Unlike most other multi-faced manifestations of various deities that assimilate repeats of their own faces, however great their symbolic breadth, or diverse dispositions or states of mind that they represented, the faces that the image of Panchamukha Hanuman assimilates belong to five absolutely different animal domains believed to incarnate Lord Vishnu, not symbolically conceived but each with a distinct identity, distinct anatomy and a body of well sustained independent myths. Symbolically the Panchamukha image of the monkey god Hanuman manifests the accumulated ‘good’ that the animal world ever accomplished through its various species and assisted divine endeavour to sustain the creation and maintain order. Except a blend of human anatomy defining the rest of the figure and adding mythical dimensions the faces that Hanuman in his Panchamukha form assimilates belong to five animal species, namely, Vanar – monkey, Varaha – boar, Hayagriva – horse-faced, Narsimha, a half-man-half-animal form, and Garuda – the great bird associated with Lord Vishnu in his various incarnations : all trans-human divinities in the Vaishnava line.
Though this image of Hanuman has five faces, each with its own iconographic distinction and crown, and correspondingly ten arms carrying in them various attributes, it consists of a single torso absolutely a man-like : a man-like attired and bejeweled. Besides the normal two hands held in ‘abhaya’ and ‘varad’ in the rest eight the image has been conceived as carrying ‘purna-ghata’ – ritual pot, sword, mace, noose, ‘parashu’ – battle axe, arrow, shield and bowl. His ‘lalitasana’- posture, with left leg laid over his lotus seat as engaged in yoga, and right, suspending down the lotus seat revealing absolute ease and beauty, is a sitting mode confining strictly to human domain. Elegantly conceived ‘antariya’ – lower wear, large ‘vaijayanti’ – a garland of fresh celestial flowers descending down the seat’s base in typical South Indian Vaishnava tradition, Vaishnava ‘tilaka’-mark on the foreheads and the lotus-seat, all are the elements from humanized Vaishnava iconography.
Of the five faces that this image of Panchamukha Hanuman assimilates the one in the centre : that of Vanar – monkey, is Hanuman’s own. Contended variously an incarnation of Shiva, Surya as also the son of Marut – wind-god, Hanuman was born to assist Lord Vishnu when he incarnated as Rama mainly in his battle against the Lanka’s demon-king Ravana. The face on the extreme right is that of a boar, obviously a representation of Lord Vishnu in his Varaha incarnation he had for restoring into her place the Earth that the notorious demon Hiranyaksha had uprooted from her place and taken to Patala – nether world. Under another mythical tradition Varaha had restored to Brahma his Vedas that Hiranyaksha had stolen. The Varaha face has been conceived like one of Riksha – bear. Maybe, the artist had in mind Jamvan, a bear, who played a vital role in the story of Rama, especially in the life of Hanuman. On the extreme left is the horse-faced Hayagriva, a form Lord Vishnu took to for eliminating a demon with the same face and same name. Right to Hanuman’s own face in the centre is the great bird Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s mount that also had a vital role in the Ramayana. On the left to the central face of Hanuman is Narsimha, Lord Vishnu’s half-man-half-lion incarnation that he took to eliminate Hiranyakashipu who under a boon had immunity against death either at the hands of a human being or an animal. Vishnu incarnated in this composite form that was neither man nor animal and killed the demon.
A brilliant example of South Indian iconographic model, the statue, carved from a piece of fine timber in the wood’s natural shade, represents the monkey god Hanuman as the central figure of the image, and other four faces, his aspects. Hanuman’s figure with two legs but five faces and ten arms is exceptionally symbolic. It suggests oneness of the goal and direction but multiplicity of acts and alertness of mind that always characterized Hanuman’s being. Apart, this form of Hanuman represents him as the aggregate of the entire trans-human or animal world. Narsimha and Varaha are Vishnu’s direct incarnations, Hayagriva, his semi-incarnated form, and Garuda, his mount; however, accomplishing only some specific objective they fail to equal Hanuman, a mere servant of one of Vishnu’s incarnations. Hence, their assimilation with his form is just as its iconic components. The monkey god has been represented as seated in a classical posture over a large lotus seat installed over a stylized lotus base under an elaborate ‘Prabhavali’ conceived on strict South Indian lines : the base part, a pedestal and half columns carried over mythical lions, and the circular upper, consisting of conventionalized lotus design, an elaborate Kirtti-mukha, and flanking on either side under it, a pair of homage-paying celestial females.
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.
How to care for Wood Statues?
Wood is extensively used in sculpting especially in countries like China, Germany, and Japan. One feature that makes the wood extremely suitable for making statues and sculptures is that it is light and can take very fine detail. It is easier for artists to work with wood than with other materials such as metal or stone. Both hardwoods, as well as softwood, are used for making sculptures. Wood is mainly used for indoor sculptures because it is not as durable as stone. Changes in weather cause wooden sculptures to split or be attacked by insects or fungus. The principal woods for making sculptures and statues are cedar, pine, walnut, oak, and mahogany. The most common technique that sculptors use to make sculptures out of wood is carving with a chisel and a mallet. Since wooden statues are prone to damage, fire, and rot, they require proper care and maintenance.
It is extremely important to preserve and protect wooden sculptures with proper care. A little carelessness and negligence can lead to their decay, resulting in losing all their beauty and strength. Therefore, a regular clean-up of the sculptures is a must to prolong their age and to maintain their shine and luster.
Wood has been a preferred material for sculptures and statues
since ancient times. It is easy to work with than most metals and
stones and therefore requires less effort to shape it into any
desired shape or form. The texture of the wood gives an element of
realism to the sculpture. The selection of an appropriate wood
type is necessary for carving. Woods that are too resinous or
coniferous are not considered good for carving as their fiber is
very soft and thus lacks strength. On the other hand, wood such as
Mahogany, Oakwood, Walnut wood, Weet cherry wood, etc., are
preferred by sculptors because their fiber is harder.
A wood sculptor uses various tools such as a pointed chisel in one
hand and a mallet in another to bring the wood to the desired
measurement and to make intricate details on it. A carving knife
is used to cut and smooth the wood. Other tools such as the gouge,
V-tool, and coping saw also serve as important tools in wood
carving. Although the wood carving technique is not as complex and
tough as stone carving or metal sculpting, nonetheless, a wood
carver requires a high level of skills and expertise to create a
The process of wood carving begins with selecting a chunk of wood
that is required according to the type and shape of the statue to
be created by the sculptor. Both hardwoods and softwoods are used
for making artistic pieces, however, hardwoods are preferred more
than softer woods because of their durability and longevity. But
if heavy detailing is to be done on the statue, wood with fine
grain would be needed as it would be difficult to work with
Once the wood type is selected, the wood carver begins the
general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. A gouge
is a tool having a curved cutting edge which is useful in
removing large unwanted portions of wood easily without
splitting the wood. The sculptor always carves the wood across
the grain of the wood and not against it.
When a refined shape of the statue is obtained, it is time for
making details on the statue using different tools. This is
achieved by using tools such as a veiner to make and a V-tool to
create decorative and sharp cuts.
Once finer details have been added, the sculptor is ready to
smoothen the surface and give it a perfect finish. Tools such as
rasps and rifflers are used to get a smooth surface. The finer
polishing is obtained by rubbing the surface with sandpaper. If
a textured surface is required, this step is skipped. Finally,
to protect the statue from excessive dirt accumulation, the
sculptor applies natural oils such as walnut or linseed oil all
over it. This also brings a natural sheen to the statue.
Wood statues are lighter in weight and less expensive than metal
or stone pieces. Because wood is prone to fast decay by fungus and
algae, statues made out of this material are not preferred to be
kept outside. The rich tradition of wood carving in countries such
as Africa, Egypt, India, and Nepal has been followed for many
centuries. Indian craftsmen are specialized in this classic art
and continue to exhibit their extraordinary artistic skills.
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