Figure of the saint Tirumankai Alvar

On display


  • Catalogue text

    The icons of Indian art usually represent gods, demi-gods or creatures of myth. Nonetheless, although to a lesser degree than in the West, images have also been made since at the least the 6th century of holy men, great teachers and especially ardent devotees, particularly in South India. The Museum’s collection includes a seated bronze figure of a Vaiṣṇava teacher (ācārya) perhaps Rāmānuja, the great theologian and philosopher [EAX.2387]. Most commonly represented of all, however, are the Śaiva Nāyanārs [see EA1956.673 and EA1956.674] and the Vaiṣṇava saints called Āḻvārs (7th–10th centuries). Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār, depicted here, is one of the most famous of these Tamil saints and hymnists; reformed bandit or highwayman, he is always depicted holding a sword and a shield. The sectarian mark known as the ūrdhva-puṇḍra engraved on his forehead and the little discus (cakra) and conch-shell on his shoulders leave no doubt as to the Vaiṣṇava affiliation of this image.

    Although the legs are rather summarily treated – the shinbones coming to a point in front, in what has been likened to a fish’s roe, facilitating this – the image is not without dignity; and the rear, as so often in South Indian images, is tautly modeled. Small holes in the base are for the insertion of iron rods so that the image can be carried in procession.

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 67 on pp. 55-56, illus. p. 56

Reference URL

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