This particularly fine example of an ascetic’s pectoral pendant plaque is cast in brass with a large central figure of Hanuman, the celestial monkey army chief and follower of Rama. It recalls an episode in the Indian Ramayana epic when Hanuman flew through the air to bring flesh-healing, medicinal herbs (sanjivani buti) to the wounded Rama and his army. (The leafy herbs can be seen in Hanuman’s left hand and rising from his waist.) The small figure below Hanuman’s feet could be Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, who was also wounded. Or the figure could be a demon about to be trampled.
Images of Hanuman often appear on small amulets because of their protective properties, but this large medallion-like pectoral plaque would have been worn by ascetic devotees of Hanuman in Maharashtra or Karnataka states in western India, despite it weighing almost a kilogram. It has a lug on the back to allow suspension from the neck.
The outer frame serves as a circular mandala and represents stylised flames (prabhavala). At the top of the plaque is a seven-headed hooded cobra which hovers over Hanuman’s image to protect it, and on either side are two parrots.
Hanuman is associated with Vishnu and so to either side of Hanuman are a small conch (shankha) and a small discus (chakra), these being symbols of Hanuman.
Hanuman wears a low crown on his head which are backed by makara-type creatures. He also wears a fine pair of elevated paduka shoes!
The plaque has been cast by the lost wax process. It is more detailed and finer than most published examples. It has been polished over the years although this may make sense as it was intended as a piece of bodily adornment. It is in excellent condition and has much sculptural appeal.
Aryan, S. & B.N. Ayran, Unknown Masterpieces of Indian Folk and Tribal Art, KC Aryan’s Home of Folk Art, 2nd & enlarged ed., 2016.
Dursum, B., et al, Change and Continuity: Folk and Tribal Art of India, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, 2004.
Untracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.