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Sculptures > Wood > Lord Vishnu on Sheshasanaga
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Lord Vishnu on Sheshasanaga

Lord Vishnu on Sheshasanaga

Lord Vishnu on Sheshasanaga

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South Indian Temple Wood Carving

36.5" X 16.0" X 6.0"
19.44 Kg
Item Code:
RN14
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Lord Vishnu on Sheshasanaga

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Viewed 11772 times since 6th Apr, 2011
Largely a new dimension added to the iconographic perception of Lord Vishnu, the wood-statue represents him as seated on the great serpent Shesh coiling under him like a circular seat, mountainous in height, velvet cushion-like soft, splendid and resplendent, no other world-monarch, a god or a man, ever sat on. Serpent Shesh is since initial days a regular feature of Vishnu’s iconography, though more often as Shesh-shayi, perceiving him as lying on the coiled figure of the great serpent, and the great serpent invariably unfurling, a canopy-like, its hood over his head. Not merely phenomenal, this iconography involves deep symbolism. Shesh is seen as the earth’s spiritual manifestation. Its downwards penetrating tail denotes the world below, and the raised hood, the world above. Thus, in Vishnu’s iconography Shesh is symbolic of all regions, below and above, that is, the entire cosmos, and Vishnu, lying over it, pervades the whole cosmos.

However, the form of Shesh coiling like a circular podium and Vishnu seated over its coils in ‘lalitasana’, as in this statue, is somewhat foreign to Vishnu-Shesh iconography or is at least a late innovation. This form, too, has mystic dimensions but the set of symbols that it uses are widely different. Four coils of the serpent Shesh that Lord Vishnu enshrines are symbolic of four directions, and the hood, of the region above, that is, Vishnu has been represented in this statue as commanding all spaces and all directions as Shiva is believed to do in his Sadashiva or Pancha-mukha – five-faced manifestation. This form of Vishnu is unusual for other reasons too. Except a few ‘Yogasana’ images portraying Vishnu as Yoga-murti, his seated images are only rare. ‘Lalitasana’, a posture with right leg laid downwards suspending, and the left, horizontally from left to right along the seat’s length revealing great beauty, as in this statue, is not the bearing of the World’s Commander that Vishnu essentially is. Engaged in an act or in rest, Vishnu’s images are conceived usually either as standing or as reclining.

This four-armed image of Vishnu carrying all characteristic attributes : ‘chakra’ – disc, ‘shankha’ – conch, ‘gada’ – mace and ‘padma’ – lotus, in his hands, represents Vishnu’s most accomplished vision. Besides carrying disc and conch in his upper right and left hands and mace in the lower left, the lower right hand, apparently held in ‘abhaya’, carries lotus too on its palm. In tune with ‘lalitasana’ the mace is held with great ease, almost casually. Unlike instruments of war disc and conch are highly stylised almost like formal symbols, or decorative artifacts. Whatever the myths in regard to his exploits against demons, on his face there enshrines only divine quiescence, and in his entire being, great benevolence.

Unique in plasticity and modeled with perfect anatomical proportions the figure of Lord Vishnu reveals a kind of feminineness. He has sharp features, three-fourth shut lotus-eyes, a well-defined forehead and round face, all modeled after best of iconographic traditions. Not in blue, the mythical colour of his body, the artist has conceived his figure in glistening gold. His ‘antariya’ – lower-wear, waist-band, sash, ‘udara-pata’ – belly-band, crown and Vaijayanti – large garland sometimes consisting of frills of brilliant textiles, and ornaments, all have been conceived with red, green and gold. Even the body-colour of Shesh, usually the greyish black, has been endowed with gold’s lustre.

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.


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