This rare version of a sri yantra comprises thick gold sheet over a natural resin core, inset with rubies and rock crystal, and with a silver base. It most probably would have been commissioned to be used as temple jewellery in a South Indian Hindu temple, worn by a statue during temple festivals.
It comprises five tiers, including the circular base, with each other tier comprising multi-point stars, with each point being embellished with a small inset ruby, rising to a point which is inlaid with a rock crystal cabochon.
The base is of silver and has eight lugs, each gilded and topped by a ruby (two lugs are defficient). The underside of the base has two holes through which a cord could be inserted for suspension. These are decorated by a floral-like pattern in applied silver filigree.
The wearing of a sri yantra is held to have spiritual or astrological or magical benefits in the Tantric traditions of Hinduism and Jainism. A sri yantra is a type of three-dimensional mandala, a mandala being a plan or geometric pattern that is representative of the cosmos, and also can serve as a symbolic representation of aspects of divinity, the creative forces of the universe.
Gold is imbued with a spiritual component in much of India. It is a symbol of the sun and also associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Indians, rich or poor, all tried to have at least a small quantity of gold even if just a simple pair of earrings, for gold was coveted. And traditionally, Hindus would place a small piece of gold in the mouth of the departed as a symbol of the immortality of the soul and as payment to Yama, the god of death, for shepherding the soul to the hereafter (Bala Krishnan et al, 2005, p. 17).
According to Ollemans (2013), the kings of India were believed to be descended from the gods and they paid extravagant tribute to the deities by decorating them with gold and other precious materials. Deities were humanised: they were bathed and fed as if they were living beings, and adorned with all manner of jewellery. The more a deity wore, the more powerful and sacred it became. Once the deities were so embellished and humanised, then the kings ordered extravagant gold jewellery for themselves that mirrored the deities, thereby elevating themselves to the level of the deified. The demand for gold was immense and the goldfields of India were exhausted so that gold needed to be imported from beyond the subcontinent.
The item is in fine condition. There are some losses to the gold and two of the ten small lugs are missing but the item has clear signs of significant age and use. Overall, the item is particularly rare and decorative.
Bala Krishnan, U.R. et al, Icons in Gold: Jewelry of India from the Collection of the Musee Barbier-Mueller, Somogy, 2005.
Filliozat, J, Parures Divines du Sud de l’Inde, Publications de l’Institut Français d’Indologie, 1966.
Ollemans, S., ‘Of gold, gods and men: jewellery in India’, in Arts of Asia, November-December 2013.