This luminous brass image with gold’s lustre and an ornament’s finish, precision and technical accomplishment, represents Lord Vishnu in his Chaturbhuja – four-armed manifestation. The image abounds in a king’s majesty and the supreme deity’s divine aura. An outstanding example of India's centuries old tradition of metal-casting, continuing incessant, the image reveals same lustre, iconographic perfection, zeal for details, emphasis on embellishment, elegance and finish, emotional bearing, and commitment to scriptural tradition, as had great Chola and Chalukyan bronzes of the South and Pala bronzes of the East. As the eighth-ninth centuries Chola bronzes are known for powerfully gesticulating a figure or reveal an emotional bearing, or a motive, the artist has packed into this votive form a commander’s readiness, formidability and a determined mind to attend to and resolve any emergency.
One of the two more usual forms of his image, standing as this, and the other, reclining, usually on the coils of the great serpent Shesh, though not leaning upon his mace or making a forward move with one foot put ahead of the other as he is sometimes represented, the determination of his mind is readably writ on his face. Besides what the upwards pulled eyebrows and the fully stretched eyelids suggest the mode of holding the mace, otherwise a symbolic attribute, the anguished Lord is meditating on ways to adopt for punishing the evil doers. Not just assuring protection by granting ‘abhay’ – freedom from fear, with the gesture of one hand, the assurance of ‘abhay’ is supported by three times of strength that the unfailing attributes held in three hands display. Mathematically, his strength for protecting and sustaining the world is three times more than required for accomplishing his role. Besides the normal right hand held in ‘abhay’ the image is carrying in other three, disc, elephant goad and mace. The fourth in ‘abhay’ is also a lotus hand and has on it a lotus symbol.
In Indian theology and thought, Vishnu, who with Brahma and Shiva constitutes the Great Trinity – the three aspected manifestation of the Formless God, is seen as maintaining order, besides sustaining and preserving the cosmos. Anthropomorphically, he has been visualized as the supreme monarch with all three cosmic regions under his command. Accordingly, he has been conceived with a robust build and as wearing a towering and magnificently incised crown, precious jewels and rich costume giving him the distinction of the world commander. In this image the artist has added yet another element as the five-hooded great serpent Shesh, the earth incarnate, as an umbrella over his head imparting to the image further dimensional breadth. A recent artifact adhering to the great tradition both in theme and style of the image and in technique of rendering it the brass-cast reveals the flavour and feeling of an antique piece.
The image has been raised over a pedestal consisting in two parts, each two-tiered representing the known and the unknown worlds that Lord Vishnu pervades. The base unit, a square the bottom part consisting of conventionalized lotuses, and upper, a simple but extremely elegant moulding, and one on the top, an inverted lotus carrying on it a circular platform, the pedestal itself is a beautiful component of the image. This pedestal on the bottom and the Shesh-umbrella on the top pleasantly enhance height perspective and the figure’s robustness. Lest it adversely affect the height perspective the artist has clad the image in a tight-fitted ‘antariya’ – lower wear. The figure of Vishnu is excellent in modelling, plasticity and ornaments. There enshrines a divine sentiment on his face. It has sharp features and balanced anatomy. Each ornament is exceptional in finish, precision and details. Figures of Vishnu have towering crown but not so well bedecked with gems as this one. He is putting on his usual ‘Makara-kundalas – ear-ornaments and ornaments covering shoulders. Magnificent in carving thread-like minute details every piece of jewelry, worn on neck, breast, waist, arms or ankles and feet, is outstanding in elegance and beauty.
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.