This unusual lamp for puja (prayer) rituals, comprises a Nandi on a tiered, rectangular stand with a lotus flower lamp on its back and a cobra rearing over the lamp.
The Nandi, the vahana of Shiva, is elaborately decorated with copious bells and other decoration.
The cobra in this ensemble represents Vasuki, a giant naga (snake) from Hindu lore. Vasuki allowed the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) to bind him to Mount Mandara and use him as their churning rope to extract the ambrosia of immortality from the ocean of milk. Shiva blessed Vasuki, and the naga became a symbol of Shiva subsequently.
The lamp well has an draining outlet. Alternatively a wick could be threaded through this and onto the well, with the wick sitting in an independent oil source. This might be more likely because the well sits at an angle. Another alternative is that the item was not intended to serve as a lamp but as an elaborate platform for a lingam (which would have represented Vishnu) which would have sat on the platform where it could be ritually bathed in milk and other offerings which would drain away via the outlet.
The ensemble is decorated in the Ganga-Jumna technique whereby it has been in high-copper-content bronze and finished with applied brass highlights. The term Ganga-Jumna relates to India’s two largest rivers which traditionally have had two different colours on account of differing types of soil sediment suspended in their waters. This type of work was done in the 18th and 19th centuries in and around Tanjore (now known as Thanjavur), in Tamil Nadu, in southern India.
The item here is in fine condition. It pulls apart into four separate components all of which are present.
Mitchell, A.G., Hindu Gods and Goddesses, UBSPD, 1982.