This brilliant piece cast in bronze in one of the workshops at Swamimalai, a small village near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, known for its rare skill in bronze casting – an art now becoming rarer, represents Karttikeya, one of those few mythical personalities that synthesized in them the most conflicting characteristics. When only seven days old he had a fully grown up man’s body as strongly built that he led gods’ army and practically all gods against Taraka, the mightiest demon with a ferocious form, and killed him. He was capable of carrying a much wider range of weapons than any god carried. He was one and one mind and fed one body but had six faces and twelve eyes, all grown on one neck and only as once desired. Lustful resorting to even raping women he is known for observing complete celibacy so much so that the popular tradition in some parts of the country barred women from visiting his shrines.The tradition is interpreted both ways, sometimes a woman’s appearance seen as derogating his vow of celibacy, and sometimes under the misconception that this is bound to deprive such woman of her chastity.
Using rare skill matured through many generations across which the Swamimalai artisans have practised the art of bronze casting the craftsman of this brilliant piece has so manipulated this hard medium that it has yielded an ornament like fine details.However, the artefact’s real appeal lies in its visual effect that its verticality creates. Though planted over a base with its feathers expanded far and wide Karttikeya’s mount peacock seems to soar into the space, and along it, its rider Karttikeya,and a being of undefined spacesuch image as soaring in the sky better defines Karttikeya. Firmly rooted into a base in other statues or representations the deity appears to be a thing strictly of this earth. Here in the statue he seems to missile-like rise into the space. The artisan has deviated from customary form of a base or pedestal that as a rule stretches horizontally from left to right or has at least equal breadth and length. Such base commands the statue’s dimensions or has at least a visual presence. Here in this statue lying from fore to back the pedestal’s visual presence has merged with the figure’s, and its verticality takes off the image and makes it soar higher and higher. In most statues a base is an independent unit; in this statue, the base is the statue’s integral part – a component of its height perspective.
A highly innovative form adding new dimensions and redefining the vocabulary of the image of the six-faced Karttikeya the statue as truly represents Karttikeya-related entire cult as evolved in the tradition over the period of time. Peacocks and snakes are born enemies; however under him they assist each other. Here in the statue the snake supports the peacock in holding the master, and peacock protects the snake under its belly. In his form with six faces finally culminating into one mind there manifests Karttikeyan principle of spiritual unity of the diversity of material world. Otherwise also, as was appropriate to the commander-in-chief of gods’ army his image has been cast with six faces, one in every direction, a form of one who is exceptionally vigilant, and with twelve arms, each equipped with one instrument of war or the other but with one mind.Besides the underlying principle of the unity of mind and the diversity of ‘the perceived’ this also adheres to the popular myth related to his birth. Though crying hungrily for feed when he grows out of Shiva’s semen, he does not forget his obligation towards all six Krittikas, his first mothers, who desire to simultaneously feed him. He adopts six faces so that they all fed him at one and the same time.
Karttikeya has been represented as riding on his mount peacock that with its fully expanded feather affords to the master a nimbus that also covers him from back. His image along with his mount is installed on a vertical multi-tiered pedestal the base unit being in taper. With his right leg suspending down, and left, laid in ‘yogasana’, he is seated in ‘lalitasana’, the posture revealing aesthetic beauty. The six-faced god is carrying in his hands on the right side, ‘vajra’ – thunderbolt, arrow, sword, mace, and elephant goad, and on the left side, ‘khadga’ – sword with broader blade, bow, snake, ‘pataka’ – a smaller flag, and noose. The normal right is held in ‘abhaya’, and left’ in ‘varada’. Besides an ‘antariya’ he is putting on armour that covers his shoulders and his forearms seem to emerge out of it. He is elaborately bejewelled and crowned.
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.