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Beige Granite
8th Century

Pallava Dynasty
Tamil Nadu

Height: 41 in (102.5 cm)

Vishnu is seen in an unusual form here, with Anantha, his five-headed serpent forming a canopy above his head.

Four-armed Vishnu is portrayed holding his attributes the 'shankha' and 'chakra' in his upper left and right hands respectively. The attributes rest above the index and middle fingers. Vishnu's lower right hand is in the 'abhaya mudra' and his lower left palm rests on the seat. His left foot is raised on the seat, close to his body, and the right foot is pendant. Vishnu's body is erect. The arms and the lower limbs are rounded. The face of the deity is serene, in keeping with his role of protector.

While his upper body is bare and bejeweled, his lower vestment, which is of a thin fabric, is wonderfully draped around his legs, falling in fine folds, reaching a little above his ankles. This vestment is held around his waist by a narrow, ornate belt. The face and figure of this lovely Pallava sculpture is further highlighted by the beautiful, elongated crown on the head and the five heads of Anantha or Sheshanaga, protecting the deity. A single large studded necklace adorns his neck. Typical Pallava styled ear-rings reach down on to his shoulders, and his amulets and bracelets are also typical of the school.

Anantha or Sesha is a creature of great significance in Vaishnava worship. According to the Bhagvat Purana he is an avatar of Narayana. One of his incarnations, Patanjali, compiled the yoga sutras. Anantha often accompanied his master during his incarnations. When Vishnu took birth as Rama Anantha was born as Laxmana. When he took the incarnation of Krishna, Anantha took the avatar of Balarama. Thus the significance of Anantha is beyond words.

The stone used to make this sculpture is beige granite, a colour seen in certain Pallava pockets. One unusual feature of this sculpture is the condition and clarity of the piece. Usually pieces of this period tend to be highly weathered with hardly any features visible. In this case that is not so. This piece not only has good clarity, but also a lovely texture. It is most likely to have originated from the Tiruchirapalli area. It can be seen that this sculpture is in high relief, which adds to its grace.

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