Cosmic Narayana as Infant Krishna in Ivory
Mysore, Karnataka; or Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala, India
circa 18th century
length: 8.3cm, 5.5cm
This small item of religious veneration was carved from ivory at a time when elephants were not scarce. The finely rendered image shows the infant Krishna sucking his toe whilst laying on a banyan leaf. By tradition, the leaf floated in the cosmic waters as it appeared before the sage Markendeya, so this rendering of Krishna is known as the Cosmic Narayana as the infant Krishna.
The image shows the plump infant adorned with jewels including in his hair. The leaf has been carved separately, although the infant and the leaf are now permanently joined.
The infant retains traces of polychrome and gilding – when it was made, it would have been quite colourful.
Pal (2001, p. 84) remarks on a similar version in bronze and which is now without its leaf that the banyan leaf is ‘usually missing from surviving sculptural examples but it is clearly visible in painted versions.’
The example here is without losses, chips or repairs. It has a fine patina and obvious age.
A dating here of circa 18th century has been ascribed. Untracht (1997, p. 94) illustrates a
Krishna figure in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art which has some similarities in terms of decoration and dress which has been given a 16th century dating. A related ivory example attributed to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala is illustrated in Nagaswamy (2006, p 227).
Nagaswamy, R., Timeless Delight: South Indian Bronzes in the Collection of the Sarabhai Foundation, Sarabhai Foundation, 2006.
Elephants and Ivories in South Asia, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2001.
Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 4807