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Ivory figure of Vishnu on a naga throne


Height: 19.000 cm

Asia OA 1880-89

Room 33: Asia

    Ivory figure of Vishnu on a naga throne

    From southern India
    18th century AD

    Vishnu sheltered by the cosmic serpent Ananta, for use in a domestic shrine

    Standing beneath a decorative arch with a kirttimukha (monster-mask) at the top is a standing image of the Hindu god, Vishnu. In his four hands he holds his three usual attributes, the discus, conch and mace, while his lower right hand is shown in the 'have no fear' gesture (abhayamudra). The high base of the image is supported by seated lions, a wide flattened tortoise and a lotus. A five-headed snake (naga) coils protectively beneath Vishnu's feet and over his head. The tortoise is Kurma, renowned in one of the creation myths, as he supported the mountain churning pole which was used to churn the Ocean of Milk. From this cosmic agitation came all phenomenal existence. Vishnu, above, floats on the Cosmic Ocean on the coils of the snake named Ananta before the dawn of creation.

    This very elaborate ivory carving was used as a small shrine for worshippers of Vishnu. The particular form of Vishnu represented is Venkateshvara. He is worshipped at the temple at Tirupati in southern Andhra Pradesh north of Madras. It is one of the most popular temples in India and thousands of pilgrims visit every year. Their donations to the deity also make it one of the richest temples.


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    On display: Room 33: Asia

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