A feat of daring imagination, highly innovative, and hence as much rare, this cedar wood sculpture represents a vision of Lord Vishnu with ten additional faces, his own being eleventh, From a workshop at Trivandrum, in Kerala, now a seat of master artisans especially skilled in carving cedar wood sculptures worldwide known for their elegance, great distinction and unique quality, the statue has the flavour of earlier Mysore sandal images. Relatively a large size statue, 33 inches tall, 14.5 inches in breadth and 6.5 inches thick – not common dimensions for a cedar wood statue – as the cedar wood itself is quite expensive, it represents Lord Vishnu in his cosmic form – Vishnu in his wholeness.
In iconographic tradition images of Lord Vishnu are conceived mainly in two postures, one in ‘khadgasana’, that is, standing position, and other, in ‘sayanasana’, that is, leisurely reclining. The ‘khadgasana represents him as cosmic commander in readiness to proceed either to protect a devotee or to redeem one from some calamity; usually his images as cosmic commander are in ‘abhay-mudra’. When at leisure he is represented as reclining in Kshirasagara – the ocean of milk, on the coils of the great serpent Shesh, and Lakshmi, his consort, massaging his feet. While his image in standing posture manifests Lord Vishnu’s active aspect, his ‘sayanasana’ image represents his auspicious presence by which he pervades the cosmos. In ‘sayanasana’ he is represented as stretching over the body of the great serpent. In iconographic and metaphysical traditions the great serpent Shesh is seen as symbolizing cosmos. Thus by pervading the body of the great serpent Vishnu pervades the cosmos with his auspiciousness. As the two aspects could not be synthesized in one form, the artist has used the pedestal’s face for representing his ‘sayanasana’ image and thus his auspicious aspect. The two hexagonal sides of the pedestal have been used for representing the images of tall turban-wearing Vamana and the flute-blowing Krishna, the fifth and the eighth of Vishnu’s ten incarnations.
Besides representing these two aspects : Vishnu, ready to act, and Vishnu, an auspicious presence pervading the entire Creation, the artist has revealed in the statue Vishnu-related other contexts too. The Rig-Veda often alternates Vishnu with sun – Surya. Traditionally Surya moves in a chariot driven by seven horses. Though the inclusion of a three horse-driven chariot in Lord Vishnu’s iconography is an absolutely new element and sounds strange, it is certainly not meaningless. This feature is indicative of Vishnu’s oneness with Surya. Vishnu as Krishna was Arjuna’s charioteer in the Mahabharata. He is believed to have delivered the entire Gita when atop his chariot. The presence of the chariot reveals this context too. Besides that the great serpent Shesh is a regular feature of Vishnu’s iconography, canopying his ‘khadgasana’ image with its hood is complete deviation from the established tradition. The great serpent had unfurled its hood over the new-born Krishna when in torrential rains his father Vasudeo was transporting him across the river Yamuna under devastating flood. Inclusion of Shesh unfurling its hood over his image might have been made also for revealing this context.
Except in his manifestation as Baikuntha Vishnu, in which form his images have been conceived with three faces Lord Vishnu’s images are conceived with a normal single face though with four arms, not normal two, giving him Chaturbhuja name. A bold imagination this image has been modeled with eleven faces, his own in the centre while five on either side. These faces bereft of attributes that reveal each divine figure’s identity appear to be sage Bhragu, Narsimha – his fourth incarnation, Ganesha, Shiva’s son whose ‘agra-puja’ Vishnu had himself prescribed, Rama, his seventh incarnation, and Shiva on the right side, and Balarama, his ninth incarnation, Hanuman, his devotee and servant in his incarnation as Rama and also otherwise, Yama, the presiding deity of death that Vishnu commanded, Parashurama, his sixth incarnation, and a Shaivite saint. Thus, with Krishna and Vamana carved along the pedestal and Narsimha, Parashurama, Rama and Balarama – all of his incarnations in human form, forming the part of his face, the statue represents Lord Vishnu in his totality. The image, raised over a tall hexagonal podium with a dark brown base unit, has been conceived with sixteen arms; except the normal right and left held in ‘abhay’ and ‘varad’, in other fourteen hands the image holds various divine weapons.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.
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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