About two feet tall, the statue, a magnificent art-piece, represents Lord Vishnu, one of the great Indian Trinity Gods, the other being Brahma and Shiva, riding on his mount Garuda, the great bird. It is essentially a votive image for sanctum, domestic or public, but an excellent art piece equally worth displaying in a sitting hall or commercial premises. Carved out of sweet smelling Cedar wood the statue has a marble piece like finish and lustre. Not hard but also not very soft and hence without the wood’s toughness but endowed with details-yielding softness Cedar is ideal for artistic wood carving. An inferior species of sandal wood, Cedar, due to its alike shade, smoothness of surface and rare lustre has sandal wood’s reflection. In general perception also the statues of Cedar wood are usually seen as sandal wood statues.
Though this image of Lord Vishnu is from a workshop of Trivandrum it is a characteristic specimen of Mysore known for its art of sandal and Cedar wood-carving. Smile on the faces of Lord Vishnu and his mount Garuda, divinity enshrining the two faces and the images’ votive character, their iconography – round beautiful faces with half-shut eyes, and a halo composed of dragon like figures and decorative floral laces, are essentially the characteristics of Mysore wood-craft. Contrary to rawness of the Kerala’s folk-inclining art, bold features with wide open large round eyes and its deep colours-dominating idiom this statue reveals rare classicism, sophistication, fineness of details and an overall tenderness – tenderly chiseled features and emotional bearing. Maybe, the artifact is from the hands of a Mysore craftsman migrated to Trivandrum.
Though not expeditiously rushing for accomplishing an errand, protecting a devotee or destroying vanity of some arrogant demon in this statue the Garuda-riding figure of Lord Vishnu is stationary, and Garuda, otherwise the symbol of pace flying faster than winds, is affording him just a seat as would any, the great serpent Shesh or a ‘simhasana’ – throne. The cosmic protector Lord Vishnu is represented usually either as standing equipped with all his attributes in readiness to move, or as reclining in Kshirasagara – the ocean of milk on the coils of the Great Serpent. He rides Garuda but to fly to attend some emergency but a Garuda-seated stationary image, as this, is unusual. With its right leg firmly set along the floor of the seat – a wide open lotus, and balancing its body with half-raise left, Garuda is supporting the master as would a proper seat. Garuda is basically a bird but except for a pair of wings this image of the Great Bird does not have any of a bird’s features. It has been modeled rather like a human being – a man’s face and anatomy, ornaments and ensemble, a crested turban, ‘antariya’, waist-band along decorative central ‘pata’… The Puranas are replete with tales of Garuda’s man or rather a god like exploits. Maybe, such Puranic legends inspired the artist’s vision in giving to the Bird a human figure.
This image represents the four-armed Lord Vishnu in his aspects as protector and sustainer of the world. In most images he is represented as carrying ‘chakra’ – disc, mace, conch and lotus, in normal right, the conch, announcing his unending battle against wrong, and in normal left, mace, his instrument for destroying evil. In this image the normal right hand is held in ‘abhaya’ generating fearlessness and the confidence of being under his protection; in normal left, he is carrying lotus, the symbol of accomplishment and well-being. Though in his upper right hand he is carrying ‘chakra’, and in left, conch, but both are covered by laces of flowers emitting from the deity’s divine aura suggesting that good and benevolence is their forerunner, their ultimate objective obtained either by eliminating evil or by promoting good. Even the dragon figures composed along his halo are seen emitting corns – the horrible-looking dragons being the source of life. The image of the great lord has been brilliantly costumed and bejeweled as per norms set in iconographic tradition.
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.