Silver & Silver-Gilt Ayigula Pendant
Andhra Pradesh, India
circa 18th century
length: 11cm, weight: 306g
This stupa-form lingam casket (ayigula) is a superb and rare example of this type of lingam box. It is made of silver and bands of thickly gilded (gold-plated silver).
The box itself is beautifully decorated with applied bands chased with floral motifs, architectural finials, and pearled edges. The decoration is applied to both the front and the back. Each side is decorated with three lotus bud finials.
The entire top surface comprises the lid and this lifts out of the box to reveal the chamber inside.
It has a thick, heavy silver chain to allow it be worn around the neck.
The box also has obvious age – it has been worn and used for the purpose for which it was make. Consequently, it has an excellent patina and with contours softened by wear and use.
It would have been worn by a wealthier lay member of the Lingayat sect. (Poorer adherents wore wooden lingam boxes.) It has been fashioned in two parts that are held together when the box is suspended from the necklace.
This box once carried a
jangama lingam. Such lingams comprise a small piece of stone carved by specialist carvers that is then covered in a dark, protective compound called kauthi. This comprises a mix of lac, clay, sacred cow dung ashes, and marking-nut tree fruit juice or black antimony powder (also used as an eyeliner cosmetic.)
The Lingayat sect became prominent in the twelfth century as a reaction to Brahmanism. Many Lingayats today live in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadhu. The sect rejects the supremacy of the Brahmans; denies polytheism and acknowledges Shiva as the one true god thus rejecting Brahma and Vishnu. It rejects caste distinctions, rebirth, pilgrimages, temple worship and sacrifice; does not burn its dead but buries them; does not allow child marriage, and does allow widows to remarry.
The Lingayats believe movable lingams to be the only true symbol of Shiva. Individuals are initiated into the sect as they enter adulthood. A consecrated lingam uniquely created for each initiate is presented by a community guru amid prayers and ritual. The lingam is created only for the individual and must be protected and guarded, hence the need for a protective box as shown here. All Lingayats carry their personal lingam with them at all times. After death they are buried in a sitting position with the lingam in the left hand.
Overall, this lingam box is a superb and rare item for its age and quality. It is also the only example that we have seen with gold decoration.
Barnard, N., Indian Jewellery, V&A Publishing, 2008.
Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.
private UK collection.
Inventory no.: 4179