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

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Figure of the saint Tirumankai Alvar


    • 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.


Publications online

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

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    The icons of Indian art usually represent gods, demi-gods or creatures of myth. Nonetheless, although to a lesser degree than in the West, images have also been made since at the least the 6th century of holy men, great teachers and especially ardent devotees, particularly in South India. The Museum’s collection includes a seated bronze figure of a Vaiṣṇava teacher (ācārya) perhaps Rāmānuja, the great theologian and philosopher [EAX.2387]. Most commonly represented of all, however, are the Śaiva Nāyanārs [see EA1956.673 and EA1956.674] and the Vaiṣṇava saints called Āḻvārs (7th–10th centuries). Tirumaṅkai Āḻvār, depicted here, is one of the most famous of these Tamil saints and hymnists; reformed bandit or highwayman, he is always depicted holding a sword and a shield. The sectarian mark known as the ūrdhva-puṇḍra engraved on his forehead and the little discus (cakra) and conch-shell on his shoulders leave no doubt as to the Vaiṣṇava affiliation of this image.

    Although the legs are rather summarily treated – the shinbones coming to a point in front, in what has been likened to a fish’s roe, facilitating this – the image is not without dignity; and the rear, as so often in South Indian images, is tautly modeled. Small holes in the base are for the insertion of iron rods so that the image can be carried in procession.

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