Posted on: 24 January 2013

Painted in Tiruchirapalli, 1830

Gouache painting on paper, part of an album of seventy paintings of Indian deities. Viṣṇu reclines on the coils of the five-hooded Shesha (also known as Ananta). In his left hand he carries a bow, while his right hand supports his head. From Viṣṇu’s navel sprouts a lotus on which Brahmā sits, holding the pustaka (book) and the kamandalu (water vessel) and performs anjali mudra. Śrī Devi kneels at the feet of her lord. Bhu Devi kneels near his head. In the foreground, flanked by his consorts, stands an image of Viṣṇu as Varadaraja, carrying the chakra (discus) and the shankha (conch), and holding his lower right hand in abhaya mudra and his lower left rests on the gada (mace). Drawn on his forehead is a Vadagalai Vaishnava namam.

Curator's comments:
The layout of the painting suggests that the artist has depicted the mula murti, the fixed image, inside the temple’s sanctuary, as well as the utsava murti, processional image, of the god. It is possible that the drawing may represent the sanctuary of the Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam. The second commentator’s note probably alludes to the reclining Vishnu in the Mahishamardini Cave at Mamallapuram.

An album of seventy paintings of Indian gods, including the unusual inclusion of the myth of Trishira, Ravana’s brother, who is said to be the founder of the city of Tiruchirappalli. This suggests that the album was produced in Tiruchirappalli. The album includes inscribed commentary from three different people. The first commentator attempts to identify each of the paintings and sometimes draws parallels with Egyptian mythology. The second commentator expands on these identifications and attempts to draw comparisons with classical mythology, whilst the third commentator is interested in the various sectarian marks that characterize Shaivas and Vaishnavas. The images retain the brilliant colour of the paint, evidence of the album having been kept closed for long periods since its creation. The buckram binding of the album is stamped with the words ‘Hindu Deities’.

© Trustees of the British Museum

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