5965

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South Indian Marble Karttikeya (Skanda) Image

India, probably Karnataka
circa 17th century

height: 37cm, width: 30.4cm, depth: 6.3cm

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Provenance

UK art market

This rare representation of the philosopher-warrior deity Karttikeya (also known as Skanda or Subrahmanya) is carved from a single piece of solid marble.

Most images show Karttikeya with one head, but some, such as the example here, show him with six heads reflecting the legend surrounding his birth whereby six mothers symbolising the six stars of the Pleiades cluster took care of the new-born baby.

The image here shows Karttikeya with six heads each surmounted by tall crowns – five heads are carved at the front in relief and the sixth head is engraved to the back of the image’s heads. The legs and forearms are massive and present a sharp contrast with the slimmer faces and four sets of side arms. The two upper arms hold aloft swords.

The semi-circular arch of the prabhavali encloses the six heads.

Karttikeya sits cross-legged on a narrow, waisted plinth. A peacock has been carved into the front of the plinth – the peacock is Karttikeya’s vahana or celestial vehicle.

Karttikeya is a particularly popular deity in South India. The deity is the son of Shiva and Parvati and the brother of Ganesha, and is regarded as a god of war. By tradition, he defeats evil in the  form of demon Taraka.

In many Shaivite temples his images are employed as guardian deities.

Images of Karttikeya are less common compared with other images.

The image has obvious ritual puja wear. Its contours have been softened by probably hundreds of years of being ritually bathed and having offerings poured over it and it then being rubbed dry.

References

Aryan, K.C., Indian Folk Bronzes, Rekha Prakshan, 1991.

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