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

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Figure of a deity or warrior-hero on a horse


    • First floor | Room 32 | India from 600

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Publications online

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

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    Folk bronzes of horsemen were produced in great numbers in Western and Central India, where the cults flourished of various deified heroes who were represented as mounted Raiput warriors. Among the aboriginal Bhil tribes, a bronze figure of a horseman, or Spirit Rider, also played a central part in the rites performed at death to help the departed spirit in its ascent to the world beyond, the metal figure becoming the spirit’s temporary abode (Kramrisch, loc. cit.). The Bhils likewise represented their ancestors as horsemen in their memorial stones, although they, like the common people of India generally, did not themselves possess or use horses, which were the prized prerogative of the Rajput aristocracy.

    Elevated on elongated, tapering legs, the plumed and caparisoned horse and its slant-eyed, martial rider have an imposing and barbarous presence. The latter holds the reins and the hilts of his sheathed sword; he also wears a katar, curved dagger and a bossed shield at his back. The conventional royal umbrella (chattra) above his conical head-dress may derive from the iconography of the minor solar deity Revanta, son of Sūrya, who was represented as a mounted nobleman with ceremonial umbrella and was worshipped as a saviour from the dangers of the forest. The projections below three if the horse’s feet may once have been inserted into cross-bars with attached wheels, and the figurine could have thus been used as a toy.

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