This brilliant wood-carving from Salem in Tamil Nadu, the world-wide celebrated centre of South Indian wood carving engaged in the tradition now for generations, a four-feet tall statue, represents Lord Vishnu in his four-armed form known in iconographic tradition as Chaturbhuja. Though a wood-piece it is endowed with a marble image like plasticity and a gold-ornament like fine details and lustre, each precisely worked delightfully revealing all desired dimensions, contours and effects. Lord Vishnu has been represented as carrying his usual attributes – all as the iconographic convention of Vishnu’s images provided : in the upper right hand the chakra – disc, in normal right, an artistically conceived lotus, in upper left, conch, and in normal left, mace. Though not like a routine instrument of warfare but a bit decorative the mace alone is in its realistic form; the other three – disc, conch and lotus, are highly stylized and only symbolic.<p>
In the Tri-murti concept Vishnu is seen as Sustainer; hence, among his attributes lotus representing three-aspected cosmic existence and being the symbol of accomplishment, always has a bit of priority over others. His other attributes are the instruments of destruction which is not Vishnu’s regular and characteristic role. This perception seems to effectively determine the basic form of the statue for besides the two-tiered lotus pedestal the image of Vishnu has been installed on, the Prabhawali – fire-arch, that his image enshrines also consists of lotus motifs. Both, the base and the top of the dwarf pillars over which the circular arch is raised consist of prominent lotuses. The image further emphasizes on this aspect of Lord Vishnu by adding to the Prabhawali a Shrimukha motif, the symbol of ultimate good and auspicious.<p>
The statue, the unique combination of sculptural art and miniature painting, has been sculpted out of a piece of Bangai wood, the most celebrated timber used for temple wood carving for generations. Neither too soft nor too hard and hence allowing greater scope for precise details this timber leaves greater scope to the craftsman’s talent to devote itself to such aspects as perfect modeling of figures, carving such aspects as revealed the represented figures intrinsic being and over-all aesthetics of the piece. Besides, moderately priced it also makes the art-work affordable within one’s normal budget. A semi-divine icon a statue like this one can have for a domestic shrine as also like an art piece for a sitting hall. Different from a decorative art-piece this statue, or any such semi-divine piece, shall besides beautifying the place shall also attribute to the ambience a kind of sanctity and divinity which is also the main objective of the entire art.<p>
The world’s supreme commander, Lord Vishnu has been represented as standing revealing his readiness to rush, though as suggests the position of his feet he has been represented as a static figure, that is, the symbolic dimensions of the figure are different from what its anatomy suggests. This is one of his two most usual postures which are more prevalent in Vaishnava iconography. His other popular image is as reclining on the surface of Kshirasagara – the mythical ocean of milk, on the coils of the great serpent Shesh, usually with Lakshmi massaging his feet, and Brahma emerging riding a lotus rising from his navel.The image has been raised over a pedestal consisting in two parts. The base unit, a moulding with elliptic ends, consists of conventionalized lotus motifs, the upper plank being plain. In the centre is an elaborate lotus carved in realistic shape. It is this lotus that the image of Lord Vishnu enshrines. From the corners of the base unit rises the Prabhavali that Lord Vishnu pervades.<p>
The image has been represented in a tight-fitted ‘antariya’ – lower wear. The figure of Vishnu is excellent in modeling, plasticity and embellishment. There enshrines a divine sentiment on his face. It has sharp features and balanced anatomy. Each ornament is exceptional in finish, precision and details. The figures of Vishnu are conceived as putting on a towering crown but not so well bedecked with gems as this one. Besides his usual Vaishnava ‘tilaka’ on the forehead he is putting on his usual ornaments : beautiful kundalas – ear-ornaments, and various others covering his neck, breast, shoulders, arms, waist, ankles, feet … each carved with thread-like minute details, and each outstanding in elegance and beauty. Besides his usual waist-band he is putting on his waist a number of beaded frills beautifully lying down over and around the ‘antariya’ and a decorative ‘pata’ consisting of lotus flowers suspending down along the parting of legs.<p>
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.<p>
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