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Late 18th Century
Place of Origin: South India
Materials: Ivory, sandal wood carved and painted
Dimensions: L: 22 W:17.8 Ht:15cm
Acc. no. 72.251/ (a)
A magnificent example of ivory carving and painting pursuing typical South Indian idiom, this tiny shrine, full of luster and most rare, both as the art material and the quality of art, installs Lord Vishnu's ten incarnations, each on a circular double lotus seat. For properly accommodating all images the artist has manipulated the sanctum's space into four steps, the foremost accommodating four images: Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki, next, three: Narsimha, man-lion incarnation, Vamana, dwarf incarnation, and Parasurama, further next, two: Kurma, tortoise incarnation and Varaha, boar incarnation, and the last, just one, Matsya, fish incarnation. This arrangement affords to them proper height perspective and full visibility. The sandal wood base of the shrine is mounted with an ivory sheet and in the background is a perforated ivory screen divided into three parts using European style pillars. Such ivory images as has this shrine were the specialty of ivory carvers of Trivandrum, Kerala, while screen, especially its painted form, that of Mysore artists. Maybe, the artefact is an assimilation of both.
The four-armed Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Narsimha hold in two of them sankha - conch, and chakra - disc, while the other two are held in abhaya - the gesture of granting freedom from fear, and varada - the gesture of accomplishment. Kalki is also four-armed, though while in two of them he carries the same conch and disc in other two he is carrying sword and shield. Of other four incarnations Vamana holds an umbrella and 'kamandala' - water-pot with handle, Rama, bow and arrow, Balarama, mace and one hand held in abhaya, and Krishna, stick/ flute and conch. Except Vamana who is even without a crown figures of all them have been richly adorned. In iconography, anatomical proportions and aesthetic quality every image is outstanding.