and Fulfilment, she felt calling food an illusion was like calling her an illusion! To demonstrate the importance of food, and to make him understand the gravity of his assumption, Parvati, disappeared from Earth, leaving it to come to a standstill. Without her, seasons didn’t change and land became infertile. Everything became barren and famines became common, causing hunger, illness and sometimes even death. Unable to see the suffering any further, she reappeared in the city of Kashi with a ladle and bowl of food to feed the hungry. That’s when Shiva went to her, asking for her forgiveness and accepting that food is very important for the nourishment of the body.
The legend has been captured by noted artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Nandalal Bose and S Rajam too. Here’s a glimpse:
From the collection of the Indian Museum, Victoria Memorial Hall (Kolkata) and the Himalayan Art Academy (artist S Rajan):