Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Browse: 1 object

Reference URL


Send e-mail

Contact us about this object

Send e-mail

Send to a friend

Portable shrine of Vishnu as Venkateshwara



  • Vishnu

    Vishnu is, with Shiva, one of the two most important gods in later Hinduism. He is regarded as sustainer of the universe and maintainer of order. Assuming various forms (avatars), he restores the balance of good and evil in the world.


    • First floor | Room 32 | India from 600

Objects are sometimes moved to a different location. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis. Contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular object on display, or would like to arrange an appointment to see an object in our reserve collections.


Collection trails

Publications online

  • Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum by J. C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    Tirupati, where this small shrine was made, is an important Vaiṣṇava pilgrimage town to the northwest of Madras, now in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The Abbé Dubois, a missionary working in South India in the early 19th century, described the teeming life of its temple, which “is dedicated to Viṣṇu under the name of Ventateswara. Immense multitudes of pilgrims flock to it from all parts of India, bringing offerings of all sorts, in food, stuffs, gold, silver, jewels, costly cloths, horses, cows &c., which are so considerable that they suffice to maintain several thousands of persons employed in the various offices of worship, which is there conducted with extraordinary magnificence.”

    It is believed that portable shrines of this type, with multiple doors and folding panels densely painted with mythological scenes were used by itinerant priests who sang or narrated the sacred stories of Viṣṇu and his incarnations to village audiences. The two outer doors and their lacquered cloth flap extensions are painted (on the outer side) with scenes of Viṣṇu reclining on the snake Ananta, episodes from the childhood of Kṛṣṇa and the Rāmāyaṇa and various figures of deities. On the inner sides appear Rāma enthroned and standing figures of Viṣṇu in various forms, including Veṅkateśa (as worshipped at Tirupati), Raṅganātha (as worshipped at Śrirangam) and Varadarājā (as worshipped at Kanchipuram). The narrow inner doors have figures of the avatars of Viṣṇu on the outside and deities, devotees and others on the inside. The flimsy innermost doors, with numerous rectangular mica windows, open to reveal the painted wooden image of Viṣṇu standing with cakra and śaṅkha in his upper hands, the lower hands in varada-mudrā and resting on his thigh; a sword rests against his other thigh. The figure is profusely encrusted with metallic and glass “jewellery”. To the right are smaller standing figures of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa and, above them, Viṣṇu (?) beneath a snake-hood. The back and sides of the shrine are painted a deep blue with flowering tree designs with engrailed arches. The quality of the painted decoration is crisp and vigorous throughout.

    The presentation of the few surviving examples of these shrines is in part due to the Christian missionaries working in South India who sent them to Europe as documents of Hindu religious. The earliest such example, now in Halle (East Germany) was sent from Madras by the missionary Sartorius in 1733; another is in the Museo Missionario Etnologico in the Vatican. The present shrine was similarly collected by the Church Missionary Society. Another (of unknown provenance) is in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Munich.

© 2013 University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum