This image, almost certainly from Tamil Nadu, in India’s south. It shows mounted on a horse either the god Aiyanar or Madurai Veeran, the hero of Madurai, the important south Indian temple town. It is often difficult to tell Aiyanar and Madurai Veeran apart, particularly as they are both popular deities in southern Tamil Nadu and so draw on the same worshippers or followers.
The figure is shown with a long moustache, large earrings, a flat hat, and garb suitable for battle. One hand grips a round shield; the other holds aloft a thick sword.
The well-cast horse has copious jewellery and decoration. It stands on an open-work platform.
Horse and rider have been cast separately. The rider sits atop the horse and can be freely removed but is held in place by a lug that fits over a spike that rises from the back of the saddle. There are pairs of lugs on either side of the horse as well. It is not clear what these were for.
Aiyanar (also spelt Ayyanar, Ayanar or Iyenar) is a village deity of Tamil Nadu. He is primarily worshipped as a protective guardian deity. Most Hindu priests with a strong attachment to Aiyanar are from the local potter community, but other caste members also officiate in his temples. The linkage with potters accounts for the large numbers of terracotta models of horses to be found in the grounds of Aiyanar temples in those parts of Tamil Nadu where Aiyanar worship is practiced (see the images below.) These models are there for the god to use at night when he emerges from the temple. It is why many of these models verge on being life-size.
Madurai Veeran (also known as Muthu Kumaran) is a Tamil folk deity popular in Tamil Nadu. He is the protector of the city of Madurai. His worship is also popular amongst the Tamil diaspora in Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa.
The example here is in fine condition. It is well cast, with a fine patina and with the contours softened by handling and devotional wear.
Aiyanar image at a temple in the Chettinad district of Tamil Nadu, South India. The photographs below who terracotta statues of Aijanar made as offerings at a similar temple.
Photographed in January 2015.
Pal, P., Art from the Indian Subcontinent: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Yale University Press, 2003.