This magnificent brass-statue represents Vishnu, the lord of cosmos, as reclining upon the coils of the five-hooded Great Serpent Shesh. This iconographic form of Vishnu is unanimously named as Sheshshayi Vishnu. Its magnificent iconography, sharp features, balanced anatomy, accomplished modeling, thoughtful demeanour, precision, plasticity, elegance and finish are reminiscent of the South Indian Chola bronzes of the eighth-ninth centuries. This image adheres to the same parameters of modeling as did the great Chola images. In sculptural art of the period from the fifth to the fifteenth century, this form of Vishnu's image has been the most chosen form of sculptors. The image has around it the divine aura, protector's softness and a feeling of easeful resignation.
The image of the great Lord along with the coiling serpent Shesh has been installed on a rectangular pitha, base, with 22" length and 15.5" width, consisting of two parts. The frieze comprises exquisitely carved inverted lotus motifs on all four sides. The upper part of the pitha is plain but intercepted by designing panels, three each on long arms and two each on small arms. The statue height is 21". Lord Vishnu has under his head, or rather shoulders, a beautifully modeled and elegantly carved bolster. In Sheshshayi images Lord Vishnu is usually seen using his lower right arm as headrest. Here, it is differently cast. It is supported instead on the bolster. From the apex of the crown to his waist the figure of Lord Vishnu has a rightwards thrust and from the waist to the toe it curves towards left. Though a reclining one, the figure has atibhanga posture. Towards legs of Lord Vishnu, on his left is seated Lakshmi or Shridevi, and on his right Bhoodevi. The Great Serpent has its hoods unfurled over the head of Lord Vishnu.
The four-armed Vishnu is carrying in his two upper hands two of his usual attributes chakra, disc, and goad. Though the lower right hand appears to be resting on the bolster, it is also in varada gesture. Similarly, the lower left hand is placed around the hip, it is partially in vitarka-mudra, a posture denoting a thoughtful mood. The two upper hands are also in vitarka-mudra. As requires the Sheshshayi iconography, Shridevi is caressing his legs. Brahma is seen perching on the lotus emitting from Vishnu's navel. The four-faced Brahma's icon, despite its very small size, is exquisitely carved and finely modeled. He is seen carrying in his usual four hands book, rosary, pot and goad. The icons of Shridevi and Bhoodevi are also in miniature size but in anatomical proportion, modeling and female grace they are as much accomplished. They are adorned in the similar fashion, but despite the caster has brilliantly discovered the difference of the personalities of the two. Shri or Lakshmi symbolizes riches, something that remains under cover. On the contrary, Bhoodevi, the earth, does not hide herself. For depicting this feature, Shridevi is cast with costume also over her upper part, while Bhoodevi is cast with her upper part exposed.
Vishnu is represented here in his primordial aspect. The statue represents the state of his being after the Great Deluge and before the Creation emerged. His knotted fingers and his three-fourth shut eyes suggest that he is still reflecting on how the process of creation be begun. Brahma, who effects creation after Vishnu commands him to do so, is still his part. Vishnu Purana acclaims that lacs of years after the Great Deluge, the Great Serpent Shesh appeared on the surface of waters. It had Lord Vishnu reclining upon its coils. The Great Serpent also brought the earth towing on its tail. It then emitted from its multi-mouths a white substance, the milk of life, and with it the entire oceanic waters turn into milk giving the ocean Kshirasagar, the ocean of milk, name. Soon after, there emerged from his navel a lotus with Brahma perching upon it. From the ocean also emerged Shri or Lakshmi, and both Lakshmi and Bhoodevi, the goddess of riches and the Earth goddess, wedded Vishnu as their spouse. It is this primordial aspect that the Sheshshayi iconography reveals.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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