India, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura
Yakshi
Kushan period, 2nd century

Red sandstone
85 x 29.2 x 28 cm
Kate S. Buckingham Endowment 1995.260

A yakshi is a female earth spirit, accepted as a symbol of fertility by the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths. She is usually portrayed as a wide-hipped, voluptuous woman, who can cause a tree to bear fruit simply by touching it with her foot. The figure portrayed here is cleverly incorporated into the form of a column, the capital of which takes the form of a leafy tree. Her upper hand grasps a branch of the tree, a traditional gesture in sculptures of yakshi. This posture is one of giving birth, allowing the pull of gravity (the earth receiving) to assist in the delivery of life. The yakshi's three-bend pose (tribanga), bending at her neck, waist, and hips, is a stance that suggests a sensuous liveliness and maternal energy. This representation also shows the figure adorned with jewelry and the suggestion of a transparent skirt, revealing an abundantly endowed female body that symbolizes the fertility of the earth.

Sculptures of yakshi are often seen in elaborate architectural motifs on the fa├žades of temples and stupas. Figures such as this one, often recognized as "mother-goddesses," date back to the Indus Valley civilization (2500–1750 B.C.), the earliest known urban culture of India.