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20th Century


Length: 79 in (198 cm)

This is an exquisitely carved wooden panel from Kerala. It is part of a running frieze that depicts a very unique subject. A barren (childless) lady, probably a queen, along with her husband takes advice from a learned sage who helps them by preparing a potent medicine and offers it to the lady. The lady, after gratefully accepting and consuming the potion, begets a child.

The carving on this panel being a running narrative makes it all the more unique and interesting, as a progressive picture enfolds before us. A figure showed repeatedly gives a clear understanding of the subject.

Beginning from the left side of this panel, the first four figures are those of the old, wise, bearded sage. He is shown sitting with a pestle and preparing the herbal potion and thereafter giving it to the lady in her hand. The eighth figure is her husband who folds his hands in veneration as he is grateful to the sage. The lady consumes the medicine and thereafter she is portrayed nine times, each successive figure showing her with a larger belly, beautifully ending with a full-term pregnancy. Thereafter, she is shown in a semi-reclining position as she goes into labour. Helped by a mid-wife, she gives birth to a child.

Interestingly, her husband bows before her as a gesture of his gratefulness to her for having borne him a child to be his heir. This gesture of the man prompts us to assume that he was a king, in need of an heir. However, the specific entities cannot be identified. The panel ends with the mid-wife bathing the child in warm water brought in pots, and finally the mother holding the baby.

It is a wonderful narrative depicting motherhood and the joys that go with it. Besides, it was a painstaking job for a clever artisan to portray the lady nine times as she goes into pregnancy, each time with a more prominent belly. The artisan has also maintained perfect proportions of each figure within a limited space, and has done a commendable job of creating several figures within this length of wood.

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