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Sculptures > Hindu > Vishnu > Trivikrama: Vishnu in His Incarnation as Vamana
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Trivikrama: Vishnu in His Incarnation as Vamana

Trivikrama: Vishnu in His Incarnation as Vamana

Trivikrama: Vishnu in His Incarnation as Vamana

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South Indian Temple Wood Carving

3.0 ft X 1.2 ft X 0.3 ft
8.2 kg
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EF70
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Trivikrama: Vishnu in His Incarnation as Vamana

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This 36" tall and 15" wide statue, carved in fine vangai wood, reveals one of the most dramatic events that Indian mythology conceived for depicting its concern for good and against evil. It relates to Lord Vishnu who as Vamana, or dwarf, conquered three worlds and earned for him Trivikrama, conqueror of three worlds, name. The episode of Lord Vishnu incarnating as Vamana and throwing Mahabali, the demon king, into netherworld occurs in several Puranas but in the Vamana Purana more elaborately. As the Vamana and Matsya Puranas have it, Mahabali, the son of Virochana and the grandson of legendary Prahlad, acquired exceptional power by undergoing rigorous penance. He performed Vishvajit sacrifice and pleased Yajnadeva, the god of sacrifice and obtained from him the divine chariot equipped with as mighty weapons as equipped Indra's chariot. He led demons to victory in several wars against gods. He was once killed by Vishnu, but his demons brought his dead body to his teacher Sukracharya who brought him back to life. This not only enhanced his power but also his arrogance.

After his father Virochana died, Mahabali took his place. He soon became the head of all demon kings. Later, he attacked Indraloka and ousted gods from here. Aggrieved Aditi, gods' mother, prayed her husband sage Kashyapa to let her sons regain their land. On his advice, Aditi observed a twelve-day fast, which compelled Vishnu to appear and grant her prayer. She prayed him to be born as her son and restore gods' land by defeating demons. In due course, Aditi conceived and gave birth to a dwarf son who came to be known as Vamana. Despite that Mahabali was a demon he was a great donor and just ruler. Vishnu as Vamana knew it.

When Mahabali was performing a yajna on the bank of Narmada, Vamana, disguised as a hermit boy, reached him and prayed him to grant him a small piece of land measuring just three strides. Three strides of a dwarf meant nothing. Mahabali hence insisted him to take more but Vamana declined. The prayer was granted. Mahabali's teacher Sukracharya smelt foul play in Vamana's demand and warned Mahabali against it but he did not take note of it. To affirm his determination he poured water upon dwarf's palm. As his last effort, Sukracharya, in the shape of a mote, entered the pot and obstructed its outlet. Vamana picked a grass-leaf and pierced it into the pipe of the pot. It struck one of the eyes of Sukracharya and blinded it. Then Vamana lifted his right leg and with it began expanding his form to cosmic magnification. In one stride Vamana covered the earth; in the second, heaven; and for the third, he asked Mahabali where to put it and finding no place put it on Mahabali's head and pushed him into the netherworld, his true abode. Mahabali's subjects were greatly aggrieved and prayed Vishnu to bring him back. He partly granted the prayer. Mahabali would ascend the earth once a year for a good harvest and people would celebrate the occasion in full festivity. It is said, Onama in Kerala and Diwali in rest of the country mark the ascendance of Mahabali.

Trivikrama, also called Vishnukrant, has been the theme of sculptural art since Gupta period. The eighth century Trivikrama statue, a characteristic work of Pallava art school, from Singanallur in Coimbatore district of Tamilnadu, is one the earliest examples of the Trivikrama theme in art. This wooden statue has characteristic south Indian iconography adhering to Chola school of medieval art. The force with which the carver has discovered his image is the same as the south Indian artist discovers in his Nataraj images. As Vishnu conquers three worlds not in battle or by arms but in peace, the artist has preferred to place his image amidst beautiful green foliage with parrots and squirrels perching on it. In his upper and lower right hands Vishnu is carrying disc and mace. The upper left hand is in a gesture corresponding to that of his left leg spanning the heaven. In his lower left hand he is holding sash end. Vishnu is adorned with his usual ornaments and attributes. A small icon of Mahabali with folded hands has been carved towards the left corner of the pitha.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.


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