Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Reclining figure. Wood carving; 67 cm x 59 cm. Nagaland or Arunachal Pradesh. c. early 19th century. 86/7174.

The Nagas are known as a head-hunting martial race for whom “the art of representation is… felt to be a dangerous transmutation, an act of creative magic….”.1 Not only are Naga beliefs and practices an inspiration for their art but are, in fact, truly its raison d’etre.

The young men’s dormitory or morung, the guard house of the village and the chief centre of all social activities, such as the Feasts of Merit, is invariably decorated with paintings and wood carvings of the elephant, tiger, hornbill, python, human heads, the sun and the moon executed in high relief on the main pillar and upper beam. Such carvings are also found in the homes of chiefs or socially prominent men.

Human figures such as these were either used as effigies of dead warriors, which the wandering spirit could inhabit, or simply placed outside the homes of valiant men as marks of prestige.

Carved from solid trunks of trees, the solemn expressions of these wood sculptures heightened by cowrie shells, beads, skull necklaces, headgear with human or animal hair, combined with the characteristic blunt tubular carving on dark wood, give these Naga figures a silent though persuasive identity.

1. Kramrisch, 1968, p.63


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Vastraharana, four panels depicting Krishna with cowherdess companions. Pigment painted wood; 232 cm x 145 cm. Kerala. c. 19th century. F/36.

“He hugs one, he kisses another, he caresses another dark beauty….”1 Joyful Krishna’s love play in this carved panel is as evocative as is Jayadeva’s poetic rendering of the young lord’s amorous adventures with his cowherdess companions. Seeing them bathe, he mischievously hides their clothes and perches himself atop a tree, with his flute. Here, bashful young girls are depicted pleading with Krishna to return their clothes in a desperate attempt to protect their modesty.

1. Miller, 1977, p.77, stanza 44


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Kandarpa-ratha, chariot of Kandarpa, the god of love. Ivory; 21 cm x 8 cm. Orissa. c. early 20th century. 85/6864.

This composite figure carved in solid ivory is composed of numerous females forming the chariot of cupid god Kamadeva, also known as Kandarpa. Kamadeva was born of the mind of Brahma and as soon as he was born he turned to Brahma and asked ‘Kamdarpayami?’. (Whom should I make proud?), so Brahma gave him the name Kamdarpa alias Kandarpa.

In the centre of the chariot Krishna is depicted playing the flute and surrounded by numerous women in amorous poses.

1. Mani, 1984, p.384


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Goddess Kali, the terrible form of Parvati and wife of God Shiva, slaying a demon. Wood carving; 115 cm x 69 cm. Kerala. c. 18th century. 85/6897.

Surrounded by a halo of poisonous cobras and riding on the lifted palms of her female attendant, goddess Kali is shown here slaying a demon. Her enormous earrings embellished with fierce animal motifs, bulbous eyes and fangs, along with her numerous arms, represent the goddess as the feminine counterpart of one who presides over havoc and destruction.


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Jali, lattice work for window. Carved sandstone; 190 cm x 60 cm. Rajasthan. c. late 19th century. 83/6658.

The enchanting play of light and shadow from the jalis or lattice windows are an integral part of the havelis and palaces of Rajasthan. Ideal during the hot humid Indian summer, the jalis dispel the harsh rays of the sun and allow a cool breeze to circulate in the interiors.

Moreover, the purdah-conscious Rajasthani women use the jalis of their balconies and terraces to enjoy a view of the bazaar without being seen themselves by the public.


Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Garuda, king of birds and Vishnu’s vehicle. Soft greenish grey stone; 31 cm x 21 cm. North Gujarat or western Rajasthan. c. late 19th century. F/18.

Garuda, the divine eagle and king of birds, was born to Vinata, as a result of a boon from sage Kashyapa. He emerged from an egg, his body brilliantly effulgent like the rays of the sun.

Garuda’s heroic deeds enabled him to successfully retrieve the pot containing the nectar of immortality so coveted and guarded by Indra and the other devas. “He destroyed the wheels and the machine, and carrying the pot of nectar in his beak, rose to the sky shielding the light of the sun by his outspread wings. Mahavisnu, who became so much pleased with the tremendous achievements of Garuda asked him to choose any boon. Garuda requested Vishnu that he should be made his (Vishnu’s) vehicle and rendered immortal without his tasting amrita,”1 or nectar of the gods.

Having been granted both boons, Garuda became the vehicle or vahana of Lord Vishnu and is consequently depicted here holding a weapon with folded hands in a half-kneeling posture, as if alert for his master’s command.

1.Mani, 1984, p.282

Domestic Shrine

Wood-Stone and Ivory Carving

Domestic shrine of the Jain sect. Painted wood carving; 145 cm. x 141 cm. Gujarat. c. early 18th century. 5/270.

This beautiful shrine comes from an aristocratic Shvetambara Jain family and can be ranked among the finest pieces of wood carving in the region. Though Jains are an atheistic sect, they worship their “Enlightened Teachers” known as tirthankaras. In the uppermost horizontal panel are depicted the fourteen auspicious dreams seen by the mother of a tirthankara: an elephant, a bull, a lion, goddess Lakshmi, a garland, the moon, the sun, a banner, a vase, a lotus pond, an ocean of milk, a celestial palace, a heap of jewels and a smokeless fire. The panel below shows goddess Lakshmi being lustrated by elephants.