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Metal Forms

Ritual Pot

Metal Forms

Ritual pot in the shape of a gourd. Copper inlay on brass; 14 cm x 10 cm. South India. c. early 19th century. 7/94.

The form of this ritual pot with long-wide collar tapering down into a narrower neck derives from similar shaped gourd pots. Small copper pieces are inlaid in a chequered pattern against the shining brass-engraved background in a striking contrast of colours, symbolising the sacred confluence of the “fair” river Ganges with the “dark” Jamuna.


Metal Forms

Radha, God Krishna’s consort. Bronze; 51 cm x 23 cm. Orissa, c. 18th century. 82/6507.

Krishna, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, is described in mythology as a many-faceted god, a “divine and lovable infant, mischievous shepherd boy; lover of all the milkmaids in the herders’ camp, husband of innumerable goddesses .., yet devoted to Radha alone in mystic union”.1 His beloved Radha’s devotion for him has been immortalised as the symbol of spiritual love.

In this image, a scantily clad Radha is shown beckoning her Lord Krishna by a graceful gesture of the right hand. Standing in the classical tribhanga posture, where the delicate tilt of the head, waist and knee conform to the traditional Indian ideal of beauty, the bronze figure truly captures the adoration of Radha for Krishna.

1. Kosambi, 1972, p.114

Mayur Phorua

Metal Forms

Mayur Phorua, peacock casket. Brass; 29 cm x 24 cm. Orissa. c. early 20th century. 7/3792. The Mayur phorua1 , literally “peacock-box”, a creation of the nomadic Ghantrar metalsmiths of the region and cast in the lost-wax technique, is generally used to store valuables and is consequently equipped with a lock. The crowned peacocks perched on the lid are characteristic of the region.

1. In conversation with metalsmith Dushasan Behera from Dhenkanaial, Orissa

Head of Gaur

Metal Forms

Head of goddess Gauri. Bronze; 9 cm x 7 cm. Maharashtra. Early 20th century. 5/314(2).

Gauri is another name and aspect of Parvati, the consort of Shiva. The origin of goddess Gauri is explained in a legend that goes as follows: After their marriage, Shiva and Parvati were travelling around the world. Once when Shiva called out to his consort, “Come Kali”, (Kali means the “black one”), Parvati was offended and decided to leave. Brahma, the Supreme Deity, granted her a boon as a reward for her austerities and said: “Virtuous woman, from today onwards, your black complexion would change into one of the hue of a lotus petal. Because of that ‘gaura’ or hue you would be called `Gauri’ ” 1 meaning the “white one”.

Gauri is particularly popular in Maharashtra and is worshipped during festivals by creating a body out of several plants and affixing such a brass mask on top. This mask is particularly charming with its soft feminine features, delicate lips, almond-shaped eyes, long drawn eyebrows, ornamented hairline and hair braid, looped and affixed on top of the head.

1. Mani, 1984, p.578


Metal Forms

Goddess Durga riding her vehicle, the tiger. Bronze; 16 cm x 7 cm. Himachal Pradesh. c. mid 20th century. 84/241.

Durga literally means “the one who is difficult to reach”. She possesses many different forms such as Parvati or the consort of Shiva, Ambika, Bhadrakali, Vedagarbha, Devi. In the Mahabharata she is described as the “dark virgin, observant of the vow of chastity and giver of blessings”1. The Devimahatmya of the Markandeya Purana describes at length her noble acts of destroying the demons

Shumbha, Nishumbha and Mahisha. As the slayer of Mahisha, or the buffalo demon, she rides a tiger (or lion) who is supposed to be a form of Shiva himself. The Durgasatanama Stotra of Visvasaratantra describes her as the “mother of gods, essence of all existence and knowledge.”

In iconography Durga is usually depicted astride a tiger (or lion) with four, eight or 16 arms holding various weapons.

The goddess’s three-pronged crown, human facial expression, slender figure, powerful posture and rudimentary modelling of the image are some of the typical features of the folk bronzes of Himachal Pradesh.

1. Woodroffe, 1973, p.150

2. Ibid, pp.81-82

Deities with Attendants

Metal Forms

Deities with attendants. Bronze; 39 cm x 30 cm. Bastar region, Madhya Pradesh. c. 18th century. 85/6831.

This composite icon of divinities, probably that of the local goddesses Telangeen and Pardeseen1 is cast for the use of the tribals by the Ghadva community of nomadic metal casters in the cire perdue technique. The deities have been assigned the status of a majestic pair by means of elaborate head ornaments and royal raiment. A splendid umbrella and armed guards further testify to the acquired regal character of these folk deities.

1. In conversation with metalsmith Sukhchand Ghadva from Bastar.


Metal Forms

The child Krishna holding a lump of butter. Bronze; 23 cm x 22 cm. Orissa. c. 18th century. 16/220.

Having been brought up among cowherds, Krishna is renowned for his fondness for home-churned butter. There are numerous references in myths and legends of him mischievously stealing butter from the houses of neighbouring cowherds. Devotional poetry of the mediaeval period, especially that of Surdas, elaborately describes how Krishna, with his cowherd companions in their amorous adventures, held up the path of young herdswomen under the pretext of demanding butter as “toll”.

This is one of the three types of images of the child Krishna conceptualised in Vaishnava iconography, the other two being the child Krishna lying on a pipal leaf (Ficus religiosa) sucking his toe, and Krishna quelling the ferocious snake Kaliya.

In this bronze image Krishna is shown wearing a crown indicating his divine status even in childhood. His hairstyle with a lotus-bud-shaped bun, pointed crown, thick lips, large eyes, plump body and broad shoulders are typical features of Orissan bronzes of this period.


Metal Forms

Bidriware. Gold and silver inlay on alloy zinc, copper, in bidri technique; 31 cm x 24 cm; 18-cm x 14 cm; 17 cm x 16 cm. Deccan. c. late 18th century. 7/245; 7/571; 7/3786.

This spouted vessel or aftaba is executed in extremely fine gold and silver wire inlay in floral stemmed patterns bound within wavy cones. The steepled casket, a paandaan or betel container with latch, is embellished with single floral butas or motifs within a latticed or jali framework. The inverted bell-shaped hukka or pipe base is executed in the Iteh-nishanI (sheet inlay) and tarkasi (wire inlay) techniques using pure gold.


Metal Forms

Balarama carrying a plough over his shoulders. Bronze, cast in the cire perdue technique; 17 cm x 7 cm. Eastern India, perhaps Bihar. Contemporary. 84/6719.

In some sectarian texts of Hindu mythology, Balarama, also known as Balabhadra, the white-skinned brother of Krishna, is considered to be the eighth incarnation of Vishnu while Krishna is worshiped not as an incarnation but as the deity himself. In other accounts both the brothers together form the eighth incarnation, Krishna being created from a black, and Balarama from a white hair of Vishnu, from the wombs of Devaki and Rohini respectively. Being constant companions, the brothers were together in most of their adventures during their childhood at Ambadi.

The Vishnu Purana deals somewhat differently with the character of Balarama. He is known for his predilection for all sorts of liquor. A legend narrates his impudent demands after consuming too much alcohol. While strolling in the forest, the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers of the kadamba tree transported him into a state of inebriation. He called the river Yamuna to him so that he could bathe in her. When she refused, he got angry and threw his plough into the river and forcibly dragged her towards him. She was compelled to follow him till his anger was appeased and he finally set her free. Iconographically, Balarama is usually depicted with a drinking horn in one hand and a plough in the other which may also be hung across his shoulders.

In this image, created by the cire perdue process of metal casting, Balarama is depicted in a righteous pose with large eyes, side locks and hair tied into a conical top-knot. The breast ornamentation, in style with other figures of the region, consists of several concentric rings of necklaces and a long elaborate necklace hanging right down to the navel.

Amorous Couple

Metal Forms

Amorous Couple. Bronze; 13 cm x 9 cm. Kondh tribe, Orissa. c. early 20th century. FOI/CM/1. Kondh bronze figurines are carried by the bride as playthings for the bridegroom. In this piece, the young bride is shown with elaborate ornaments and hairdo. She is depicted larger than the groom because Kondh boys of 10 or 11 are married to girls of 15 or 16. Exaggerated torsos, short wiry limbs, tattooed faces and erotic gestures animate the couple.